The Supreme Court decisions in the habeas corpus cases have prompted people in the media to conclude that "The System" worked. It occurred to me that we should start keeping score on when "The System" works and doesn't. Here's a quick tally from the last generation. The list reveals the subjectiveness and ambiguity of the judgments, which may be the most important reason for compiling such a list. Whether the system works or doesn't is a judgment call, even though we often treat the question as if it exists outside the usual arena of partisan politics.
The System Worked
- 1974 Nixon leaves office in disgrace after Watergate crimes are revealed.
- 1987 Reagan's Iran-contra scheme unravels.
- 1998 Bill Clinton is impeached by the House of Representatives, but the Senate wisely refuses to find him guilty.
- 2004 The Supreme Court snaps back an over-reaching executive in a series of habeas corpus cases that suggest that even accused terrorists have rights.
The System Didn't Work
- 1974 Ford pardons Nixon, leaving a bitter legacy that the rich and powerful receive special treatment. (Yes, many people approve of the pardon, but as I have argued for years, President Ford bungled the pardon by not adequately preparing public opinion in advance, reinforcing the cynicism that Watergate inspired in the first place.)
- 1992 Bush pardons Casper Weinberger for offenses arising from the Iran-contra scandal.
- 2000 Al Gore wins half a million more votes than George W. Bush; Bush is elected.
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