Gestures of conscience bring solace

March 19, 2006|By LEONARD PITTS JR.

WASHINGTON — EVERY GENERATION BLAMES THE ONE BEFORE.

- MIKE + THE MECHANICS "THE LIVING YEARS"

WASHINGTON -- Late last year, John Conyers Jr., Democratic congressman from Michigan, proposed impeaching the president of the United States. The proposal received scant attention in the media mainstream, though it was picked up with glee by liberal bloggers and provided a rallying point for the president's supporters.

The lack of notice can be attributed to the fact that the proposal's chances of passage were roughly akin to those of an ice cube's surviving a steam bath.

Surely Mr. Conyers knew that going in, so one wonders why he put the measure forth in the first place. He gives his answer in the current issue of Harper's. He did it, he said, "to take away the excuse that we didn't know." He added that when future generations ask where he was while the president subverted the Constitution, they will have an answer.

One senses the same reasoning in this week's call by Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin to censure President Bush for domestic eavesdropping in apparent violation of federal law. Mr. Feingold must have known that even this lesser remedy was, putting it mildly, unlikely to pass.

So it has come to this. The president's apologists rationalize even his most obvious and egregious illegalities, mendacities and bungling with straight faces and earnest demeanor and the rest of us are left posturing for history, trying to make certain that when the official record is written, we are not indicted by our silence.

Your humble correspondent, by the by, doesn't mean to cast aspersions when he talks about folks posturing for history. He's been doing the same thing.

People - conservatives, the occasional liberal - sometimes ask me why I bother. Another column on the sins of George W. Bush? What's the point? What will change? The people who disagree with him already know. And there's not enough evidence in the world to convince his believers - the word is appropriate - that he does not, in fact, walk on water.

Still, I believe that Mr. Feingold and Mr. Conyers have a point. You cannot be a student of history without ruminating on some of the more dubious episodes of the American past and wondering how in the world such things were allowed to happen.

Was the whole country napping when Joseph R. McCarthy's bullying, innuendoes and lies cast a pall on this nation and made a mockery of the Constitution? Didn't anybody speak out when Franklin Roosevelt sent Americans to concentration camps? Where were the good people when Americans of African descent were being lynched in horrific numbers and the president and the Congress stood by and did nothing?

You read about these failures of will, of courage, of spirit and you keep asking ... how? How could that which is so obviously wrong now have been so quietly accepted then?

From that question, it is only a short hop to another, more pressing one: What will tomorrow say about today?

I think I know. I think tomorrow will ask how we could have shrugged off the very real possibility that the president broke the law. I think tomorrow will want to know how we could have meekly and quiescently allowed our civil rights to be abridged. I think tomorrow will be perplexed by our tolerance of obvious incompetence and brazen untruths. I think tomorrow will wonder how we could have turned blind eyes and disinterested ears to mounting evidence that the war in Iraq was predestined and 9/11 just a convenient pretext.

So I understand where Mr. Feingold and Mr. Conyers are coming from. Where good and frustrated people all over the country are coming from. History's verdict is all we have left. And when tomorrow calls today to account, some of us want to be able to say we stood up. We called out. We were not silent.

It is small solace, but it is solace nonetheless.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. His e-mail is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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