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Are Presidents Above The Law?

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In 1990, navy admiral John Stufflebeem, as part of an eight month ongoing extra-marital affair, had sex in the White House with a federal employee. When questioned by navy investigators about the impropriety, Stufflebeem’s response was “I did not have sex with this woman”. When the report was submitted to Pentagon officials in March, Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem was demoted and fired from his post as director of the Navy staff. On April 18, he was convicted of making false statements to investigators and allowed to retire from the navy.

Does the above story seem vaguely familiar? Did we not have a president in the same decade that had an extra-marital affair with a government intern in the White House and then lie about it (“I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinski”)? The difference between the two stories is that the president harmed someone legally by perjuring himself under oath (denying extra-marital sex with Lewinski refuted Paula Jones’ contention that Clinton had a track record of womanizing thus hurting her civil suit against the President). The other difference of course is that while Stufflebeem lost his position and was eventually dismissed from the navy, the President didn’t lose his job or face any criminal prosecution for lying under oath.

Presidential immunity from prosecution was certainly not birthed by Bill Clinton. For that conception we go back to that beacon of presidential morality and paranoia, Richard Nixon. Nixon’s crime was obstruction of justice in the Watergate Affair. If he hadn’t resigned, he most certainly would have been impeached and probably removed from office. However, unlike others in his administration, he didn’t face criminal prosecution for his part in the scandal because Gerald Ford issued him a presidential pardon.

At the time of the pardon, Ford reasoned that the country had suffered enough from Watergate, thus distracting it from pressing issues, and a long criminal trial for Nixon would make that suffering linger, thereby further damaging the country. Historians debate the merits of this thinking. Some argue that the ultimate effect of the pardon was to give future presidents confidence that they too would be immune from prosecution for wrongdoing, based on Ford’s reasoning.

Perhaps it was this confidence that motivated our current president to make 259 false statements about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein having links to al-Qaeda.  The false statements were made in speeches and interviews in the two years leading up to the war with Iraq. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the President’s mistruths “were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses”. Lying to persuade the country to go to war would have to fall under the impeachable offenses of “high crimes and misdemeanors”. But, because the Congress and media either don’t care, or do not want to hurt the war effort and therefore the country, Bush will get away with his deceit.

As John Stufflebeem’s saga proves, there are consequences to bad actions – that is, at least for Americans who aren’t president. Those who sit in that chair seem shielded from the consequences of their actions because it would hurt the country as well. The problem is that succeeding presidents seem to keep outdoing those that come before them in the size of their crime. Nixon covered up a second rate burglary of a hotel room. Clinton denied a woman her day in court by lying under oath. Bush’s lies have led to the loss of nearly four thousand American lives and over one million Iraqi lives. God help us if this upward trend continues.

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About Kenn Jacobine

  • I’m puzzled by the title of this piece. It doesn’t seem to present any strikingly new perspective by dint of the writer’s overseas location.

    Nevertheless, some good points. The unique composition of the atmosphere inside the White House in recent times seems to be such that mud loses its adhesive properties. Reagan (the Teflon President) was the first to discover this, and his successors have taken full advantage of the phenomenon.

    The only recourse the public has is the ballot box, and ironically it’s been the least scandal-ridden of the presidents since Nixon – Ford, Carter and Daddy Bush – who were not given the chance to keep the Oval Office chair warm beyond the minimum stipulated period.

    America loves its bad boys, I guess.

  • Clavos

    I thought about the title too, but decided that it nevertheless is a “View From Abroad,” even if not one uniquely from that perspective.

  • davidpeace

    On the one hand: here we go again…
    On the other hand: Clinton lied and thousands of sperm died. Bush lied and thousands of people died.

