Back in 1992, when Ross Perot decided to run for the presidency, he chose Admiral James Stockdale as his running mate, a beloved figure whose courage and defiance became the stuff of legend. His 2005 obituary in the New York Times included this passage: “A winner of the Medal of Honor, Admiral Stockdale was shot down over North Vietnam on Sept. 9, 1965. He spent seven and a half years as a prisoner, four of them in solitary confinement. While a prisoner, he organized a culture of defiance among his fellow captives, including another naval aviator, John McCain.”
Sadly, though, Admiral Stockdale will likely be remembered as the fellow who, on the debate stage, opened with: “Who am I, why am I here?” It seemed that this great soldier, who had been reduced to a joke, was being used by a businessman to advance his own political ambitions.
Watching the way Robert Mueller was treated at the congressional hearings this week, I realized that Americans still had that capacity for cruelty.
He seemed disoriented at times. His speech was sometimes halted. He sometimes seemed not to remember some of the facts from his two-years-in-the-making report. It was an embarrassing performance, and at points I had to turn down the volume on the television because it hurt to hear him stammer.
I watched as a person, not as a Republican with anger at a poorly-conducted investigation that ruined lives, nor as a Democrat with a blood lust to get a president so many despise. Watching the attacks from partisan puppets made me cringe.
There was no need to drag Robert Mueller into the lion’s den after his report had been made public. (Admittedly with redactions.) He said that it spoke for itself, and he continued to make that point when he dodged repetitive questions from Democrats who really just wanted to read the report on television and audition for their next television spot with Rachel Maddow and Chris Cuomo.
But I expected that from them. They weren’t happy with the substance of the report, which was inconclusive on whether the president had engaged in obstruction of justice, and they were angry that the hoped-for grounds of impeachment were not served up to them on a silver platter back in May.
What I did not expect was the cruel display of disrespect and hostility shown to Mueller by the Republicans, many of whom acted as a Praetorian Guard of protection around the president.
When Mueller made the very legitimate statement that Russia’s attempts to corrupt our elections was one of the greatest threats to our security in recent history (and he should know), the GOP ignored that salient point and tried to attack his character because he’d conducted a “witch hunt” that embarrassed the leader of the party. Louie Gohmert accused him of perpetuating "injustice,” ranting for about five minutes.
It was pitiful.
The saddest part is that many in the GOP will praise Gohmert and his colleagues for tearing into Mueller, a man who might appear to be a political enemy but who did not deserve to have his character savaged.
I’m not among them.