Can someone tell me what hold Scooter Libby has on everyone in Washington that he can even get Barack Obama's general counsel to go to bat for him? Pictures? Videos? What?
Bush's opposition has braced for a pardon and its rage at the prospect is building. To Bush's antagonists on left, a pardon would be only another act in the conspiracy -- a further cover-up, a way of getting away with it. But this is the entirely wrong way of seeing things. A pardon is just what Bush's opponents should want.
A pardon brings the president into the heart of the case. It compels him to do what he has so far managed to avoid: accept in some way responsibility for the conduct of his Administration in communicating with the public about national security and in its treatment of dissent. If the pardon would be politically explosive, then this is what the administration's critics, hungering for accountability, have been waiting for. The case against this government on the larger charge of abuse of power is diminished, made even laughable, by resolving into a 30-month sentence for an obscure figure named Libby.
A presidential pardon is finally an intervention by the President, his emergence from behind the thick curtain he has dropped between him and these momentous events involving his government, his policy, his Vice President. By pardoning Libby, he acknowledges that Libby is not really the one to confront the administration's accusers. Now the president, the true party in interest, would confront them, which is what his opponents have demanded all along.
Well, that's a slick argument --- if you happen to be a 12 year old. (General counsel? Really?) A Libby pardon means that Bush will finally be paying the price for his administration's Iraq war because he will have to take the heat. Right. My question is, from whom? Atrios? Jane Hamsher? Because I don't see that anybody in the press will say much, and there certainly will not be an uproar. They are, after all, implicated in this case and have every reason to portray the pardon as the reversal of a miscarriage of justice, which is exactly how it is being sold. And now that major Democrats seem to be actively supporting the pardon in some byzantine plan to make Bush "look bad" (as if he cares) it would seem that "accountability" means never having to say you're sorry.
But then, when you have someone who reads history like this, you shouldn't be surprised:
Nothing in the nature of the pardon renders it inappropriate to these purposes. The issuance of a presidential pardon, not reserved for miscarriages of justice, has historically also served political functions -- to redirect policy, to send a message, to associate the president with a cause or position. Gerald Ford radically altered the nation's politics with the pardon of Richard Nixon. Credited with an act of national healing, he also spared the man who had selected him for the vice presidency and whose prosecution might have haunted his party even more than the act of pardoning him. He reshaped with a stroke of the pen the national agenda: this pardon, he told Congress, was meant to "change our national focus." George W. Bush's father expressed his contempt for the opposition's "criminalization" of policy differences, with a batch of pardons for high Republican officials convicted in the Iran-Contra scandals .
In each of these cases, the president who issued the pardons was, by determining the course of a criminal matter, redefining its political significance and acquiring in it a personal and lasting place. By pardoning Libby, Bush will have done the same. Presidential fingerprints, so far nowhere to be found in this case, will surface at last, indelibly, on the pardon.
Presidential fingerprints are already on this case, as everybody knows, and which historians will have no problem finding. After all, Libby worked in the white house and was a special counsel to both the president and vice president. I don't think we need to worry about the "case" against the Bush administration's Iraq lies dying with Libby's prison sentence. It's a pretty big case.
The idea that Republicans paid a price for their previous pardons is laughable. In fact, they paid such a huge price that one of the people Bush senior pardoned is working in the white house today! The "political significance" was that it encouraged Republicans to commit crimes while in office knowing that there will be no price to pay. I'm not sure why Democrats should find this a positive, but that's just me.
Ever since Nixon, the Republicans have been getting away with criminal behavior when they are in power. Nixon was allowed to resign and was pre-emptively pardoned. His minions all took their punishment like men, however, and did their time without complaints. But that was the last time. After the multiple crimes committed in Iran-Contra --- big ones, to do with national security and unconstitutional executive power-grabs --- the Republicans decided they had nothing to lose by pardoning their criminal underlings and so they did.
Once Bill "he's not my president" Clinton was elected, the rules changed of course, and they tried to run him out of office with endless partisan witch hunts and impeachment over consensual sexual behavior. For the coup de grace, they had a full-blown hissy fit over his pardon of Marc Rich --- who was represented by Scooter Libby! Now they are clutching their pearls once again about a Republican being the victim of the long arm of the law and the pundits (and now some Democrats) are whining about how he must never see the inside of a jail because he is such a fine fellow and the horrible Republican appointed prosecutor was out to get him.
So excuse me for being skeptical that a pardon will somehow blow back on Bush. Of course it won't. Bush will instead be (temporarily, perhaps) rehabilitated by his party and considered a thoughtful statesmanlike gentleman by the press for having the compassion and decency to spare someone of Scooter's superior humanity from rubbing shoulders with hoi polloi.
I don't know why Scooter is so damned special that everybody in Washington is having the vapors over the fact that he may have to do time. (I know if I were Jack Abramoff, I'd be a little bit miffed that nobody is lifting a finger after the tens of millions I'd funneled to all my good friends.)I mused yesterday that it was because the town elders are circling the wagons around one of their own, and I think that's part of it.
But it appears that this is actually something more and it's beginning to smell very ugly to me. The political and media establishment are making an explicit argument that high level Republicans really should be held to a lower standard than other Americans --- the exact opposite of the argument they made in the Clinton impeachment, where they insisted that a non-material lie about a private sexual matter in a dismissed case was so important that it required a duly elected and successful president be removed from office. Perhaps the problem is simply that the it's a capitol full of lawyers, who tailor their arguments for each individual case. Unfortunately, the only client seems to be the Republican party.
The fact is that the Libby case is simply not partisan. The Democrats were completely out of power and had nothing to do with it, so the cries of witchhunt and prosecutorial misconduct are absurd on their faces. Patrick Fitzgerald is the kind of prosecutor Republicans usually revere --- a by-the-book believer in the letter of the law. Yet they are making these specious arguments anyway and they are quite likely, in my estimation, to make them work, through sheer insider power.
I frankly never cared if Scooter did time or got probation or did community service. But nice people get jail sentences that seem harsh every day in this country and all of Scooter's friends are the first ones to say the judge should throw away the keys. Certainly, George "please don't kill me, please don't kill me" Bush is not known for his compassion when it comes to matters of sentencing. So all this special pleading is especially distasteful coming from these people.
I'm not big on blog triumphalism, but if there is one thing we bring to the table it's that our distance from that milieu brings some perspective to it. And from where I sit we have a decadent elite who rule on behalf of a political party that finds authoritarianism quite appealing --- as long as they aren't personally subject to it. Pardon me for thinking that might not be the best thing for the country.
Update: The good news is that Obama himself does not endorse this view. But the thinking in this post is so convoluted and frankly, embarrassing, that I would hope Obama would never appeal to this guy for any kind of serious advice.