Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Unanimous Consent To Revise and Extend?

Yesterday's riff on the Nixonian resonances of Alberto Gonzales' statements about the political purge of U.S. Attorneys was a quick blast that barely scratched the surface. This probably won't get much deeper, but I can't let the subject go so easily. This is not just about the current scandal; it's about an administration that has consistently put its own interests above those of the nation and the people. It's about the unitary executive and the intimidation of U.S. citizens in the service of not only a so-called New American Century but a permanent Republican majority. It's about rewarding friendscronies and punishing political enemies and, in this case apparently, about turning the nation's "legal department" into a personal political dirty tricks unit the likes of which we haven't seen since Tricky Dick climbed aboard that helicopter.

In the stories and discussion over the last few days, much has been made over the fact that U.S. Attorneys "serve at the pleasure of the president." Well, a West Wing fan like me can't help but have a soft spot for that phraseology...
"At the end of another episode, the young staffers sipped beer on the stoop of a D.C. brownstone and marveled at the honor of working in the White House. One by one they repeated, with hushed reverence, their swearing-in pledge: 'I serve at the pleasure of the president.'"
...and I do understand that when the people vote for the president, they are, in part, voting for the people they expect him to appoint. Any president must, of course, have the ability to bring in his (or, someday, her) "own people." But staffing up at the beginning of an administration or a term with people dedicated to supporting administation policies is a whole 'nother kettle of horses of another color from purging your "own people" either because you want to open up resume' buffing slots for unqualified cronies (the marginally least awful of the various reasons suggested) or because they've prosecuted members of your own party or because they've (in your view) failed to prosecute members of the opposition party vigorously enough.

I'm not naive: I know that the executive branch is political, and that even the position of U.S. Attorney is a political one. Using the tools of office to vigorously pursue the policies on which he campaigned is not only a president's right; it is his duty. But there's a difference between pursuing legitimate policies and turning the nation's law enforcement agencies into political enforcers for the party in (executive) power. So far, the president has been happy to let Gonzales and Sen. Pete Domenici (who, along with Rep. Heather Wilson, made pressuring phone calls to former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias regarding prosecutions of Democrats) take the heat for the purge scandal, and FBI Director Robert Mueller has taken responsibility for the Patriot Act abuse (not that the Patriot Act itself isn't abuse), but anyone who doesn't believe this stuff is coming right from the White House just hasn't been paying attention for the last 6 years.

20 January 2009 can't some soon enough!

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