Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst who risked his career and his freedom to reveal the lies and abuses that led to and maintained the undeclared wars of southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s, knows a thing or two about what it means to defend the Constitution.
When Ellsberg delivered what became known as the “Pentagon Papers” to members of Congress and the media, he began a process of holding the executive branch to account that was precisely in keeping with the intents of the founders.
Ellsberg’s accomplishment was best summed up by an aide to the president whose administration tried to prevent the publication of the details of its wrongdoing, Richard Nixon.
In an Oval Office recording from Nixon’s Oval Office tape from June 14, 1971, H. R. Haldeman can be heard telling Nixon: “To the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing: You can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say; and you can’t rely on their judgment; and the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the President wants to do even though it’s wrong, and the President can be wrong.”
There is no notion more deeply rooted in the ideals and values of the American experiment than that the president can be wrong, and that he or she can be held to account. It is this principle that makes the chief executive a servant of the people, rather than the “king for four years” that Madison and Jefferson feared.
While whistleblowers like Ellsberg have a role to play in the processes of accountability, the founders intended for the legislative branch to check and balance the executive. Unfortunately, most members of Congress put partisanship, ideology and, above all, self-interest ahead of their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution by checking and balancing the executive.
So when Ellsberg says he has found a candidate for Congress who might actually take seriously his or her oath of office, that’s a big deal.
Ellsberg has found such a candidate in a woman who actually assisted him as a legal researcher during the Pentagon Papers trial.
It happens that the candidate, Marcy Winograd, is mounting a challenge in Tuesday’s California primary election to Congresswoman Jane Harman, a conservative Democrat who has served as an apologist for the war-making and intelligence-gathering abuses of the Bush-Cheney administration and who has failed entirely when it comes to demanding accountability from the Obama-Biden White House.