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I was schooled in the debating arts in Britain, where their head of gov't, the prime minister, faces Question Time weekly...where s/he is not only grilled, but raucously heckled for a half hour. And not by reporters whose editors caution them against alienating their precious source of scoops: but by members of the opposition parties, and often their own party.

And you so often hear one word, it has almost become a joke:

"Resign!"

The question I have is, what happened to resignation in America? With one outrage after another committed by the Bush Administration, why has only George Tenet, the lone cabinet holdover from the Clinton Administration (apart from Norm), resigned in shame?

Where is the honor and dignity in this White House?

Resignation is an implicit obligation of those who hold office. It is a political equivalent of hare-kare, where the person saves their honor, and the honor of their office, by being the one to right their own wrong.

So expected is resignation that it is in fact very hard to remove someone from elected office otherwise: even Joe McCarthy was only censured by the Senate, although he was the target of a recall effort. We have seen members of congress resign; though some like Trent Lott have only given up leadership positions while maintaining their jobs.

A recent executive resignation was that of NJ Gov James McGreevy of New Jersey, who resigned because of a homosexual affair. President Bill Clinton did not resign as a result of the similar Lewinsky affair; had it been homosexual one wonders if his response would have been different. However, most of our resignations in recent memory have involved relatively petty scandals that did not involve the actual duties of office.

However, the Bush Administration has given us one outrageous example after another of official misconduct, directly in the most critical duties of office, with apart from Tenet's tardy motion, nary a resignation in sight. (Leaving at the end of a term is standard and has nothing to do with honor particularly.)

If there was still a code of honor in political life, George Tenet's resignation would have been on the president's desk (if only electronically) within minutes of the second plane crash on 9/11, pending the appointment of a capable replacement. So too, I believe, would Condoleeza Rice's. Robert Muller had only just taken his job, and could be given a pass. But an event of this magnitude without anyone demonstrating their remorse that they had failed to protect the country, their most sacred covenant?

It is unthinkable.

Then there is the Iraq war, the Plame affair, the Abu Ghraib torture and the memos supporting it, the tearing up of the Constitution...we all know the rest.

I would like to coin a term that gets at the heart of this.  You could call it a meme, or a frame. The Resignable Offense.

Resignable Offenses are purposefully separate from Impeachable Offenses and outright Criminal Offenses because they make it clear that the burden of policing policy must fall first on the policymakers themselves. That is the contract of leadership: that you are responsible, you are accountable, and you will resign when you have transgressed far enough beyond the boundaries of decency, especially in your official duties, without prompting.

Violate that contract, and a contagion starts to spread in gov't: "Well, they didn't resign over that, so why should I?" And so the essence of good government begins quickly to rot, and corruption and malfeasance begin to need no apology much less resignation. This feeds on itself until a revolution occurs, cleaning the mess in a general purge.

That most certainly should not be necessary. And press coverage should be the last, and not the first, opportunity to resign. One's conscience must be more than enough if one is fit to serve.

Without self-policing and requisite honor, government is far too easy to abuse. "Executive Privelege," as seen in Cheney's energy task force, and "National Security" can be invoked ad infinitum, if ever challenged. But really no one has the ability to adequately police a gov't, bloggers' best intentions and a Freedom of Information Act not withstanding.

Where did it all go wrong? What has happened to resignation?

I myself am shocked that Tony Blair has not resigned once WMD was not found in Iraq. I thought higher of the nation that educated me so well. His cabinet member Clare Short did resign in May 2003, but that was an exception.

I am sure the Republicans will point to Clinton and say "that's where it began!" And one could make an argument that a Clinton resignation in 1998, with the Y2K-spending-fueled tech boom ahead, would have put Gore in a far better position to retain the White House for years into the future. But Clinton's predicament, no one here will argue, is lesser than the least of the litany of Resignable Offenses the Bush administration cranks out on a seemingly daily basis.

Where else then? How did our concept of gov't become unglued? Where is the outrage from those on the Repubican side who wish to salvage their own image-by-association in history?

Is this al Qaeda's greatest victory?

Originally posted to peeder on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 01:35 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I am resigned to my fate (4.00)
    but I would love to hear from you.

    Yesterday we stood at the abyss; today we are taking a step forward.

    by peeder on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 01:16:11 AM PST

  •  One theory: Return on Investment (none)
    Here's a theory to throw out there: with the $millions in donations garnered by candidates, they feel they can't resign anymore because that would be unfair to their "investors" who are seeking return on investment.

