Friday, October 28, 2005

Clinton/Libby Hypocrisy

One basic principle that I have used as a foundation for all of these posts is that, to the degree that we tolerate or, worse, reward immoral behavior to that degree we make society worse off -- and it is our fault for doing so. If we want to put an end to a certain type of behavior -- because of its tendency to do harm -- we do so by criticizing and condemning those who engage in that behavior. We say, "Stop it!" and we do so in a way that we mean it.

The indictments handed down today against I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby provide an opportunity to identify hypocrites across the political spectrum. There are certain parallels between the current Valarie Plame investigation and the earlier Monica Lewinski scandal.

I am looking to see who thought that evidence of perjury (where there were no indictments) on the part of President Clinton was such an important crime eight years ago who now think that it is a trivial offense. Crooks and Liars captured a clip from Hardball on MSNBC, in which Ed Rogers, a Republican strategist, of a Republican strategist, claimed that if there is no underlying offense that charges of perjury and obstruction of justice are not justified.

Here is a person – a strategist, an advisor to political leaders – stating that he thinks lying to a Grand Jury can be justified. We should worry about the type of behavior we can expect from the political forces that are listening to advice from this person.

Patrick Fitzgerald described (PDF file) the moral case quite well. One of the evils of perjury and obstruction of justice is that they get in the way of discovering if a crime has taken place. According to Rogers’ reasoning, if somebody lies well enough that he buries all evidence of a crime – but still gets caught lying – that he should be let off.

Note: In this blog, I have tended to offer far more moral condemnation than moral praise. Yet, Patrick Fitzgerald gave a defense of the crime -- moral as well as legal -- of purjury and obstruction of justice that well deserves praise.

Yet, this same Ed Rogers was willing to claim that impeaching a President for the offense of lying, when there was no indictment, was a good thing.

This is an example of the nonsense that the Libby indictments now give us a chance to uncover.

Eight years ago, the crime was thought so offensive that it was not only the legitimate concern of prosecutors, but it was worth stopping all government action for the purpose of impeaching a President. There was a great deal of important work to be done at that time. However, we had a whole Congress full of people who thought that none of this other work was more important than these impeachment hearings.

Now, let us look at how many people thought that this was important work eight years ago who now say that Libby did nothing seriously wrong and that we should let the issue slide so that we can go about other, more important business.

Republicans are not the only hypocrites. There were Democrats, eight years ago, saying that the offense was trivial and that the Republicans were wrong to be making such a big deal out of it. They accused the Republicans of playing politics -- of "pretending" that something of great importance happened when they were really after nothing more than the political advantage of embarrassing a powerful Democrat. Let us see how many of them now consider this to be a serious affair worthy of diligent prosecution.

The Nature of the Crime

On the Democratic side, we are bound to hear some of them argue that there is a significant difference between the acts underlying the Clinton impeachment and those that Libby allegedly performed. Clinton's sex act was a private affair that Republicans made public because it was useful for them to do so, whereas Libby damaged national security by revealing the identity of a covert operative.

However, Libby is not being indicted for revealing the identity of a covert operative. Those who assert that he did so are making claims about which a federal prosecutor could not find sufficient evidence for an indictment. The Grand Jury said that there was not enough evidence, yet the Democrat using this argument asserts that the charges are certainly true.

If you hear a Democrat speaking of the greater seriousness of the underlying crime, you have found somebody who is rationalizing his own moral double-standard. This is somebody who is seeking to excuse actions when committed by Democrats that he wants to condemn when committed by Republicans. In both cases, we are talking about the crime of lying to a Grand Jury -- one in which the offender was not indicted (Clinton), and one in which he was (Libby).

Democratic use of this tactic is really no different in principle than Republican actions that Democrats are very intent on condemning these days. The CIA and weapons inspectors said that they had no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, yet the White House insisted that an offense had taken place and acted accordingly.

While condemning the White House for this, Democrats now are facing a situation where investigators found nor reason to indict Libby on the charge of illegally revealing classified information. However, for political reasons, they want to assume guilt and act accordingly. In doing so, they are proving themselves no better than the people they condemn.

The reason that we get so much hypocrisy in government and in the press is because we never take any steps to eradicate it. Not only do we allow people to make these inconsistent and contradictory claims, we cheer and reward those who do it. Too many people even join them. From one end of the blogsphere to the other, we are going to be able to find hypocrisy on both sides of the political spectrum -- people condemning in others the same actions that they, at worst, ignore when performed by people on their "side".

Making Choices/Taking Action

The political process does not require that we just choose between Republicans and Democrats. We also have the power to choose better and worse Republicans, and better and worse Democrats. This happens in the early part of the election -- the primaries that are just winding up in many states. This is the time when people within each party can select candidates of integrity -- candidates who, when the election comes along, truly deserve to win.

The primaries are also the time when a given voter can have the most effect. Because the primaries draw significantly fewer voters, the actions of group of people are likely to have a more significant effect. Besides, by the time the general election rolls around, voters really only have a choice between two equally deplorable options. Before the primary is run, everybody in the district is an eligible candidate. It would be useful to work on identifying those that have the moral character to stand for the position. This will reduce the "lesser of two evils" problem that plagues most general elections.

Agents like Ed Rodgers should be embarrassed and humiliated out of their jobs. If his job is as a political strategist, and he is selling something as obviously contemptible as the statements he made on MSNBC, then we should look at who his customers are and judge them to be just as morally contemptible. Those who do not fire Ed Rogers for his lack of moral standards should see their own jobs at risk.

Post Script

There is one other issue relevant to this case that has come to light. Another clip captured on Crooks and Liars shows a Fox News interview where former presidential advisor Dick Morris draw some seemingly sound implications. Given that Libby got the classified information from Chaney before (he claimed) he got it from a news reporter, and Chaney gave him this information, then Chaney knew that Libby was lying, and he did nothing to prevent it. He did not fire Libby, or warn him to tell the truth, or volunteer the fact that he knew that Libby was committing perjury to the investigators. This, in itself, is a moral crime – protecting a known felon – and one for which Chaney should be held morally accountable.

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