    All in all it boils down to the fact that government officials, especially those elected to high office will never be held accountable for their actions because the “mainstream media” has become a circus director more interested in keeping the public distracted by frivolous non-issues like lapel flag pins and American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, than in holding the feet of officials of the government to the fire. Instead of real news, we are treated to endless discussion/analysis of whether Larry Craig is gay or not, the fact that Senator Obama’s pastor is a man named Jeremiah Wright (who incidentally, if you listen to/read his ENTIRE comments is surprisingly on the ball.) instead of today more people in Iraq died so that Exxon could reap billions more in profit all enabled by a corporate crony president. Is it any wonder that real issues, such as the fact that we, humans, and Americans as among the chiefest culprits, are killing the planet are left to backburner status on “fringe” websites? (BlogCritics is not fringe, in my book, but since it isn’t “mass” produced and seen in hundreds of millions of households, the discussions that take place here, regardless of the side a person takes, are in the whole, not very effective, since little is actually accomplished other than raising our respective blood pressures.)

  • At least Nixon had the good grace to resign. He was apparently able to read the handwriting. I suspect that Ford was heavily counceled to issue that pardon, though, prior to Nixon’s actual resignation.

    Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush The 1st skated.

    Clinton should have resigned. I voted for the bastard twice. But when virtually every waking moment in the media was taken with Monica and cigars and stained dresses, Willy should have given the country a break and turned the reigns over to Big Al. Actually, one can imagine that Bill might well have pulled the plug, but that his better half was perhaps having none of it, with – even then – her eye on the WH prize herself, knowing full well that if hubby resigned it would render her chances of ascendancy to practically nil.

    As to Bush: His is, IMO, the most heinous of crimes. Nobody died from Watergate or Monicagate.
    Bush, though is given a pass because the US is nothing if not all about war and the military and big corporate spending. It’s what we do. It’s actually a pretty good deal if one thinks about it:

    Invade an oil rich country with a weak military. Mess it up pretty good. Make sure the infrastructure throughout is pretty well wasted. Take control. Start throwing some money around – it’s tax dollars, so who gives a shit, right? Then bring in your own guys to fix it all up to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. That tends to bring broad self-satisfied grins to corporate boards and CEOs.

    If it costs a few thousand of our own kids lives, so be it. It’s a small price, really. It’s the bottom line that counts.(The lost lives of the people of the invaded country don’t even figure in the mix beyond being counted as “collateral damage” if at all.)

    At-a-boy, George!


  • Clavos

    …the “mainstream media” has become a circus director more interested in keeping the public distracted by frivolous non-issues like lapel flag pins and American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, than in holding the feet of officials of the government to the fire. Instead of real news, we are treated to endless discussion/analysis of whether Larry Craig is gay or not, the fact that Senator Obama’s pastor is a man named Jeremiah Wright…

    Don’t blame the media.

    You forget that reporting the news is not the primary mission of the media; selling advertising is their real business, and the public is much more interested in reading about American Idol and Dancing With The Stars, than hearing all that depressing stuff about Iraq and the economy. The media are only fulfilling their obligations to their stockholders by publishing what the masses demand.

    H.L. Mencken had it right, and nothing’s changed since his day; if anything, Americans have gotten even more stupid and shallow.

    I blame it on the parents of the boomers, who despite their otherwise remarkable accomplishments, raised the most shallow, soft (and soft-headed), and self-centered generation of human beings in American history.

  • I think the word you’re looking for, Clavos, is: “Bah!”

  • Baronius

    Clavos, I’m certainly no fan of the boomers, but don’t you think that you and David are overstating things? How does the popularity of Dancing With The Stars prove anything about America’s political knowledge? A good percentage of the population vote consistently for a particular party or ideology. They may not be right, but they’re clearly not distracted. Craig’s sexuality isn’t important, but objectively, it’s hilarious, and you can’t blame the population for watching that particular train wreck.

    So the ratings were low for the 20th debate. The questions were the same as the first nineteen, and so were the answers. The American people were right to not tune in. The average voter shows more savvy than the average CNN commentator.

