Oct/Nov 2006  •   Salon

No Excuse

by Tom Dooley

Photo by Jim Gourley

Photo by Jim Gourley

Reading the business section of USA Today, I was disgusted to learn Andy Fastow received a reduced, six-year sentence for his role in the Enron scandal. After being the key man behind orchestrating a corporate rip-off resulting in thousands of people losing their jobs and life savings, then striking a plea-bargain wherein he agreed to rat out his buddies in exchange for just ten years, Fastow has now been granted leniency because, as the judge put it, his family has "suffered" enough. I wonder, can anyone imagine a case where some less privileged lawbreaker, say, a poor person of color who knocked off a convenience store, saw his sentence nearly halved because his family had suffered? Or perhaps an enemy combatant was released from Guantanamo for the sake of his family? Or how about an illegal alien being granted amnesty to make things a little easier on his family? But Andy Fastow's brood deserves a break. Next we'll be giving Jack Abramoff a presidential medal of freedom so as to alleviate the suffering of poor Pam and the twins.

And in a little blurb at the end of the same article, Worldcom's Bernie Ebbers drove himself to a medium security prison to start his "hard time" for overseeing the largest corporate scandal in history. No ignominious, handcuffed ride in the paddy wagon for Ebbers. The devil is in the details, or in this case, the man who contrived what amounted to an $11 billion heist was in the Mercedes. That's right, an automobile costing more than what most Americans earn in a year, being driven to "jail" by a guy who happily defrauded billions of dollars from millions of those very same dumbass Americans.

Maybe one doesn't have much to do with the other, but reading this stuff stirred up all my frustrations with the Republican, right-wing neo-conservatives who have been running our country almost without opposition since George W. Bush took office. I guess it's the sense of helplessness, of knowing something is so wrong but that a paralyzing majority of my fellow Americans either don't know or don't care to know about it and wouldn't do something about it if they did. It's the injustice of a privileged few abusing their power at the expense of a paralyzed majority.

Not that most people will give enough of a damn to educate themselves on the subject, but the exploits of people like Ken Ley, Jack Abramoff, Tom Delay, Grover Norquist, John Doolittle, Ralph Reed, Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, etc., etc., and yes, our very own vice president and commander in chief, all of whom we now know were thick as thieves with each other, greedily crawling all over the dunghill of taxpayer money like so many shit-eating flies... all those exploits of all those crooked people, gallingly accomplished in the name of high-minded ideals like Christianity, conservatism, compassion, and accountability, are truly, wholly disgusting.

Now here comes Mark Foley and the entire Republican leadership of the House of Representatives—most notably John Boehner and Dennis Hastert—who nudge-nudge, wink-winked like so many Catholic cardinals while he sexually harassed and very likely molested underage pages for at least five years and probably ten, all while ostensibly fighting pedophiles as the chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children; and here comes the paid mouthpieces like Sean Hannity, Brit Hume, John Gibson, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Mike Viqueria, Tony Snow, and Matt Drudge to make excuses and misdirections in the hopes Americans will just be generally disgusted and cynical about our government and not see these specific hypocritical bastards for who they really are.

Make no mistake. We're not talking about business as usual here. Saying the current Republican power structure is no more corrupt than the Democrats have been in the past is like saying school violence isn't any more shocking now than it was pre-Columbine. An incredibly manipulative, talking point Fox News driven Newt Gingrich conceived read-the-fine-print contract with America wielding, K-Street pork barrel infused kickback box seat golf trip induced family values raping bunch of assholes has managed to hijack our government, our fourth estate, our collective unconsciousness (has there ever been a time when that term was more appropriate?!), our so-called American dream, our nation. They have shamed us so indelibly, it's not just a right-now shame but a historical shame.

Condoleezza Rice got it partly right: history will judge this administration's actions. History will be unanimous in its condemnation of this morally bankrupt administration and the cabal of industry giants, so-called religious leaders, lobbyists, and hangers on who have helped them carry out their self-proclaimed "revolution."

Moreover, because this happened on our watch, history will condemn us, a morally bankrupt generation of Americans, an apathetic bunch of self-indulgent morons who failed to step up to the plate and meet the challenge of our day.

In the age of information, the fundamental challenge facing this generation is decoding the truth. The challenge isn't in getting the information. Anybody can Google "Mark Foley scandal" and receive 16,000,000 entries in .23 seconds. But the challenge we as a nation have utterly failed up till now to meet is to then set aside our preconceived ideological prejudices and read enough of those entries with enough of a critical eye to arrive at the truth. Maybe not the truth, but at least not total falsehood. Total falsehood is what defines politics in America and everything it touches—the media, big business, the courts, pop culture—and it has created a tabloid TV-like environment where scumbags like the people mentioned above have been able to thrive in a way without precedent, at least in our short history as a nation.

These people have brought the kind of shame on America that's more far-reaching than the present or the future, though. It's the kind of shame likely to color our past in a different light. Not that we have such a rosy past, what with the way we've treated Native Americans, African Americans, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, Irish Americans, women, poor people in general, the environment—those offenses just on our own soil—and what with the things we've done in the name of democracy in places like El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, etc., and the little episode we refer to as the Vietnam War, and the hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians we bombed and burned in order to win WW II... In spite of all that, up until now, we Americans have been able to unabashedly say we love and are proud of our country, that we are the good guys. We've done bad, but we've also done good, and in many cases the bad was at least partially justified by the good, or at least was later rectified by the good.

But now we know the truth in real time, as it's happening (or we should know it), about manufactured weapons of mass destruction and al-Qaeda connections and CIA outings and corporate welfare and no-bid contracts and rigged elections and torture sites and journalists for hire and congressional money-laundering and political appointees suppressing science about global warming and fine particles...

We as a generation are complicit in all of these things. We can no longer claim ignorance, only laziness or deliberate denial.

What excuse can we offer for our actions as a nation now?