Doing nothing ought to be a crime. The conventional wisdom, which on visiting days can probably be verified by polling the involuntary guests (a.k.a. inmates) of our better penal institutions, is that you had to have done something — anything –to be considered to have committed a crime. Walking down the cells blocks one would be hard put to find someone behind bars for not raping a girl, or not committing a burglary, or not stabbing a person. However, in terms of the number of people that are in one way or another injured, some of the worst crimes imaginable are committed by people not doing something — and some of the worst offenders are people who you would never think of as criminals. Their crimes run the gamut from relatively mild ones, those committed against the body politic, to the crime of murder.
Senator Robert Torricelli, the Tony Soprano of the U.S. Senate, because of a remarkable combination of fund-raising abilities, chutzpah, and the Senate’s high level of tolerance for the illegal conduct of its members, managed to dodge the repeated efforts of law enforcement to give him a forced retirement as a guest of the U.S. Department of Prisons. When it came time for him to face the New Jersey electorate he was opposed by a political unknown, Doug Forrester. Forrester campaigned unmercifully against Torricelli on the one issue that sat on the road to Torricelli’s re-election like a 300-pound gorilla: Torricelli’s lawless behavior.
Torricelli slavishly followed former President Clinton’s “They never convicted me of anything and I didn’t do anything but I apologize anyway or not doing anything because people may have thought I did what I didn’t do anyway it all depends on what the word ‘do’ means” approach to these sorts of problems. Unfortunately, while this worked for Clinton, it was not working for Torricelli, who was falling as much as thirteen points behind in the pre-election polls.
To make matters worse, Torricelli was unable to block a federal judge from releasing a pre-sentencing report stating that David Chang, the person who is now in jail for his illegal gifts to Torricelli, including an $8,100 Rolex watch, made accusations that were “credible in most respects.” If all this were not bad enough, a 38-minute, commercial-free TV interview with Chang was broadcast in New Jersey. Torricelli, in order to avoid further humiliation and, in his view, to prevent the Garden State from falling into the GOP column, resigned from the campaign. The only difficulty for the Democrats was a New Jersey law requiring, quite sensibly, that any substitution of candidates be made at least 51 days before election — a deadline missed by a two-week margin. The New Jersey Supreme Court, in a decision defying both law and logic, found that the law did not say what it clearly said, and allowed mega-rich former senator Frank Lautenberg to become the Democratic nominee.
The court’s reasoning was that to hold otherwise would deny the New Jersey voters a choice of a Democratic candidate. The court ignored the reality that any voter who chose to vote for any Democrat could simply write in the Democrat’s name on the ballot. Of more importance is the fact that the Democratic Party did in fact choose a candidate. It was the party’s choice to wait until it was clear that its candidate could not win — and unfortunately that realization and decision came about within the proscribed period– and only then was his candidacy withdrawn. The United States Supreme Court refused to hear any appeal of the New Jersey court’s decision, and by this refusal allowed the lower court’s decision to remain unaffected.
The illogic and mischief of this decision is obvious. A campaigning candidate may spend all his time and treasure hammering away at an issue which, because of the other candidate’s actions or positions, have been placed at core-center of the campaign. When the electorate is finally convinced of the accuracy of the accusations, the weakened candidate is withdrawn, and another substituted, leaving the remaining candidate exhausted of funds and having to start all over again.
But why stop at substituting candidates only once? Why not keep doing it until a winner turns up? The United States Supreme Court, by choosing to do nothing, allowed a miscarriage of justice and certainly provided a precedent for this sort of thing to occur in the future with second, third and fourth choice candidates warming up in the ball pen like replacement pitchers.
No less a revered personage that President Franklin Roosevelt, by his careful non-action, allowed mass murder to take place.
The steamship Saint Louis arrived in Havana harbor from Hamburg with 937 passengers who had fled from the jack boots of Hitler’s storm troopers as they marched and murdered across Europe. Roosevelt refused the refugees admission to the U.S., sending the boat back to Europe with a sure and certain fate awaiting the passengers of ultimately ending up in waiting gas chambers .
Historian Michael Beschloss in his just-published book, The Conquerors, reveals that Churchill, in the hope of impeding the Nazi death camp murders of Jews, wanted to mount an air strike against the camps and their adjacent rail facilities.
“He [Churchill] told his Foreign secretary Anthony Eden, that Hitler’s war against Jews was ‘probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world,’ adding: ‘Get everything out of the Air Force you can, and invoke me, if necessary.’ In July, 1944 Churchill was told that U.S. bomber pilots could do the job best …”
Roosevelt refused to do anything and millions of Jews were destroyed in the ovens. Interestingly, Roosevelt who, to this day is revered by most Jews, had less then a love for Jews. The book reveals:
“After World War II began, FDR had privately said to Morgenthau [Henry Morgenthau was Treasury Secretary, a Jew, and a Hudson Valley friend of Roosevelt] and a Catholic appointee, Leo Crowley, ‘You know this is a Protestant country, and the Catholics and Jews are here under sufferance.’ He bluntly told them it was ‘up to you’ to ‘go along with anything I want.'”
President Bush had the choice to do nothing about Iraq. This would have been the most comfortable course for him. Perhaps the Iraqis would do nothing with their weapons of mass destruction until after his administration was over. And if they acted before that time, he could have sat back and said “I told you so” and, in the meantime, let Americans and the rest of the world bathe in the sunlight of false security. He chose not to do this. So perhaps history is a fine teacher — at least to those who heed its lessons.