The media has given wall-to-wall coverage of the Federal Government shutdown–and the effects it has had on both Federal employees and ordinary Americans.
But there is one aspect of this story that hasn’t been covered. In fact, it is so obvious that I can only conclude that editors are deliberately ignoring it.
President Barack Obama, a former attorney, has denounced House Republicans as guilty of “extortion” and “blackmail.”
Unless he was exaggerating, both of these are felony offenses that are punishable under the 2001 Patriot Act and the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970.
So: Why hasn’t the President acted to punish such criminal conduct?
All that he need do is to order his Attorney General, Eric Holder, to ask the FBI to investigate whether either or both of these laws have been violated. If it’s discovered that they have, indictments could immediately follow, and then prosecutions.
The results of such action can be easily predicted.
- Facing lengthy prison terms, those indicted Republicans would first have to lawyer-up. That in itself would be no small thing, since good criminal lawyers cost big bucks.
- Obsessed with their own personal survival, they would find little time for engaging in more of the same thuggish behavior that got them indicted. In fact, doing so would only make their conviction more likely.
- Those Republicans who hadn’t (yet) been indicted would realize: “I could be next.” This would produce a chilling effect on their willingness to engage in further acts of subversion and extortion.
- The effect on Right-wing Republicans would be the same as that of President Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers: “You cross me and threaten the security of this nation at your own peril.”
It would no doubt be a long time before Republicans dared to engage in such behavior–if they ever so dared again.
Had Obama done so when Republicans began threatening to shut down the government and destroy the country’s credit rating unless they got their way, this crisis would now be past.
In fact, if he had warned, months ago, that he would react to such terroristic behavior with indictments and prosecutions, it’s highly unlikely that this crisis would have occurred.
With major Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner and Senator Ted Cruz facing prosecution and imprisonment, the rest of the party would have quickly found a way to pass a budget and ensure that the United States pays its debts.
The ancient Greeks used to say: “A man’s character is his fate.” It is Obama’s character–and our fate–that he is by nature a conciliator, not a confronter.
Richard Wolffe chronicled Obama’s winning of the White House in his book Renegade: The Making of a President. He noted that Obama was always more comfortable when responding to Republican attacks on his character than he was in making attacks of his own.
Obama came into office determined to find common ground with Republicans. But they quickly made it clear to him that they only wanted his political destruction.
At that point, he should have put aside his hopes for a “Kumbaya moment” and re-read what Niccolo Machiavelli famously said in The Prince on the matter of love versus fear:
From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved. The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved.
For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain.
As long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours: they offer you their blood, their goods, their life and their children, when the necessity is remote. But when it approaches, they revolt….
And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared; for love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.
Moreover, Machiavelli warns that even a well-intentioned leader can unintentionally bring on catastrophe. This usually happens when, hoping to avoid conflict, he allows a threat to go unchecked. Thus:
A man who who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must inevitably come to grief among so many who are not good.
And therefore it is necessary, for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.
Of course, it’s possible that some prosecuted Republicans might beat the rap. But this wouldn’t happen until they had been forced to spend huge amounts of time and money on their defense.
And, with 75% of Americans saying they are disgusted with Congress, it’s highly likely that most of those prosecuted would wind up convicted.
And, as Andrew Jackson once said: “One man with courage makes a majority.”