    "You mean to tell me that after the $5.7 MILLION I sweat blood raising for you, you've gone and resigned over a few errors of judgment! Hell no, I'm not going to let you just go like that. I'll skin you like a hog and that'll be the pork I get in return!"

    Yesterday we stood at the abyss; today we are taking a step forward.

    by peeder on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 01:32:09 AM PST

  •  Resignation is out of fashion in the UK too (4.00)
    The last minister to resign because he took responsibility for a failure of policy was Lord Carrington, who resigned when Argentina invaded the Falklands.  

    Since then, resignations have been due to principled disagreement with the government (Robin Cook, over Iraq) or scandal, after some weeks of hanging on by fingertips (David Blunkett). Oh, an Education minister (Estelle Morris) resigned because she didn't feel up to the job, but she hadn't done anything major wrong, she just wimped out.

    Mrs Thatcher resigned because her party told her to.  She did not resign because she accepted responsibility for the disaster that her governments were. A couple of her chancellors of the exchequer resigned because she was undermining them.

    No politician since Carrington, to my knowledge, has simply resigned because a failure occurred in his/her watch.

    Any Brits care to correct me?

  •  With Bush's people, it's obvious (none)
    A resignation would imply that they have done something grievously wrong, and because Bush is their superior, he would also be at fault. It would mean Bush erred both by appointing someone capable of such conduct, and by failing to properly supervise or give adequate guidance.

    This is a president who adamantly refuses to admit any mistakes, and he is beloved for his "clarity"--or petulant stubborness as non-Kool Aid drinkers would describe it. He refuses to admit mistakes in press conferences. He refuses to alter his course one bit in Iraq. So why on earth would he allow for one of his officers to resign if it's at all avoidable?

    So when Rumsfeld is savaged even by people in his own party, Bush stands by him because it's another opportunity to stand fast, stay the course, and refuse to admit defeat. In some egregious cases, like Kerik's, it's just impossible for Bush to support him. (Plus, Kerik was a new appointee, hardly enough time to earn Bush's fanatical loyalty.) But the rest of the time, Bush will stick with his guy, deflect criticism elsewhere (blame the media/Democrats/terrorists!) and wait till the media inevitably loses interest (Brad and Jennifer broke up!).

    "I told them on Inauguration Day. I said look into my eyes: no new enhancements." - President Johnny Gentle (Famous Crooner)

    by Johnny Gentle Famous Crooner on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 02:11:34 AM PST

    •  I guess Whitman and O'Neill don't count (none)
      they resigned like Robin Cook out of disgust with the leadership, not for their own wrongdoings (as far as I am aware).

      Kerik was withdrawn, he never held office with Bush, he had not been confirmed (right?).

      I think you're right that the Bush philosophy is admitting failure or wrongdoing is to be avoided at all consequences. That's why I've said self-assessment is the only assessment that counts: gov't is so mysterious to the outsider that they rely on cues from the wrongdoers themselves rather than their own judgement.

      As they say in the Beltway, "No one remembers what you did, they just remember how you handled it."

      But I'm afraid we're going to remember what this lot did for a very long time to come.

      Yesterday we stood at the abyss; today we are taking a step forward.

      by peeder on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 02:29:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  yes (none)
        I referred only to resignations in which Bush's support might make a difference. If it's a case like Whitman's, she left of her own accord, so it wasn't a matter of Bush refusing to give in to public pressure (same with Powell, Ridge, et al). If I remember correctly, O'Neill was sort of pushed out the door because he had said some damaging things, but he left during a time of calm. I'm sure if people were calling for him to resign, Bush would've asked him to stay on.

        Kerik was appointed but never confirmed. In fact, he was only appointed for about a week or two, and the dirt on him was just overwhelming.

        "I told them on Inauguration Day. I said look into my eyes: no new enhancements." - President Johnny Gentle (Famous Crooner)

        by Johnny Gentle Famous Crooner on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 02:46:34 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Culture of Resignations (none)
    I think that the thing you miss is that the culture of resignations in the US is quite different from the in Britain.  For starters you have the concept of Collective Responsibility for the cabinet while int the US, the Buck Stops at the Presidents desk.

    Members of the Cabinet serve at the pleasure of the President and when they have failed the President, members have been asked to step down.  In this administration, failure to the President means one thing, disloyalty.  Failing their job is not resignable, because it would imply that the Prez had screwed up.

    If the Republicans didn't control the House, then many of the Cabinet, up to teh President, would probably have been impeached on High Crimes and Misdemeanors...  But impeachement is a political tool.

    Tony on the other hand really should have stepped aside by now given the British political culture.  Then again, everyone I know is certain Tony will keep his majority.

