In 2011, Republicans threatened to destroy the Nation’s credit rating unless their budgetary demands were met.
As Ernst Casier, chairman of philosophy at Hamburg University once warned:
“Those who are willing to risk everything, even death and destruction, to attain their ends will prevail over more responsible and prudent men who have more to lose and are rational, not suicidal.”
Yet President Barack Obama could have ended that threat via the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
Passed by Congress in 1970, as Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1961-1968, its goal was to destroy the Mafia.
Originally, RICO was aimed at the Mafia and other organized crime syndicates. But in United States v. Turkette, 452 U.S. 576 (1981), the Supreme Court held that RICO applied as well to legitimate enterprises being operated in a criminal manner.
After Turkette, RICO could also be used against corporations, political protest groups, labor unions and loosely knit-groups of people.
RICO opens with a series of definitions of “racketeering activity” which can be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys. Among those crimes: Extortion.
Extortion is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.”
The RICO Act defines “a pattern of racketeering activity” as “at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years…after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity.”
And if President Obama had believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with Republicans’ extortion attempts, he could have relied on the USA Patriot Act of 2001, passed in the wake of 9/11.
In Section 802, the Act defines domestic terrorism. Among the behavior that is defined as criminal:
“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were now legally in place. President Obama needed only to direct the Justice Department to apply them.
- President Obama could have directed Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether actions by Republican Congressman—and their Tea Party cohorts—broke Federal anti-racketeering and/or anti-terrorism laws.
- Holder, in turn, could have ordered the FBI to conduct that investigation.
- If the FBI found sufficient evidence that these laws had been violated, Holder could have empaneled criminal grand juries to indict those violators.
Criminally investigating and possibly indicting members of Congress would not violate the separation-of-powers principle. Congressmen have in the past been investigated, indicted and convicted for various criminal offenses.
Such indictments and prosecutions–and especially convictions–would have served notice on current and future members of Congress: The lives and fortunes of American citizens may not be held hostage to gain leverage in a political settlement.
In short: Obama could have replaced the law of fear with the rule of law.
But Obama could have stood up to Republican extortionists in another way: By urging his fellow Americans to rally to him in a moment of supreme national danger.
President John F. Kennedy did just that–successfully–during the most dangerous crisis of his administration.
Addressing the Nation on October 22, 1962, Kennedy shocked his fellow citizens by revealing that the Soviet Union had installed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba.
John F. Kennedy
Kennedy outlined a series of steps he had taken to end the crisis–most notably, a blockade of Cuba. Then he sought to reassure and inspire his audience:
“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.”
President Obama could have sent that same message to the extortionists of the Republican Party–by explaining to the American people:
- Republicans have adopted the same my-way-or-else “negotiating” stance as Adolf Hitler.
- Like the Nazis, they are determined to gain absolute power–or destroy the Nation they claim to love.
- They raised the debt ceiling seven times during the eight-year Presidency of George W. Bush.
- But now that a Democrat holds the White House, raising the debt ceiling is unacceptable.
- Despite Republican lies, we cannot revitalize the economy by slashing taxes on the wealthy and on cash-hoarding corporations while cutting benefits for millions of average Americans.
- We will need both tax increases and sensible entitlement cuts to regain our economic strength.
And he could have ended his speech with a direct call for action by the American people:
“We stand on the edge of economic disaster. Therefore, I am asking each of you to stand up for America tonight–by demanding the recall of the entire membership of the Republican Party.
“This is the moment when each of us must decide–whether we will survive as a Republic, or allow ruthless political fanatics to destroy what has lasted and thrived for more than 200 years.”
To paraphrase Winston Churchill: President Obama had to choose between timidity and confrontation.
He chose timidity.
He would get contempt and obstruction at every turn.