Last Word: J’accuse, President Bush

Last Word: J’accuse, President Bush

By Robert L. Lewis, Cleveland Attorney

In the tradition of Emile Zola, a respected Cleveland jurist challenges the president.

On January 11, 1898, the Paris daily newspaper L’Aurore published a letter from Émile Zola, the great French novelist. The letter was titled “J’accuse,” and it indicted the president of France for condoning a conspiracy by which Captain Dreyfus, an unpopular army officer, was convicted of espionage on evidence known to be false, but meant to enhance the government’s prestige and divert the citizenry from the real problems of the day lying beneath the surface. Because of Zola’s passionate presentation, high status and known integrity, the matter was reexamined, and Captain Dreyfus was released from a life sentence on Devil’s Island.

While claiming none of the high status of Émile Zola, I hereby submit my version of “J’accuse,” directed against the American president who, by deceit, deception and deviousness, seeks only to enhance the prestige of a wayward government and its attempt to divert us from the truth of the real problems of the day—those simmering below the surface, and far more important and dangerous to our future than the jingoistic issues with which the president wants us to be preoccupied. I state these issues in the format of that unprecedented article.

Mr. President:

I accuse you of having conspired with your brother Jeb of doing everything

possible to frustrate the efforts of our African-American citizens to cast their votes—probably against you.

I accuse you of encouraging our young people to believe that mediocrity befits one to become the President of the United States.

I accuse you of making me squirm with disgust when I accidentally use the term “president” and have to use the name “Bush” right after it.

I accuse you of appointing and supporting an attorney general who is dangerously xenophobic; who helps your popularity, whenever it seems to wane, by announcing another swatch on that bizarre terrorism color chart; who is a man of such high moral purpose that he spent $6,000 of public money for fabric to drape the bare left breast of the statue of Justice that adorns his office, while at the same time a man, of such low moral purpose that he salivates at detaining incommunicado people who wear funny headgear; who declares his purpose of encouraging more guns on the streets (you’ll remember, of course, the NRA said that if you were elected, “we’ll have a president … where we work out of their office”—they’re but a few blocks away at this point); and who, even though the holder of the highest office in the land dedicated to law enforcement, had to recuse himself from the Enron affair because of personal and monetary ties to those minions of dishonesty at that company, including those regularly on the White House A-list.

“I accuse you of being, on the intellectual level, nothing more than a C-minus Yale fratboy, and I therefore feel that I must tell you what “xenophobic” means—it literally means “fear of strangers” or “fear of anyone who is different.” It derives from ancient Greek, and I’ll explain it further if you give me a call.

I accuse you of appointing and supporting a so-called Director of Homeland Security, a well-meaning, obedient and harmless fellow who reacts to a public appearance like a deer caught in the headlights; who hasn’t a clue as to what he’s supposed to do about coordinating our safety forces; who hesitated to appear before Congress (which seems to be a qualification for office in your administration); and who would obviously rather be fishing. Nonetheless, he and you are both lobbying to give that poor lost soul a cabinet post and mountains of money, with no plan as to procedures or outcomes.

I accuse you of having a bad speaking coach. He or she is completely unsuccessful in developing for you appropriate facial expressions to go with your message. Particularly, you need help with those speeches that require you to look stern without looking stupid.

I accuse you of agreeing to take on and continuing to support a vice-president whose strongest stands are secrecy, hiding his financial dealings (there’s a little of that in you, too, but we’ll get to that soon), refusing to name or admit that he used as creators of the official energy policy those very Enron folks who brought our overall economy to ruin with their arrogance and lies and thievery, and, with your encouragement, perfecting the art of stonewalling.

I accuse you of appointing and supporting a Secretary of the Army whose financial dealings are hopelessly—and worse, shamelessly—intermingled with the financial dealings of the very aircraft industry that is doing business with the government.

I accuse you of appointing and supporting as head of the SEC a man whose favorite game in the past has been playing footsie with the executives of all of the corporate thieves who populate the boards and executive suites of Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, Arthur Andersen and many others. According to you, he has taken an oath of sudden contrition and honesty. Please remember the old saying, “Fool me once …”

I accuse you of appointing and supporting a Secretary of the Treasury who has lived in the world of finance at the same level as those frauds from corporate America, and still, while counting his millions from his affiliation with them, tells the helpless retirees and employees that all is well. Worse still, he tells them that investment in the market is risky—but he never tells them that the risk includes theft, deceit and outright


I accuse you of inhumanity in your unwillingness to join the international ban on landmines, or the international attempt at population control.

I accuse you of trying to cast Reagan as a role model (ugh!) and of cozying

up to the likes of Trent Lott, the gay-baiter, and Elizabeth Dole, a throwback to such shining stars as Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon.

I accuse you of masterminding a tax cut that (I) has thrown our national budget and assets into its worst condition since 1929, and (II) has granted still-further tax havens to the 1 percent of our taxpayers who are in the highest income bracket. I salute only your crude craftiness in trying to win over not the best and the brightest, but the worst and the richest.

And speaking of that “fool me once” adage … Pretty soon, those of us who

still have the energy left not to be outshouted will not be fooled yet again by your diversionary pyrotechnics. Last Word J’ACCUSE, PRESIDENT BUSH—bombing the hillsides of Afghanistan and rattling the saber against Iraq (all the while cozying up to Saudi Arabia, which furnished 17 of the 19 terrorists of 9/11. I think that your father has something going with the Saudis, right?).

We know that by encouraging all of those diversions, you’d like us to forget:

(I) Corruption and disgusting skullduggery at the top of corporate America,

your strongest allies and financial supporters, which has led to so many personal tragedies among those who worked hard to assure their futures or who struggled to keep their jobs and their families together;

(II) that you yourself have never cleared yourself of the same skullduggery that you now assert is a danger to us;

(III) that civil rights are being outrageously trampled in the name of safety as defined by Ashcroft; and

(IV) that your popularity is based upon jingoism, skillful cheerleading, and the fantasy-like acceptance among so many of our fellow citizens that you’re doing a good job because you’ve killed a lot of mountain people and rant about such poetic thoughts as “You’re either with us or against us” and “I want him dead or alive.”

No, George, some of them, or us, are not much longer going to accept the simplistic idea advanced by your party hangers-on, that it’s all Bill Clinton’s fault. I take you back for a moment to ancient Rome. There, the people in power decided to pacify the restless citizenry with a program of “bread and circuses”—but they admitted that the throwing of Christians to the lions was just a diversion.

You’re not that honest. And besides, the citizenry, those in need, actually

got the bread, not just the wealthy. See the point?

If you should ever issue an executive order summoning me back to military

service, you’d better send a platoon of MPs to carry it out. I don’t need a wheelchair, but a walker would help.

If there’s any doubt in your mind, I’m a Democrat, an ex-vaudevillian, an octogenarian, a part-time professor of classical studies, a combat veteran of World War II (North Africa, Sicily, Italy), and the recipient of low-cost medications from the VA because I earned the Purple Heart. I strongly suspect that in response to this letter, you will see to it that my federal income tax returns will be singled out for audit in the near future.

Robert L. Lewis of Cleveland Heights, a well-known Cleveland attorney, is the former managing partner of Ulmer & Berne and a faculty member of Case Western Reserve University’s Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations. He was the founding board president of Cuyahoga Community College,

The preceeding article was reprinted with permission from the Cleveland Free Times of Cleveland Heights.

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