Scandal As Power Struggle in the U.S. Ruling Class: What Are Presidents Made Of?

by Redwing

Revolutionary Worker #978, October 18, 1998

In the world today the most horrendous crimes are committed in the name of democracy.

Bob Avakian, Democracy:
Can't We Do Better Than That?

I search for a context: the U.S. ruling class is putting its main man to the test. For the third time in history, the U.S. Congress will decide whether to impeach their president for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." The air is thick with talk about the "moral authority" of the presidency, the standards of the "founding fathers," and how the current president has "disgraced the dignity of his office."

The non-stop broadcast from the hearings at the House of Representatives provides background as I work on preparations for October 22. Suddenly my thoughts are interrupted by the annoying voice of Henry Hyde carrying on about how the president is the "conscience of the nation." I imagine a long line of all the women whose lives have been destroyed by the speaker's relentless crusade against reproductive rights. They are dressed as warriors--in camouflage, in black pajamas, in beads and feathers. They have come to testify against the speaker who has denied their humanity, mocked their poverty, and forced them to make desperate choices. Suddenly the whole scene transforms to reveal a huge pulpit of bones--as one by one the Congress people take the microphone.

What does it mean to these people to "disgrace the office of the presidency"--since it seems to me an entire office full of disgrace? I open up my new copy of Lies My Teacher Told Me by educator James W. Loewen. This book was recommended to me by a comrade in light of the national impeachment drama; and as the representatives drone on with their national civics lesson, it seems like a good moment to check it out.

Last week I read The Death of Outrage by William Bennett--one of the "moral authorities" of the ruling class who has called for Clinton's impeachment. And I found Bennett carrying on, as usual, about standards of moral righteousness. Searching for presidents of good character, Bennett writes about that old slaveowner George Washington: "His example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting."

We are on the trail of the meaning of "moral authority."

Checking the index for George Washington in Lies we find that not only was George Washington a slaveholder himself, and a defender of the slave system, but his administration also loaned thousands of dollars to the French planters in Haiti who were fighting against the slave uprising of Toussant L'Overture. The American president feared that a black republic in Haiti would inspire the slaves to rebel in the United States.

As Bob Avakian points out in "Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones": "Nowadays, there is no major political leader in the U.S. who will openly uphold slavery (although it is difficult to think of Pat Robertson and Jesse Helms and not picture slaveowners and overseers). But is there a major representative of the U.S. ruling class who does not uphold as `great men' slaveowners such as George Washington (`Father of our Country'), Thomas Jefferson (principal author of the Declaration of Independence), and James Madison (main author of the U.S. Constitution)--all of whom are put forward as models of `virtues' by William Bennett....? And, more fundamentally, is there any representative of that ruling class who is ready to say that, since the wealth of America's capitalists and the power of their state has slave labor poured into its very basis, this wealth is ill-gotten and this power is illegitimate?"

In the opening chapters of Lies there is a discussion of Woodrow Wilson--one of those "great" presidents who founded the League of Nations and reluctantly took the U.S. into World War I. In reality Wilson was a predator. His armies invaded Mexico to oppose the Mexican Revolution 11 times--sending men to try to poison one of the revolutionary leaders, Pancho Villa. Wilson's invasions of Cuba, Dominican Republic, Panama, Haiti and Nicaragua set the stage for the oppressive rule of Batista, Trujillo, the Duvaliers and the Somozas. When Ho Chi Minh appealed to Wilson for help in gaining Vietnam's independence from the French at the Treaty of Versailles, Wilson turned him down flat. In 1918, fearing the victory of the Russian Revolution, Wilson planned a secret invasion against the newly founded Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and secretly sent funds to back the counter-revolutionary White Russian forces.

As the Covenant of the League of Nations was being drafted, this model of the American presidency vetoed a clause on racial equality. At a private White House showing, Wilson applauded the movie The Clansmen--the infamous racist film by D.W. Griffith (now known as Birth of a Nation.) Based on a book by Wilson's former classmate Thomas Dixon, the film was made to deliberately spread white supremacy and revive the Ku Klux Klan. Loewen writes, "The racism seeping down from the White House encouraged this Klan, distinguishing it from its Reconstruction predecessor." The new KKK became a national phenom. During Wilson's second term a wave of racist white riots swept the country, and Wilson's successor Warren G. Harding was inducted into the KKK in a White House Ceremony.

Returning to Outrage, I find that on Bennett's list of honorable presidents after World War 2 are Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. "These are men," Bennett says, "like all of us, who had an assortment of flaws and failings, They made mistakes. But at the end of the day, they were men whose character at least we could count on."

I am coming closer to understanding what is meant by presidential character. With Harry Truman--the only man in history to order the dropping of atomic bombs--we get to the heart of the morality now in play in the congressional chambers. I wonder if the people from Hiroshima and Nagasaki will be invited to the impeachment hearings. Under Truman, George Kennan, head of the Policy Planning Staff of the State Department had this to say about U.S. domination of the planet: "We have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real test in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction--unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization."

This concept of moral authority was carried on by General Eisenhower--another of Bennett's men of good character. Eisenhower knew a lot about overturning elected governments which did not suit the interests of the U.S. power structure. Under Eisenhower in 1953, the CIA helped overthrow Prime Minister Mussadegh of Iran and return the brutal Shah to the throne. Then, in 1954, the CIA threatened the government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala with armed invasion when Arbenz suggested land reform and planned to build a railroad which threatened the monopoly of United Fruit Company. In 1957 Eisenhower's attention turned to Lebanon where the CIA rigged an election to prevent a Muslim government from coming to power. And when the Muslim forces rebelled, Eisenhower responded by sending in 15,000 Marines to impose Christian rule on the country.

Then there was Jimmy Carter, the folksy peanut farmer from Georgia, who praised the Shah of Iran for maintaining an "island of stability" in the Gulf--while the Shah massacred 10,000 people in the streets of Tehran, armed with U.S. equipment.

Finally, among Bennett's honorable presidents we have Ronald Reagan, who risked World War 3 to keep America Number #1. Reagan ushered in the 1980s with the morality of "greed rules." He invaded Grenada, sent marines to Lebanon and murdered the daughter of the Libyan head of state in a bombing run. As the Clash sang, it was "Washington Bullets" and "Armagideon Times." Reagan's presidency left a trail of blood all over Nicaragua and Central America. Iran/Contra revealed a web of secret illegal acts involving the president, vice president, cabinet members, operatives like Oliver North and government officials in Israel, Iran, Brunei and elsewhere.

"Bombs and lies and coup plots--that's what little presidents are made of"--a macabre nursery rhyme dances in my brain. And Bill Clinton is certainly fit to be among them. Clinton's special talents--his ability to talk about "diversity and equality" while he cut welfare and incarcerated three-fourths of a million people--has made him very useful to the power structure. But now, in the name of all this presidential morality, powerful forces in the ruling class are moving to bring the president down. And through this Inquisition they aim to impose an extreme version of the politics of cruelty--a extreme patriarchy, more repression, more intrusive laws, and the rule of religious standards in civic life. This is what the Inquisition is aimed at. And if this moral authority gets away with their crusade--their program of punishment, patriarchy and poverty--I think it will be very very bad for the masses of people.

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