  • Ruvy

    I blame it on the parents of the boomers, who despite their otherwise remarkable accomplishments, raised the most shallow, soft (and soft-headed), and self-centered generation of human beings in American history.

    Boomer that I am, I’m glad I started on the parenting trip late – and moved to Israel. My kids are the opposite of “shallow, soft (and soft-headed), and self-centered”.

    To begin with, they are not Americans. That’s their first advantage right there.

  • Clav,

    I know boomers are an easy target. No generation grew up under more benign conditions (despite the everpresent coldwar and the concomitant nuclear threat) than those defined as post war baby boomers. We had it good in ways no other identifiable generation ever had it.

    Consequently, we grew up with certain expectations, that given subsequent world events, were totally unrealistic. We could not and did not know this, however. Hindsight is twenty-twenty as they say.

    Certainly, boomers have their particular quirks, but on the whole collectively we have accomplished a great deal in this world. Essentially, it is boomers who are running things now for good or ill.

    Unfortunately, the two presidents to have come out of our generation so far pretty much fucked it up, each in his own way. Bill couldn’t keep it in his pants and GW couldn’t find his.

    One can be critical of boomers and perhaps scornful of the relatively “soft” lives many of us led. But, isn’t that what we’re trying to achieve? A world without strife. A world in which people can live in relative safety, not overly concerned about having a shirt on their backs, a roof over their heads and dinner on the table?

    Yes, it now is apparent that it was all a pipe dream. We’ve got a long way to go before such lives will be available to the majority of people on this planet. In a sense boomers amounted to a microcosim of what is possible.

    Sadly, when we were presented with less than the perfect world for which we were prepared, we didn’t always behave rationally or graciously. We were shocked by what we were confronted with and that sent us reeling. By and large, though, most of us have recovered.

    Boomers were at best rude in badly misjudging our parent’s generation. We didn’t appreciate just what they had been through and what they had accomplished. That they in effect “spoiled” us was to be expected. Many of them came out of nothing owing to the depression, then fought a prolonged and deadly war on two fronts. The hard fought for prosperity many of them ultimately achieved was their due, and providing some of that largess to their kids was only natural.

    Now it is very easy to diss boomers. Maybe before doing so, people should step back and see what we’ve accomplished and what we’re about more objectively, perhaps from a greater distance in time. I’ll be pushing up basil plants (currently, I prefer herbs to flowers) before a more pragmatic assessment can be made of the boomer generation, just as it was with our predecessors.


  • Clavos


    It’s late (here on the Right coast), so I can’t fully address your eloquent paean to the boomers, but I do want to point this out; you twice refer to all that the boomers have accomplished, but don’t actually point to any single accomplishment of any order of magnitude.

    Interestingly, you mention that the boomers are now running things, “for better or worse,” (as you put it). Yet, even a cursory perusal of most of these threads turns up a preponderance of comments about how screwed up things are currently; assessments which are, for the most part, correct.

    For the record, I am not a boomer, although both my siblings are, so I am of the same generation. I was actually born during WW II; about three years before the first boomer.

  • Clav,

    Well, as to the accomplishments of boomers, one only need to look down beneath one’s fingers and before one’s eyes. The state of communications, the ability to store and access enormous amounts of information via computers and the internet is a huge accomplishment. Much of what has been accomplished by way of medical and other scientific advances over the last 30 years or so are largely attributal to boomers. I could, I suppose go on, but I think the point is made. Sure, we’ve screwed up a lot of things, but what generation hasn’t?

    While neither of my parents were in the military, I was nevertheless born in July of 1946, a charter member of boomaries.

    And there’s this: A couple of boomers copulated and produced Britany Spears. How about that?


  • Clavos

    Ya got me with Spears, B-tone.