    The only international crime is losing a war

    by Luam on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 02:14:15 AM PST

  •  Love both (none)
    your idea of Resignable Offenses and Prime Minister's Questions.

    "I still think politics is about who's getting screwed and who's doing the screwing." -Molly Ivins

    by hono lulu on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 02:42:01 AM PST

    •  Thanks lulu (none)
      George W. Bush types would be physically blocked from leading Britain simply due to their inability to survive 30 seconds, much less 30 minutes of that kind of heckling.

      We should pass a Constitutional Amendment mandating Question Time for our Presidents...press conferences don't work for the reasons I've stated and more...and we can assemble a Shadow Cabinet and skewer the whole Administration piece by piece on CSPAN.

      Yesterday we stood at the abyss; today we are taking a step forward.

      by peeder on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 03:07:44 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I will say, for Britain (none)
        that while resignation is out of fashion, we can get rid of ministers pretty quickly.  Prime ministers are relatively difficult to dislodge (though with a narrow majority, an election can be precipitated by a vote of no-confidence), but if government or opposition speakers wilt over the despatch box, they tend to be ruthlessly replaced .

        The other important thing is that we vote for members of a party to be members of parliament, and the leader of the party with the most members gets to form a government (technically the Queen invites him/her to form a government, if she feels like it).  It would be perfectly possible for the Labour party to win the next election, but for Blair to lose his seat.  We'd then get a Labour government with a different prime minister. (Other people's constitutions are always bizarre).  It is quite common for governments to win elections but lose important cabinet ministers.  

        Being a politician is definitely less secure in the UK than in the US, which is mostly a good thing, I think.

        •  Even more of a career (none)
          It seems to me that Politics is even more of a career in Britain than in the states.  People start to prepare seriously for a job as an MP at Uni and start kissing the appropriate asses quite early.

          With no primaries, most politicians are immune from being flanked (ignoring the Lib Dems as most seem to) and quite a few seats are safe Labour or Tory.

          The only international crime is losing a war

          by Luam on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 03:30:51 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Few safe Tory seats left now. (none)
            Maybe politics is more of a career here.  Tends not to be well-paid though, unless you make it to the top, so perhaps requires real political convictions (not necessarily a good thing - Thatcher was a conviction politician).

            Generally though, when politicians resign (or are sacked), they make more money than less, thereafter.

            Agree that would-be politicians start early.  Don't know about kissing asses though - student politics was always pretty ascerbic in my day, on the left anyway.  We were getting ready for the revolution.  

      •  I don't know... (none)
        I think that Dub would hold his own quite well in an Americanized version of this process. I would picture a lot of profanity, voluptuous and scantily dressed congressional pages, folding metal chairs for throwing and bashing about the head, lots of theatre blood... kind of a "house of Parlaiment meets Jerry Springer and the WWF"...

        Political Capital Card... the card that cares for you, so you don't have to!

        by Dood Abides on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 04:16:53 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Accountability Moment (none)
    The moment passed very quickly. There is no more need for accountability in the executive branch, according to the shrub itself.
  •  Think of the example the US is setting (none)
    The federal gov't of the United States is an enormous example to everyone: from state and local gov'ts here in the USA, to all the other gov'ts in the world; to leaders of organizations both for-profit and not, to teachers and their students in elementary school.

    Now it's only an illustration of the intense shame on this administration that would bring me to say that I hope that is less so for this administration than others. I can't believe I would say that, but it is most certainly not partisanship that is bringing me there.

    This "rot" that I describe: the official approval of this type of behavior from the most powerful halls in the world, will trickle-down like their economic theories never would.

    They are corrupting the entire world.

    They are reducing "Honor" to a euphemism, perhaps for simply not abusing one's authority as much as one was able.

    I wonder how long it will be before their approach becomes formalized into a philosophy along the lines of Ayn Rand's Objectivism: well beyond "Greed is good," we'll have "Abuse is approved."

    Yesterday we stood at the abyss; today we are taking a step forward.

    by peeder on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 03:03:42 AM PST

  •  We have put a man into office... (none)
    who has no honor, and values only secrecy.  

    Do you honestly expect him to resign, or to ask others to resign who only serve his purposes by also acting without honor and in secrecy...?

    Of course he's written in the Lamb's Book of Life. He's the Antagonist.

    by ultrageek on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 03:49:16 AM PST

  •  Absolution (none)
    Haven't you heard?  The election absolved BushCo of all.

    "Democracy is coming ... to the U - S - A." - Leonard Cohen

    by Gearhead on Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 07:15:33 AM PST

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