Tom Clark had a sense of humor and a sense of perspective. Even after he had been elevated to the Supreme Court, he remained plain old Tom. He had no illusions about his ability to straighten out all the world's problems by 9 o'clock tomorrow morning.
Tom's boy, Ramsey, is different. In fact, Ramsey has been called a maverick and even a traitor.
Harsh words, those. Article 3, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution says, "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort."
The italics are mine. Ramsey, bless his pure heart, did not set out to adhere to our enemies or give them aid and comfort. He appointed himself the leader of a delegation to Iran's anti-American conference because he truly believed that our foreign policy was leading us toward disaster. He just happened to approve of God's decision to sanctify him as a peacemaker.
As a former attorney general of the United States, appointee Clark knew that appointer Clark was putting the head of the American delegation to the conference into a dangerous predicament.
The Logan Act was passed by Congress to rebuke Quaker George Logan, who had gone to Paris to negotiate with French leaders in 1798.
In his "History of the People of the United States," historian John Bach McMaster referred to Logan as a man who acted as a "private envoy to France . . . a man of property, and possessed of that strange mixture of benevolence and conceit which, in little things, makes men busybodies but often turns them into benefactors when concerned with matters that are great."
Congress was furious with Logan, just as official Washington is now furious about Ramsey Clark's meddling. In 1799, Congress passed what came to be known as the Logan Act, a law that imposes stiff penalties against any private citizen who corresponds privately with any foreign government or its agents in order to influence the actions of a foreign government toward us.
One assumes that as a former attorney general, Clark knew of the Logan Act and deliberately decided to ignore it. If there has ever been a successful prosecution under the Logan Act, it does not come readily to mind. s
Clark's decision to participate in an anti-American conference was made after careful thought. What went through his mind was possibly something on the order of, "Oh, Lord, this administration is mishandling the hostage crisis by refusing to engage in a dialogue with the Iranians and failing to convey to them that we understand their anguish today and the intolerable provocations that led them to rebellion against the shah. I sense a message taking form in my mind. I think it is my mission to listen to these people. You are sending me to Iran to reassure Iranians that the United States is not as insensitive to man's aspirations as Jimmy Carter would make it appear. n
"Give me strength, O Lord on high, to do my duty. Help me work out a compromise that will bring back our hostages. Put the proper words in my mouth, Almighty God, and help me persuade those people to let our diplomats go in peace."
But alas! When "the proper words" came out of Clark's mouth, they came out as a promise to "bring the shah to trial for his great crimes." Was the brilliant lawyer, the former attorney general, misquoted or misunderstood? No, we all heard him on television. He wasn't misquoted; he wasn't misunderstood. He had decided that the shah was guilty and therefore should be brought to trial for his great crimes. And in taking that position, our self-appointed representative made it plain that he would give the shah the same kind of fair trial the Iranians propose to give those notorious criminals and spies, the American diplomats they now hold hostage.
Liberals are sometimes looked down upon for being good-hearted and well-intentioned people rather than practical, hard-headed people.
Personnally, I'm rather fond of soft-hearted people. I like even Ramsey Clark. I think he means well.
But I'm afraid I'm prejudiced against former attorneys general who denounce people for being guilty of great crimes before they are brought to trial. I am also prejudiced against people who are so sure they know more about running our country than its oficials know that they try to usurp official authority by staging righteous coups.
The United States has for almost 200 years been forgiving well-intentioned bumblers who meddle in U.S. foreign policy, but this creates some problems. The next to fancy himself as a proper delegate to an anti-American conference may be Don Rickles or my first wife or (the thought of it causes my hands to tremble) you .
Please don't do it. You may mean well, but we already have more problems than we really need.