Why It Matters

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been in the forefront of exposing the facts and realities behind the U.S. Attorney purge scandal. In the process he’s been asked a number of times by people who want to know, either honestly or in a veiled attack on the pursuit of the scandal, what the big deal is. So eight federal prosecutors got hosed. They serve at the pleasure of the president; they can be dismissed for whatever reason. Why raise such a stink about eight disgruntled lawyers?

Because, as Dr. Marshall explains, there are certain things we have come to take for granted here in the exercise of American government and our lives that aren’t subject to the weathervane of politics; things that do not change because one party or another is in power. We expect our elections to be free of interference; we expect our taxes to be collected and audited with a just and even hand, and we expect the people who enforce the laws and prosecute the offenders to be dedicated to blind justice regardless of political affiliation or influence.

Yes, we’re human; there will be mistakes and there will be zealots who don’t know how to handle their authority. But we have a system in place that is supposed to make up for the flaws and the failings.

We all understand that politics and the law aren’t two hermetically sealed domains. And we understand that partisanship may come into play at the margins. But we expect it to be the exception to the rule and a rare one. But here it appears to have become the rule rather than the exception, a systematic effort at the highest levels to hijack the Justice Department and use it to advance the interest of one party over the other by use of selective prosecution.

This also raises a troubling question. The Republicans and the conservatives (not always one and the same) have made much of their political fortune by harping on the character issue: that they and their philosophy represent a purity of thought and morality that is better than their opponents. They trumpeted their moral superiority with all the subtlety of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on crack during the Clinton administration, and we were treated to unrelenting calls for the Rule of Law and Accountability by the thundering perorations of William Bennett, Newt Gingrich, Pat Robertson, Tom DeLay, and Jerry Falwell. They proclaimed that, to the Democrats and specifically to President Clinton, the rule of law and accountability were whimsical and that ethics, the idea that morals and standards apply fairly to everyone evenly at all times, are situational depending on who’s making the rules and who’s living by them. But now we learn that they are not only doing exactly what they accused the Democrats and Clinton of doing, but in a much more matter-of-fact and business-as-usual manner, and in matters that are far more important than consensual sex between two adults.

So the question isn’t just whether or not the Attorney General and the White House used political consideration in dismissing the eight prosecutors or whether or not a Senator and a Congresswoman made attempts to influence a prosecutor to indict Democrats or whether or not pressure was brought to bear on a prosecutor in Washington state because a Republican lost a very close election for governor. The question is for those who have been the advocates of Truth and Justice and the Rule of Law and all the other nostrums that launched a thousand radio talk-show careers; why would they let this go on with just a shrug and then turn around and question the motives of people who have made this scandal public?

The question that really ought to be asked of those who say it is no big deal is this: why doesn’t it matter to them?

Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.

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