    But seriously, most of the seminal work that brought about the advent of the communications we enjoy today, as well the pioneering work on computers, TV, PCs, etc. actually was carried out by the generations prior to the boomers, including:

    The telephone
    The transistor (without which no modern electronics would exist)
    Radar (prior to WW II)
    Sonar (Ditto)
    Television (Saw my first one when I was about 8)
    Microwave (I operated microwave comms gear in Nam, at age 21, and am older than boomers)
    Space travel (Sputnik: 1957; moon landing: 1969, you were 23)
    Internet (earliest iterations went online in the early 60s; oldest boomers were in their teens)

    Need I go on?

  • Clav,

    Then you still contend that all boomers have done, all they have accomplished is being incompetent, do-nothing whiners? That we have contributed nothing of substance to the world?

    I think you are looking at things through a rather narrow lens. What you iterate above may be true to an extent, but all of those things you mentioned were largely brought to fruition through the efforts of boomers. It is largely boomers who took the ball and ran with it.

    I’m not claiming any special status for boomers. We are simply the product of our environment as with any generation. But to cast literally millions of people under one unflattering light is hardly fair nor particularly thoughtful. Every generation has its assholes and its slackers. I’d suggest that is no more nor less true of boomers. I suppose it’s convenient and even fun to carry that attitude around using boomers as a kind of whipping boy (or girl) – “Hey, everything is fucked up because of those self-involved, self-important boomer assholes. When they’re all dead and buried will be good riddance.”

    I don’t think it’s true or very productive.


  • Clavos

    We’ll have to agree to disagree, B-tone.

    I don’t see anything, either in the past or on the horizon, that ranks the boomer generation anywhere close to their parents, nor do I agree that “It is largely boomers who took the ball and ran with it.” As I pointed out above, most of the real accomplishments of the twentieth century were up and running well before the boomers slipped into the saddle.

    That said, I’m not saying that there aren’t individuals in the generation who are leaders and accomplished; of course there are, but as a group, it’s a pretty undistinguished bunch, IMO.

    I will grant that as the largest cohort of consumers in US history, they have serially provided “booms” for a number of industries, beginning with the baby products manufacturers in the 40s and 50s, progressing to the toy and recording industries, and later, housing and construction. Shortly, the medical and death services industries will be gold mines.

  • Ruvy

    The problem with the boomers is not that they were unproductive or that they did not advance science or the economy or whatever. Though it should be borne in mind that TV was invented in 1923-6, just as radio was popularized, and most of the technological advances we saw in the 1950’s had been developed long before, and were presaged in the 1939 World’s Fair in New York in the “World of Tomorrow” exhibit.

    The problem with the boomers has been that in their rebellion against parental authority in the 1950’s and 1960’s they tossed the morality of the country into the trash can. Abstinence, for example, was “rediscovered” because of AIDS.

    The moral problems of the country are not viewed as such in America. They are viewed as entertainment for the beer swilling pigs to laugh at on TV.

    Go to some of the articles that deal directly with abortion or other aspects of the desire to have sex without accepting the responsibility of its results, and you see the problem laid out in front of you graphically in the attitudes of many of the commenters.

    I don’t really mind that your country has gone down the toilet in its morality. I don’t live in America. MY kids are not getting drunk at keggers, shooting up, getting sexual diseases (yet). But, more and more, this country imitates the shit culture that baby boomers introduced into America.

    That sucks.

  • I’m not sure, but I think I’m supposed to be a boomer. I once read the description as people born after WWII and before 1960. If that’s the case, I make it right under the wire.

    What would be the greatest BB invention? Maybe this device I’m typing on now? Or the medium used to get my two cents worth to BC here? All the leashes we now have: cell phones, pagers and the like?

    Were the guys who landed on the moon and those that got them there boomers or members of “the greatest generation”?

    As to the meat of this piece, I’ve always wondered why the CinC isn’t subject to the UCMJ like the rest of the military. I believe he’s supposed to be, but I’ve never seen one at a court martial.

  • Clav,

    If not boomers, who then? Do you suppose that the older generation handed everything off to their grandchildren while boomers just sat on their asses doing nothing but consume?

