Sunday, March 25, 2007

I Could Swear They Used to Talk About Decency and Integrity

Remember George W. Bush's first Presidential campaign? Above all it positioned Bush as a candidate who would avoid the scandals of the Clinton years. It promised us that Bush would restore "honor and dignity" to the Oval Office and (hilariously) that it would restore America's tarnished reputation abroad.

In August 2000, Dick Cheney solemnly promised that Bush would "repair what has been damaged. ... On the first hour of the first day, he will restore decency and integrity to the Oval Office."

Flash-forward to March 2007. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Bush are under scrutiny for the firings of 8 US attorneys who seem mostly to have been fired because they were prosecuting Republicans or weren't prosecuting Democrats. Bush and Gonzales, along with their defenders, have pointed out that US attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President. They can therefore be fired for displeasing the President; there is nothing illegal about that.

True enough. But it's sort of pathetic that the best and only defense anyone at Justice or the White House has been able to sustain for the firings is that they're "not illegal." As cynical as we are, most Americans still at least hope that the standard of good governance is a little higher than merely being non-criminal. Having integrity is way more than being unindictable. Decency demands more than staying a quarter-inch inside the lines of the penal code.

One of the biggest requirements of decency and integrity when it comes to being a politician is to do everything you can to provide the services that most benefit Americans, whether or not doing so helps you or hurts you politically. And a big part of that is having a judicial system that people trust to be driven by an honest desire to find the truth, to protect the innocent, and to prosecute the guilty. That's a tall order, and to do it right, one has to be as honest and careful as one can.

So if US attorneys are doing a good job, prosecuting legitimate cases, not prosecuting hopeless or groundless cases, etc. the President and his Attorney General should congratulate them for that. Not fire them for partisan reasons and pretend it was about their competence. Doing that violates decency and integrity. "Not illegal" just isn't the same as "acceptable."

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