Canadians can come up with really good ideas. The mix-and-match six-pack you can get in those beer stores north of the border—absolutely brilliant. That great little breakfast sandwich they serve at Tim Horton’s—it hits the spot. With a currency nicknamed the “loonie” it’s no wonder Canada has given birth to a raft of comic actors who have come south to delight us over the years, from Dan Aykroyd, to Tommy Chong, to Jim Carrey. A country that can produce both Pam Anderson and universal health care must be doing something right—and it’s just 90 minutes away. Maybe we should pay them more attention.
A few weeks ago George W. Bush took a quick trip to Canada to give a speech. No press were allowed inside, as Bush’s booking agency said they wanted to “work the kinks out” of his presentation. No word on the fee for his fractured syntax. More to the point, outside the hall in Edmonton, Alberta, lawyers and peace activists called on the Canadian government to arrest Bush and charge him with war crimes. The uproar barely made headlines here in the United States, but I think our neighbors to the north have a valid point.
It is high time that someone reintroduced the notion of accountability into the highest levels of our government. It’s time to hold the Bush administration accountable for the crimes they committed. In real time it was hard for many of us to absorb the dimensions of the atrocities committed by Bush, and the mess his criminal mismanagement has left us in. Only as time goes by does it become clear that the Canadians got it right.
Accountability was the lynchpin of welfare reform—make people work for the benefits they receive. Accountability was the lynchpin of education reform—make teachers show that they can produce results on the test. The firestorm over AIG’s bonuses comes down to an argument about accountability: Why should they get rewarded for creating a disaster? Lately President Barack Obama introduced the notion of accountability into the economic recovery plan, essentially firing the head of General Motors for lousy performance.
Everyone gets held accountable, except George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Some will object to the prosecution of a former president, saying that it will spark a new round of politically inspired partisan witch hunts, with resulting gridlock in Washington. This would be a fair enough critique if the Bush crimes were on a par with the Clinton peccadilloes. Had Bush sinned with an intern and lied to keep Laura in the dark, I’d say we should move on. But the stain of his misdeeds goes far beyond a young lady’s blue dress.
Some think we should simply bury the past and move on. Even Obama has expressed a preference for looking forward. But this is a false choice. Government moves forward every single day while at the same time scanning the past and prosecuting crimes.
Here in Syracuse we have something to teach the nation in this regard. In the 1980s, our municipal government managed to keep moving while Lee Alexander was being investigated for corruption. Building permits were issued, parking tickets paid and taxes collected even while our former mayor’s business dealings were being scrutinized. His fall from grace and time behind bars no doubt stayed the hand of others who might have thought to dip into the public trough for personal gain. Crimes unpunished are crimes rewarded.
As Vermont’s Sen. Patrick Leahy said when launching a Senate investigation into Bush, “We need to get to the bottom of what happened—and why—so we make sure it never happens again.” And the charges against Bush make Alexander’s charades look, to use a phrase, bush-league. In two areas that define what it is to be an American—civil liberties and treatment of suspects—the policies of George Bush crossed a line of abuse of executive power that had never been crossed before.
If you harbor any doubts as to the unique damage done to this country by our 43rd president, I suggest reading Mark Danner’s recent article, “U.S. Torture: Voices from the Black Sites,” in the April 9 issue of the New York Review of Books (www.nybooks.com). It’s hard to read the stories of secret prisons and serial waterboarding and feel proud to be an American. And though President Obama has just ordered those “black sites” closed, there is nothing to prevent a future president from taking us back down that road, unless the past is fully exposed and the guilty parties exposed.
If our own legislative and judicial branches aren’t up to the task of harnessing the executive, we just may have to leave it to the Canadians.