Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
America’s longest running soap opera is not General Hospital. It’s the Congressional Hearing, usually a venue for pontificating, show-boating, histrionics, preening for the cameras, insulting political enemies, and accomplishing little of value. Meanwhile the real work of the Republic either gets neglected or proceeds in silence at a glacial pace.
James Comey was the star of last week’s latest episode of the eternal DC soap. The one-time FBI director stayed true to his character, preening morally, striking Boy Scout poses, indulging faux-folksy interjections like “Lordy,” pretending to be sober and judicious, but all the while revealing the instincts of a bureaucratic cartel sicaria. He was obviously thirsting for revenge against the hated DC outsider and “liar” who unceremoniously fired him, so much so that he admitted to cowardice on multiple occasions, from failing to immediately confront Trump over his supposed sinister “direction” (Comey’s translation of Trump’s “hope”) that Mike Flynn get let off the hook; to his groveling obedience to AG Loretta Lynch’s politicized, justice-obstructing order to call the investigation into Hillary Clinton a “matter.” He displayed a brazen arrogance in admitting to leaking a memo, written in his professional capacity, to the New York Times through a cut-out, perhaps one of numerous other leaks emanating from this self-proclaimed pillar of professional rectitude even before he was fired.
So we got a few more details about a man we already knew was a publicity hound and power -hungry operator. But that portrait was painted back in July of last year, when Comey publicly laid out the predicates for an indictment of Hillary Clinton, then usurped the authority of the AG to let Hillary (and Loretta “Tarmac” Lynch) off the hook based on a legally irrelevant consideration of “intent.” The only thing interesting last week was watching how far Comey would debase himself to square the many duplicitous circles he had spun over the last few years.
Great fun for political junkies, but what useful purpose will be served by that spectacle? The media are happy, since they get free programming and more chum for their talking heads. They’re celebrating the 19 million viewers who supposedly tuned in, though that sum represents a little more than 10% of registered voters. Normal citizens were working their jobs and tending to their lives. From their perspective, the drama inside the Beltway cocoon is bureaucratic white noise. If they think about it at all, it’s to wonder whether the guilty leakers will be hunted down and punished, or just be “investigated” for months and months and then, like Hillary, given a pass. And Hillary is just one of numerous miscreants that need exposing and punishing for their corruption of the public trust in order to serve their political preferences or careerist ambitions.
Don’t hold your breath. More likely we’ll see a repeat of the 2003 Valery Plame inquisition, that ginned-up crisis about the illegal “exposure” of an alleged “covert” CIA agent. By the time it was all finished, Comey’s buddy Patrick Fitzgerald who, despite knowing the true identity of the leaker, like some low-rent Javert for three years hounded White House staffers until Lewis “Scooter” Libby was questionably convicted of four crimes. So fat chance the biggest offender of all, Hillary Clinton, will ever answer for putting national security at risk and treating the State Department like an ATM. Some small-fry staffers might get caught in the net, but the whales will just swim right through.
What’s really maddening, though, is that we’re into the second year of Trump’s critics still being infuriated by his style, even as they ignore or downplay the much grosser offenses of numerous Democrats. Much of the whole “Russia collusion” fantasy has been generated by Trump’s refusal to abide by the media and establishment-created protocols presidents are supposed to follow. Republican Trump critics are just as bad, still not figuring out that their fealty to exalted “protocols” and good taste are just what energized ordinary citizens, those folks grown sick of bipartisan elites who seemed to have more in common with each other than with the people they’re supposed to represent.
So, for example, we hear once again from the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan––who seems bent on spending the rest of her career playing Margaret Dumont to Trump’s Groucho Marx––whining about Trump’s asking Comey for “loyalty.” “Presidents don’t lean on FBI chiefs in this way,” Noonan sniffed. “It is at odds with traditional boundaries, understandings and protocols.” Really? Sez who? LBJ probably applied worse pressure than that before lunch every day. And few presidents “leaned on” J. Edgar Hoover only because the G-man had some pretty thick files on them.
As for “traditional boundaries, understandings and protocols,” where do they come from? Andrew Jackson? Political decorum and comity are good things, but in democratic politics they usually serve as gate-keepers separating the elites from their clients. They also are camouflage for disguising collusion or incompetence or inaction. They’re just the air-freshener for the political sausage factory. What matters is getting the sausage made.
But the only rule-book that matters is the Constitution. And it says a president can fire any executive employee, including the head of the FBI, any way he wants and for any reason he sees fit. The FBI is a federal agency, not a separate arm of the government, answerable to the Chief Executive, who, unlike Comey or Lynch, is directly answerable to the sovereign people. If they’re unhappy with the president’s tweets or brashness or actions, they’ll let him and his party know at the ballot box.
And that’s what’s objectionable about these opera-buffa “hearings.” The media and politicians are obsessing over superficial issues of presidential style, progressive fake news, and he-said-he-said squabbles, while the real work that needs to get done is being neglected. And Obama left behind some huge messes that Trump promised to clean up. We don’t need “hearings” about Russian interference in the election. That’s a dog-bites-man story. Just shoot the dog by increasing cyber-security, and stop talking about it. We don’t need hearings about alleged “Russian collusion” with the Trump campaign. Just shut up, investigate, and if necessary charge, prosecute, and convict the guilty. Ditto with the federal agencies leaking like a colander, the only substantive story in the Trump-and-Comey puppet show.
All of us need to get focused and hold the politicians’ feet to the fire and to make them deliver the changes necessary for restoring economic growth, reforming our broken health-care system, and straightening out our Kafkaesque tax code. These are hard problems with harder solutions, but they won’t get fixed if Congress is off mugging for television cameras or taking the whole month of August off.
Many Congressmen assure us that they are hard at work below the media’s radar. I hope that’s true, because if the Republicans and Trump fail to deliver on his promises with substantial change, we might see in our country a reprise of what just happened in England’s snap election, where a hard-left buffoon perhaps fatally wounded the Tories’ government. Trump promised to win so much the people will get sick of winning. He’d better make it happen, or else the people who put him in office will get sick of him. And our own country has plenty of hard-left buffoons itching to take his place.