If the film Frost/Nixon and the historical events it portrays teaches anything, it is that not only should Presidents and elected officials at any level be subject to the same accountability as those in any other profession, they should be held to an even stricter level of accountability based not just legal application, but moral and ethical applications of proper behavior. Such dimensions of behavior can easily expand beyond the literal interpretation of laws even when designed to withhold violation.
One of the single most telling lines in the film offers insight not just into the way that Mr. Nixon’s mind works, but illuminates the mental operation that would lead someone to take such ridiculously risky behavior in the world’s most observed job. The issue has to do with the overwhelming evidence that Frost is able to forward that Nixon obstructed justice even while sitting at his desk in the Oval Office. Power, it has been said, corrupts, but before corruption can occur, power must also poison the natural inclination to fear being caught doing wrong.
The more power one is given, the farther one moves away from the fear of being punished.
Nixon offers a glaring example of how this movement can actually reach a point so far from normalcy that an otherwise brilliant mind can say without irony: “I think the record shows, Mr. Frost, that far from obstructing justice – I was actively facilitating it.”
Of course, the record shows just the opposite, but power does not just corrupt the desire to do right, it poisons the mind’s ability to realize the different between right and wrong.
The ultimate realization of this lack of accountability on behalf a President who paid for the silence of co-conspirators and who actively engaged in judicial obstruction among countless other impeachable offenses is the emotional and intellectual climax of the narrative when the former President stakes the claim with utter and devoted sincerity that “when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.”
Accountability essentially collapses into a bottomless void lacking any meaning or consequence whenever anyone who should be accountable holds such a view. And because those whose minds are so poisoned cannot be expected to legislate their own actions, accountability absolutely must be mandated from without.