No one told us it would be boring, but it is. We’re talking here about the Obama presi-dency. Having an adulterer and a moron at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for eight years apiece, plus Dick Cheney down the corridor, spoiled us. Which side of Bill’s head did Hillary hit with the lamp? Would George fight his way to the end of the sentence in his daily battles with the English language?
These days tranquillity reigns–or seems to–in the Obamas’ private quarters. Senior White House staffers remain loyal and tight-lipped. Small wonder Jay Leno’s nightly show is sagging. There was nothing to make jokes about, at least until Sarah Palin went on her book tour.
Carter was another Democratic president who didn’t drink or fornicate or steal. But he had brother Billy and the colorful Bert Lance as his director of OMB, already mired in Southern Gothic scandal by the middle of Carter’s first year in office. He had the late Hamilton Jordan as his chief of staff, getting drunk at state dinners and making lewd verbal overtures to the wife of the Egyptian ambassador. Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, may be foul-mouthed, but thus far he’s run a ship offering about as much drama as the upper executive tier of an insurance company in Ames, Iowa.
Politics is getting duller by the day, too, as the idealists watch their expectations trickling all too swiftly through the hourglass. What’s left? Enforcing private coverage and savaging the Medicare Advantage plans of low-income seniors (see Mary Lynn Cramer’s exposés of the latter outrage, on the CounterPunch site). Obama has dipped below 50 percent in public approval, which–so the pollsters tell us–is nothing particularly unusual for a new president at this stage of the game. What’s going to stop him sliding down more?
But lo! There’s light a little way up the tunnel: the upcoming trial in the shadow of Ground Zero of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators, the best news for the print press since Monica Lewinsky. Ahead lie months of searing headlines and blood-curdling editorial howls for vengeance in the New York Post and the Daily News.
On November 13, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the five will go on trial in federal court in New York for planning the attacks of September 11, 2001. The fact that Holder, a man with famously sensitive political antennae, told the press that political considerations played no part in his decision only signals the coarsely political nature of his decision.
The scenario envisaged by Obama, Emanuel and Holder is presumably that sometime before the election of 2012, KSM will be ushered into an execution chamber, thus vindicating Obama’s oft-advertised commitment to track down the perps of 9/11 and kill them. So eager was Obama to underline this point that while in Asia he declared that those offended by the trial will not find it “offensive at all when he’s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him.” This remark came after his assertion that the trial would be “subject to the most exacting demands of justice.” Realizing that the latter remark might be construed by some pettifogging civil libertarians as prejudicial to a fair trial, Obama then added piously that he was “not going to be in that courtroom. That’s the job of the prosecutors, the judge and the jury.”
It’s certain that the legal team mustered to defend KSM and the other four will be reviewing mountains of documents amassed by the prosecution, setting forth the evidentiary chain that led to the indictments of the Ground Zero Five. Of course, most of these will no doubt be classified top secret, to be reviewed by defense lawyers only under conditions of stringent security; but it’s a safe bet that enough will be leaked to portray the Bush administration and Republicans in general in a harshly unflattering light, with Bush and Cheney ignoring profuse indications of the unfolding conspiracy.
For their part, the Republicans also exult at the opportunity offered them by Holder’s decision to savage the Obama administration as soft on terror for haling KSM and the others into a US court, as opposed to giving them a drumhead trial by military “commission” and dispatching them without the contemptible procedures of a civilian trial.
Memories of the O.J. Simpson jury’s verdict of not guilty are a strong undercurrent here. In many of the berserk commentaries from the right, one can smell the panic fear that somehow a slimeball defense attorney in the Johnnie Cochran mold will dupe a jury (composed, remember, of people solemnly swearing they have an open mind on the case) into letting KSM and the others slip off the hook and stride from the courtroom, free men.
There’s not the remotest chance of that, though it is true that a single eccentric juror could hang the jury, necessitating a retrial. And if the jury “hangs” on the death penalty, there is no do-over, and a life sentence is imposed.
There are those who gravely lament the impending spectacle, ranging from pinkos raising wussy concerns about secret witnesses and confessions extorted under torture, to the right blaring that KSM and the others will defile the Foley courtroom with their filthy Mulsim diatribes. Bring them on, say I. The show trial is as American as cherry pie, as the former Black Panther H. Rap Brown–currently serving life without the possibility of parole in the supermax in Florence, Colorado–famously said about violence.
American political life is at its most vivid amid show trials. Their glare discloses the larger political system in all its pretensions. At the very least we need the drama to help us get through what is looking more and more like the bland, respectable corporate rule of the Eisenhower years.