    Keep in mind as well that most of the 57000 who wound up face down in rice patties were boomers, largely at the insistence of our parent’s generation – an effort that was just as ill-advised as the Iraq war.

    That our parent’s generation accomplished some spectacular things was largely owing to the accident of the timing of their birth. It was largely their parents who got them into the depression and into war.

    I’m not sure what you expect or believe that boomers could have done given the world they (we) inherited that would have distinguished them more in your eyes. Perhaps your standards of accomplishment are not just too high, but unrealistic.


  • Clavos

    Winding up face down in rice paddies is a tragedy, not an accomplishment, and I’ll grant you that VN and all the lives ended or disrupted (in many ways; including, to a degree, my own) is on the WW II generation’s ledger, not the boomwers’.

    That our parent’s generation accomplished some spectacular things was largely owing to the accident of the timing of their birth.

    “Largely?” No. What makes them the “Greatest Generation,” as they’ve been dubbed, was how and to what degree they reacted to and dealt with the circumstances that history dealt them. That is in fact, how “greatness” is defined.

    I’m not sure what you expect or believe that boomers could have done given the world they (we) inherited that would have distinguished them more in your eyes.

    See above. I’ve not seen much evidence of the boomers having improved the US to any significant degree, much less the world. Your parents, on the other hand, were dealt lemons and made lemonade. You guys, as I look around the world, are still sucking on your sour lemons, and now you’re getting old, while the US and the world remain chaotic and unstable, much of which circumstance lies at the feet of the US boomer generation.

    “Cold war” and all, from 1946 to about 1963 was a time of enormous prosperity and progress (at least for the USA, and most of Europe and our other allies), thanks to the leadership of the era and the industry, energy and spirit of that generation.

  • Clavos

    Andy, most demographers consider the boomers to be those born between 1946 and 1964, although some cut the top end off at 1960; I’m inclined to agree with the 1960 date.

    What would be the greatest BB invention? Maybe this device I’m typing on now? Or the medium used to get my two cents worth to BC here? Neither were invented by boomers (as both Ruvy and I pointed out above), nor were they even first brought to market by boomers, although a handful of boomers (and one in particular-Bill Gates) DID popularize them.

    Were the guys who landed on the moon and those that got them there boomers or members of “the greatest generation”?

    As I said above, Sputnik was launched in 1957; the oldest boomers were 11. The moonwalk took place in 1969. Oldest boomers: 23.

  • Now wait a minute Clav! Everybody knows that Al Gore invented the internet and he’s gotta be a boomer!

  • Clavos

    Oops! My bad, Andy!

  • Baronius

    My 2 cents:

    Individual boomers have done as much as members of any generation. Boomers, together, are insufferable. They claim moral authority above any other generation. Never mind that integration began in the 1940’s; never mind that the history of the Vietnam War is mighty complicated. They consider themselves the heroes of all their stories.

    The rest of the generations have a grudge against baby boomers. It’s not that we hate you, it’s…ok, we hate you. We’re tired of being told that everyone who came before you didn’t do enough, and everyone who came after you didn’t measure up. People before and after you were religious, but only you could have created the strident evangelical movement. Women before and after you have struggled, but you had feminism. You’re OK one-on-one, but when you form a group you get preachy.

  • I’m so terribly sorry that we boomers nettle so many of you, sorry that we just don’t measure up to your expectations. I’m sorry that we didn’t invent the fucking wheel! I’m sorry that we didn’t have the good grace to drink the damn kool-aid so as to put all of you worthier and obviously more accomplished folks out of your collective misery forced to bear the burden of our very presence.

