Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, December 12, 2008 10:02 pm

I’ve got your Human Rights Day right here: You have the right to be beaten and firebombed

On Wednesday, which was — and you can’t make this stuff up — Human Rights Day, President Bush awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian award, to Chuck Colson. Who?, you ask. Well, those of us of a certain age don’t have to ask. Take it away, Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings, you mad researcher, you (and this excerpt is long for a reason):

… here, from ThinkProgress, is David Plotz at Slate, offering some background on Chuck Colson:

“As special counsel to the president, he was Richard Nixon’s hard man, the “evil genius” of an evil administration. According to Watergate historian Stanley Kutler, Colson sought to hire Teamsters thugs to beat up anti-war demonstrators, and he plotted to raid or firebomb the Brookings Institution. He eventually pleaded guilty to scheming to defame Daniel Ellsberg and interfering with his trial. In 1974, Colson served seven months in federal prison.”

From Time in 1974:

“Colson took on the tough jobs for the President. He leaked damaging or misleading information to the press about people who criticized the President, had young men hired to pose as homosexuals supporting McGovern at the Democratic National Convention, and engineered mail campaigns in favor of Nixon’s policies. He allegedly ordered his close friend E. Howard Hunt to fabricate a State Department telegram implicating President Kennedy in the assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. At one point, according to Senate Watergate testimony, he urged that Washington’s Brookings Institution be fire-bombed as a diversionary tactic in a raid to seize some politically damaging documents. “Chuck could never play anything straight,” says one of his former underlings. “Everything had to be contrived, a setup. Chuck always had to stuff the ballot box.””

He also wrote the Enemies’ List, said that he would walk over his own grandmother if it would help get Nixon re-elected, and hired the “plumbers” who carried out the Watergate break-in.

The one episode that will always sum up Chuck Colson for me is his plan to firebomb the Brookings Institution. Imagine: a Special Counsel to the President of the United States actually proposing to firebomb a centrist political think-tank.

Now, in no particular order, let’s look at some of the likely objections to my objection:

  • But Colson has led an exemplary life since his crimes of decades ago, converting to Christianity and running a ministry for prisoners. Hey, props for the ministry, although it has never been as effective as Colson has claimed it has been. But Colson was a political tool before his conversion, and he remains a political tool today. One example of which I have first-hand knowledge: In 1996, at the big Promise Keepers rally at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he got up to speak and endorsed the GOP candidate for governor from the stage. Now, as the leader of a charitable nonprofit himself, he had to know that doing that could endanger PK’s tax-exempt status, a charity’s financial lifeline. But he did it anyway, putting political boosterism above the concerns of his hosts. (PK, to its credit if only because of a sense of self-preservation, backed away from Colson’s endorsement so fast it all but tripped over its own feet.) He campaigns for creationism, for crying out loud.
  • But seriously, what about the ministry? I’ll let ObWi commenter Russell take this one: “Well done on his part.┬áBut there are thousands upon thousands of people who have spent their entire adult lives, often at some cost to themselves, working for human rights in one way or another. Colson was the best guy they could find to celebrate Human Rights Day?” Put another way, to the extent that Colson has turned his personal conduct around, kudos, but political pull, not personal conduct, is what’s driving the award or else a whole lot more (and more deserving) ex-cons would be winning one. Quoth ObWi commenter Nell, “It went on his ‘permanent record.’ My mother knew this. George Carlin knew it. There’s so many Americans walking around with a ‘permanent record,’ thanks to the Republican Party war on crime [actually, I think the parties share blame for that so-called war — Lex], that I figure Colson can live with the rap, the thug. What? Now we have redemption in this country? Tell it to the permanently [screwed] millions.
  • You’re just mad because he supported invading Iraq. Close, but airball. A lot of people supported invading Iraq; some should have known better while some had no way of knowing. I’m mad because Colson claimed it was God’s will that we invade Iraq. That’s not Christianity; that’s a sick perversion of it.
  • “But what about William Ayers?” And I hear you. But nobody is offering Ayers the nation’s second-highest civilian award, nor is anyone ever likely to. (On the other hand, out of a sense of mischief if nothing else, Obama could do it, claiming that with Colson the bar has been greatly lowered. [Yes, that’s a joke; if Obama actually tried this, I’d be bashing him, too.])
  • You’re saying nothing he could do would overcome his past. Two responses: First, it ain’t just his past that’s reprehensible, it’s his present. (See items above.) Second, if he were to, say, save someone’s life at great personal peril, I’d be perfectly OK with his receiving whatever national award it is that you get for that. But that award is for a one-time act. The award he got is more of a lifetime-achievement kind of thing, and his lifetime doesn’t merit that, especially on Human Rights Day, for crying out loud.

I neither know nor care what President Bush was thinking in awarding this medal. I choose to judge the action on its own merits, which it utterly lacks: this decision debases the currency of what should be a high honor.

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