A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Richard II and the Wiretap Dance


Howdy, bardners! (Sorry, couldn't resist).

In the year 800, King Charlemagne, having (briefly) consolidated power over much of Europe, went to Rome to sort things out there. While he was kneeling in prayer, the Pope placed a gold crown on his head, making him Holy Roman Emperor. Charlemagne was careful not to make the same mistake again. In 813, in Aachen, he had his son crowned as his successor. But this time Charlemagne himself placed the crown on his son's head, cutting out the middleman. I sense my reader asking a question:

So what?

Well, something similar is going on in the US government, where the President and Congress are each grasping at the crown of authority – authority to authorize invasions of privacy in the name of the nation's security. You know, wiretaps of those chatty Cathy terrorists (cut to a furious Bin Laden, waving his cell phone bill in an accusatory manner at Zarqawi. "Do you realize the roaming charges you ran up last month?")

But getting back to Shakespeare where we belong, we will peer in on a scene from Richard II – the non-famous Richard play, whose Richard is ignominiously deposed by the future Henry IV. Yes, nothing became Richard II's reign like the leaving of it. Here is Richard II resigning his crown to Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV):

RII: "Alack, why am I sent for to a king,
Before I have shook off the regal thoughts
Wherewith I reigned? I hardly yet have learned
To insinuate, flatter, bow, and bend my knee.
Give sorrow leave awhile to tutor me
To this submission. Yet I well remember
The favors of these men. Were they not mine?
Did thy not sometime cry, "All hail!" to me?

So Judas did to Christ……….
To what service am I sent for hither?"

York: "…The resignation of thy state and crown
To Henry Bolingbroke."

KII: "Give me the crown.
Here, cousin, seize the crown. Here, cousin,
On this side my hand, and on that side thine,
Now is this golden crown like a deep well
That owes two buckets, filling one another,
The emptier ever dancing in the air,
The other down, unseen, and full of water,
That bucket down and full of tears am I,
Drinking my griefs, whilst you mount up on high."

Bol: I thought you had been willing to resign."

RII: "My crown I am, but still my griefs are mine."

Not only who wields power, but how that power has been gained, and specifically with what legitimacy, matters. The Presidential election in 2000 was contested for over five weeks, with Al Gore gaining more total votes but losing in the electoral college (where each state is alloted a set number of votes with the winner of each state taking all). As a result, President Bush's legitimacy was questioned by the left side of an already polarized electorate. This limited his scope of action, and probably played a key role in some of his more moderate appointments, chief among these being his selection of Colin Powell as Secretary of State. Powell,in turn, was the chief architect of using the UN route into Iraq, and the UN route required that the US emphasize the WMD argument, which remains an albatross around Bush's neck.

Thus ripens the tainted fruit of a questioned election.

But we were talking about wiretaps in 2006. Or was it Richard II in 1399, or Shakespeare depicting him around 1595? Or was it Charlemagne in 800? Where were we, anyway?

RII: "…God save King Henry, unkinged Richard says,
And send him many years of sunshine days! –
What more remains?"

Northumberland: "No more but that you read
These accusation and these grievous crimes
Committed by your person and your followers
Against the state and profit of this land;
That, by confessing them, the souls of men
May deem that you are worthily deposed."

RII: "Must I do so?"

President Bush must be thinking the same about his wiretap program (now I remember), which Congress has offered to legalize and permit just as soon as he acknowledges its current illegality. The president is also asked to surrender his claim that the Constitution provides him with authority to wiretap terrorists as part of his executive power to wage war, and bend his knee to Congress as the source of that authority. Shakespeare might have wondered at our exalted system of balanced powers, and scoffed at the idea of commoners selecting presidents ("temporary kings," we would need to explain to him). But the enduring power struggle beneath it all he would clearly understand. In fact, he explains it to us.


Here's a recommendable post from Joe's Cafe.

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