Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Simmer Down
The Hidden Columnists, Kristof Edition--25 October Edition

I couldn't get to sleep last night. It was a combination of the prednisone I'm taking for my pneumatic cough (which is quite a stimulant, it turns out) and excitement over Fitzmas. But one of the last things I read last night--a diary by Snoodguy at Daily Kos--as I lay in bed (with just the glow of my Powerbook on my stomach to light my way and Mrs. F heading to dreamland next to me) gave me pause: is my schadenfreude over this whole affair going too far? Am I becoming as blindly triumphalist as the Right Wing talking heads of the 90s when Clinton was boxed in a corner over lying about sex? Snoodguy notes:
I'm all for seeing these crooks go down, but I think this air of celebration isn't helping us - in fact, it reminds me of the Republicans before the impeachment process, and we know how well that went for them.

1. Whatever the charges or eventual results of this turn out to be, it's not a happy day in our country if people at the highest level of government are committing crimes. We shouldn't celebrate it.

2. If we, as Democrats/liberals treat this with festival gusto, we make the whole process look like a partisan gotcha instead of a criminal investigation. So far, Fitzgerald has been apparently professional, detail-oriented, and very terse with the press. Completely unlike, say, Ken Starr and his clown show. I like it that way.

This shouldn't be a Democrat/Republican thing, it should be an American thing. The more we act like the Republicans did with Clinton's impeachment, the more the public will see it in the same light - standard partisan politics - and the less chance we have of using this to highlight the flaws of the rest of the criminal, hypocritical, boneheaded, amoral Republican agenda.

And then there's today's column by Nicholas Kristof in the NYTimes (which is behind the Times Select firewall; if you have access, here's the link), which also cautions prudence:
Before dragging any Bush administration officials off to jail, we should pause and take a long, deep breath.

In the 1990's, we saw the harm that special prosecutors can do: they become obsessive, pouncing on the picayune, distracting from governing and frustrating justice more than serving it. That was true particularly of Kenneth Starr's fanatical pursuit of Bill Clinton and of the even more appalling 10-year investigation into inconsequential lies by Henry Cisneros, the former housing secretary.

Special prosecutors always seem to morph into Inspector Javert, the Victor Hugo character whose vision of justice is both mindless and merciless. We don't know what evidence has been uncovered by Patrick Fitzgerald, but we should be uneasy that he is said to be mulling indictments that aren't based on his prime mandate, investigation of possible breaches of the 1982 law prohibiting officials from revealing the names of spies.

Instead, Mr. Fitzgerald is rumored to be considering mushier kinds of indictments, for perjury, obstruction of justice or revealing classified information. Sure, flat-out perjury must be punished. But if the evidence is more equivocal, then indictments would mark just the kind of overzealous breach of prosecutorial discretion that was a disgrace when Democrats were targeted.
To me, the whisper campaign against Mr. Wilson amounts to back-stabbing politics, but not to obvious criminality. And if indictments are issued for White House officials on vague charges of revealing classified information, that will have a chilling effect on the reporting of national security issues. The ultimate irony would come if we ended up strengthening the Bush administration's ability to operate in secret.

One can believe that the neocons are utterly wrong without also assuming that they are evil. And one can yearn for Scooter Libby's exit from the White House - to be, say, ambassador to Nauru - without dreaming of him in chains.

So I find myself repulsed by the glee that some Democrats show at the possibility of Karl Rove and Mr. Libby being dragged off in handcuffs. It was wrong for prosecutors to cook up borderline and technical indictments during the Clinton administration, and it would be just as wrong today. Absent very clear evidence of law-breaking, the White House ideologues should be ousted by voters, not by prosecutors.

I dunno. I'm sorry to say that I'm not repulsed. Yes, ultimately, the triumphalism and the giddy tidings of the joking Fitzmas label and my obsessive nature over all-things PlameGate of late are a tad worrying. But I'm not repulsed. Was this hardball politics gone overboard? Yes. But--and I'm drifting into Kay Bailey Hutchison territory, circa the mid-90s, here--I believe we need to hold our elected officials, whether they be high federal government or local city council folk, to high standards. That doesn't mean they have to hold to a Talibanesque moral line of character. But they have to be held to the basic tenets of good government: adhering to ethical and legal requirements. And from what I've been reading (which could very well be proven null and void by a lack of indictments), it seems to me that ethical and legal boundaries were broken, and this is the kind of information that the American public needs to be given about their leaders. And maybe Fitzgerald is going too far in possible ties to the forged Niger yellowcake documents, but in a fully loaded Republican government that is loathe to investigate itself or provide any oversight at all, this is potentially really that we'll learn about this issue and how it relates the drive to bringing us to war in 2003.

I'm not repulsed. I'm saddened that it's come to this, but I'm not repulsed.


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