    I sit forlornly, head in hands in utter emasculation. You sure kicked the snot out of our pretensions. While I sit with the slobber of my abject saddness running down my arms and drip, drip, dripping onto my shoes, I do wonder, though, how all of you, in your particular generational niches will measure up to those who come after? I wonder if your children and theirs will dump shit on your heads for handing them a world that doesn’t meet their expectations? Naw, that couldn’t happen. You’ve all got your shit together, your ducks in a row. You’re all setting the world on fire with new inventions and new innovations. It’s a fucking XYZ revolution! When you pass the mantle to your progeny, everything will be grrrreat! Peace and harmony will have enveloped the earth, and the fucking trains will run on time!

    Here’s to all your “beyond reproach” generations.


  • Clavos

    Jeez, B-tone, don’t be so wishy-washy!

    Tell us what you really think…


    Touched a nerve, did we?

  • STM

    Aussie baby boomer discerns noise from other side of Pacific that sounds like cats fighting in a bag, pokes head up from slumber, hears mad Yanks and expat Yanks going hammer and tongs (again), decides it’s a storm in a teacup, as usual, then goes back to sleep 🙂

    So, a bloke had a root in the White House?

    Well, at least he can tick one off his bucket list.

    He won’t be the last, either, and he certainly ain’t the first. And they’re only the ones we know about.

  • Stan, would it help to calm things down a bit if an expat Pom living in Yank-land stuck his oar in?

    OK. Good.

    So, shagging in the White House. Based on my comprehensive study of American history, I have come to the scholarly and rigorously scientific conclusion that if you want to get your leg over, it helps greatly if one of your names is Jefferson.

  • STM

    Yeah, he was a bit of a mad rooter wasn’t he?

    He’s obviously set the bar (pun intended), and it’s been on for young and old ever since.

    Don’t ya love the Yanks Doc?? Blowing the living sh.t out of every bastard is OK (NO pun intended), but having a quickie in the White House is a real no-no.

    At least they’re not like your mob, though 🙂 If there’s ever been a place totally obsessed by sex (and sexual practices of ALL descriptions), it’s the Old Dart.

    Some of those Conservative Party politicians think a normal night out involves a ball gag, fishnets, handcuffs, whips. The prerequisite of course for some of it is that you have to be on your own.

    What about that Pommy newsreader who got caught in a park in New York recently with a rope tied around his neck and his orchestras??

    What a hoot. Love the Poms for their madness around that stuff.

    Not just stiff upper lips, eh mate?

  • Doc – that Jefferson thing actually did make me laugh out loud while sitting at my desk at work! I’ve never looked at it that way. I guess it’s always good to have another perspective, even if it is a bit limey…

  • Stan & Doc,

    I just love sitting here and listening to you guys write.

    BTW Clav, I’ll get a grip. 😉


  • Let me just say that some of the finest and funniest moments on BC are when someone hits Baritone’s ‘Rant’ button.

    Stan, I must have missed that story about the BDSM newsreader in the New York park. You sure it wasn’t Kevin Rudd on one of his ‘business’ trips?

  • silver surfer

    I’m pretty sure it was that eccentric pommy bloke from CNN.

    He reckoned he was taking a short cut across the park, according to a report I saw. I think he might have been busted with some marching powder of some description too.

    It was about 3am and he also got done for loitering.

    Nothing illegal about the rope, of course, but how’d you reckon it would work?

    What happens there?? You meet up with someone and ask them to give your rope a quick tug??

    I can’t see that a rope squeezing the shit out of me orchestras would translate to sexual pleasure, but I’ll just say this Doc: when I found out he was a Pommy, I wasn’t surprised :0

  • zingzing

    wasn’t it meth?

  • STM

    It all does the same thing zing doesn’t it … makes you go fast??

    No one’s answered my query about the rope. It’s a legitimate question … 🙂

  • Doc,

    Hey, thanks – er – I think.


  • Besides, ya’ll were dissin my peeps!

  • Zedd



    OMG…. I wonder why people have tired of the BOOMERS. They are so demure.

    I blame it on the parents of the boomers, who despite their otherwise remarkable accomplishments, raised the most shallow, soft (and soft-headed), and self-centered generation of human beings in American history.


    What’s with the title???