Anniversary Post: Iran-Contra Hearings

Iran-Contra AffairOn this day back in 1987, the Congressional hearings on the Iran-Contra affair started. I was back in college full time, but I was glued to the radio for it. To me, it was so obvious: Republican presidents abuse their power. There was Nixon and now there was Reagan. And I was right. We saw it moving forward. Not only was the George W Bush administration totally corrupt — it didn’t even wait until it was elected. They really are the fascists of our our time.

Of course, what I was wrong about was that it would matter. Nixon was unpopular with his party, so he was abandoned. Reagan was very popular with his party so even today they won’t admit to this treasonous behavior in the Iran-Contra affair. (Bush Sr was probably much more guilty, but we just don’t talk about that.) And when Reagan claimed that he didn’t remember, it wasn’t hard to believe him. But by far, the most shameful thing was the testimony of Oliver North. He should have been court-martialed and then died in jail. Instead, America — in what has become typical — supported him. It apparently doesn’t matter what you do as long as you defend it with sufficient belligerence. That is also how we got Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court for life.

Not to worry. It would only be 11 years later that Congress would finally get around to doing something about presidential malfeasance: Bill Clinton lied about a sexual liaison. Sure, it isn’t treason. But it was a Democrat. And that’s all that apparently matters. If the Republicans had the votes, they surely would have impeached Obama. And once they do have the votes, they will impeach whatever Democrat happens to be in the White House.

But back in 1987, the Congress tried — however feebly — to do something about actual presidential treason.

15 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Iran-Contra Hearings

  1. Let me be the voice of optimism this time. It’s been a while since Clinton’s show trial. I think that there still is a very large fraction of America that realize how preposterous it was.

    The extreme nuclear tactics of Republicans in the USA and Conservatives in Canada are very popular with a certain group but seem to have put off a large enough fraction that it no longer is a winner. It seems like people are starting to get tired of politicians who refuse to legislate.

    Just my impression, and I suppose I’m always wrong when I predict something good. Anyway, the use of constant obstruction and attempts to impeach based on the crime of being in the wrong party seems to be more widely seen as the ridiculous, weaselly cheating that it is, than before.

    • You are right: it is dangerous to predict something good. On the other hand, pessimism is deadly because it leads to inaction. I have far too much of that.

      Most Americans thought the Clinton show trial was preposterous at the time. Republicans being clueless about the larger community is nothing new.

      Anyway, I will wait until November to see just how optimistic I am. Trump should fail miserably. But that doesn’t mean he will. It’s never bad to bet on Americans being stupid and small minded.

  2. “(Bush Sr was probably much more guilty, but we just don’t talk about that.)”

    Is that so? I’d never heard that claim.

    I was four when this happened, so I can’t claim to have followed it at the time, but in hindsight it seems like a clear impeachable offense. Then again, I’ve long believed impeachment has been underused, and the founders expected it to be a much more common procedure. Andrew Jackson is the first president who should have been impeached, for defying a direct Supreme Court order to commit genocide. Still, at least some direct oversight was attempted for Reagan.

    As for Clinton, at least they presented charges and had a formal trial. I don’t really hold it against Gingrich and Co. for the impeachment, even if it was a sham. They had the courage of their convictions and went through with it. Compare to today, where Republicans and conservative talking heads repeatedly claim Obama has committed impeachable offenses but refuse to put their cards on the table. If they believed it, they’d move ahead with an impeachment. Since they don’t, it seems clear to me they want to keep stirring up the base with fundraising letters but aren’t willing to risk it blowing up in their faces.

    • As I recall, there was evidence that Bush was somehow directly involved with the deal. Given his time at the CIA, that isn’t hard to imagine. But it’s been a long time since I’ve read about this stuff.

      It was most clearly an impeachable offense.

      You are right about Jackson. But he wasn’t impeached for the same reason Reagan wasn’t: he was popular. (Not that Reagan was that popular.)

      As for Clinton, I don’t give the GOP much credit in that regard. They went after Clinton in every conceivable way and in the end, all they could come up with was lying about an affair? I don’t expect much from politicians, but that level of cynicism is too much even for me.

  3. Iran-Contra was just unbelievable. Reagan and Bush Sr. absolutely should have been impeached and sent to jail, along with a bunch of others. The open contempt for lawful behaviour was stunning. Remember Ollie North’s secretary Fawn Hall smuggling documents inside her boots and clothing so Congress wouldn’t get their hands on them?

    • I was just thinking about her! Good for you for remembering her name. I also remember the endless discussions of shredding. It seemed like that went on for days.

  4. I forget if it was Ivins or Franken who pointed out that North showed up looking like All American Soldier Man and the public just couldn’t believe someone clean cut and so proper could do anything wrong so the support for the hearings dropped.

    No idea if that was the case.

    • I don’t think it was. It was more the whole Trump thing. He showed up and stared down Congress. He basically said, “I don’t care what the law says, I was told to do this so it was right.” He still went to jail. I suppose the big thing is that he could have rolled over on others further up. But that wasn’t the way to go about getting that result. It was political theater.

        • It was interesting, but it would be so much better today with the internet and bloggers. You had to figure out a lot of stuff yourself. At first, I thought it had to do with the Iranian hostages. In fact, a lot of people think that today.

      • North never went to jail (he did some community service), partly as a result of the immunity he was given for Congressional testimony. He went on to become a celebrity on the right-wing media gravy train, and I presume has been enjoying a nice life since.

        Fawn Hall was also given immunity. Later she moved to California, failed at being a media star, married a wealthy guy in the music business and became a cokehead. So what else is new?

        • Somewhere I still have a t-shirt from the 80’s reading “Ollie North For President: He Knows What’s Best For You.”

        • You’re right. He was, however, convicted. But as the Great American Hero, he was given a suspended sentence.

          I’m glad things worked out for Hall. I don’t blame her. Although she did get punished: she dated Rob Lowe for a while.

          • You should blame her. She was as much a publicly unrepentent criminal as North and a willing accomplice.

            • Maybe so. But I’ve been such a whore in my own life, that I’m inclined to cut her some slack. Regardless, she wasn’t the person in power. Regardless, life seemed to work out quite well for her, so I’m certainly not going to feel bad for her.

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