Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cheap Cynicism Aside, It Really Didn't Used to be This Way

In terms of public sentiment, the scandal about hiring practices at the DOJ doesn't really trigger many seismic shocks. It all sounds so trumped up - we're supposed to be surprised that W's administration looked at the politics of people it was hiring, and sought to only hire people who toed the Republican line? Who among us, if interviewing for a position in the DOJ during the the past 7 years, would not have expected a question along the lines of "What is it about George W. Bush that makes you want to serve him?"

Count me sadly naive, but I never dreamed that we had slipped so far.

The Department of Justice formerly was a proud institution (and I'm certain that many fine people remain in the ranks), and part of that pride was based upon the fact that they hired the best people for the jobs they filled. When I graduated from law school, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, and the only reason I did not bother applying for a job with the DOJ was the fact I knew my grades weren't high enough.

I fear that speaking of the days when the US Attorney's Office was a meritocracy makes me sound like some old fogey talking about the fictional days when children were always polite to their elders and there weren't any race problems. But, honestly, it didn't used to be this way. Sure, the heads of the local offices were political appointees, but they were appointed to run their offices competently and even-handedly. I disagreed with some of their priorities and decisions, but it was always an honest disagreement with the complete expectation that the work of the DOJ was above politics.

No more.

When Shields and Cardarella were charged, I heard their claims that the prosecution was politically motivated, and I didn't want to believe them. But something about the charges and their timing seemed "off", and, sure enough, the people involved with the charges are up to their neck in the DOJ scandal. My inability to see clearly what was going on was because I filtered the fact through a rigid lens that saw the DOJ as apolitical. My vision was clouded by the memories I had back in the "good old days" of the Reagan administration (yes, I just typed that phrase).

It takes years to build a reputation, but only a weak moment to ruin it. The DOJ's reputation is now ruined. Those who wanted to elide "Justice" of the Department of Justice in favor of Department of Dirty Tricks - Legal Division, are now justified in believing they are correct. Most of the political hires were into "career" positions, where they will be tainting the process until the day they retire.

How many interviewees responded to Monica Goodling's sinister question by claiming a desire to serve Justice rather than George W. Bush? And how quickly did those good lawyers receive their rejection letters?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What exactly was so good about the 80s under R.R.? He had to add the military to the unemployment numbers, kansas city lost 50,000-100,000 jobs thanks to his union busting and ohh yeah, he sucked.

8/01/2008 1:18 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Agreed on all points, anonymous. The "good" was only in relation to the fact that even RR had the good judgment not to make the DOJ a political tool.

8/01/2008 6:17 AM  
Blogger Phil Cardarella said...

Actually -- despite the willful disbelief of those who prefer to think the world works the way their 6th grade civics teacher taught -- the DOJ has always been political. It was always in the "public relations" business -- political in the sense of trying to do what would get it the most good press, not necessarily in the sense of partisan politics. It has always been bent against Democrats because of the nature of the organization as it expanded the number of assistant prosecutors by a factor of ten: Full of very conservative, ex-military lifers in so-called professional positions. Liberals might apply, but will not prosper or advance.

What the Bushies did was recognize the potential of this for partisan purposes -- to eliminate the basis for any Democratic revival against the Permanent Republican Majority. And, of course, be ruthless enough to use it. So ruthless, in fact, that they had to can Todd Graves as not partisan enough!

Rove understood that, so great was the unmerited reputation for fairness of the DOJ, even good, smart folks like Dan would rather believe that friends he had known for 20 years were crooks than accept the total political corruption of the DOJ.

At least Dan now gets it. And is willing to say it.

In December,2006, no one had ever heard of Mark Funkhauser. Katheryn Shields was polling second behind Alvin Brooks, despite the Star's rancid antagonism towards her. She had a large warchest, and a network of supporters. That meant there was a very good chance that the largest city in Missouri -- a swing state -- would have a woman mayor who had a history of raising money for Democrats and raising hell about such issues as health care and the environment.

So -- without ever having signed anything that was not 100% accurate -- she became the only home seller in the history of the US to be indicted on the wild theory that she should have known about a conspiracy that there was no evidence at all that she could have known about. (It helps if you can lock the truth out of the Grand Jury room.)

And KC got its new mayor, one not much help to the Democrats.

Fact is, but for the shift in Congress, none of the details of the DOJ scandal would have come out. Gonzales is gone -- but Mukasey is actually filing charges against a HIGHER % of Democrats than before. Rove is stonewalling Congress and -- just in case Congress gets too assertive -- the DOJ has opened an investigation against House Judicairy Chairman Conyers' WIFE! Want to play hardball, congressman?

The Bush Administration is a criminal enterprise that has been able to use the DOJ as both its consigliere and its Lucca Brazzi. The real question is whether we can ever again have a good answer to the question of "Who will watch the watchers?"

8/01/2008 4:37 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Whoa, there, Phil. I never, ever believed that friends I had known for 20 years were crooks. I believed they had been charged, and I wanted to believe (and did believe) that the charges were brought in good faith by the DOJ.

It wouldn't be the first time that a legit prosecutor brought charges against an innocent party, would it?

8/01/2008 7:29 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

And, by the way, some of us knew, even back then, that Funkhouser was going to win. And some of us realize he's doing a great job.

8/01/2008 7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The DOJ was ALWAYS political as far back as I can remember...the early 70's.

Who ya kiddin, Danny boy?

8/02/2008 7:43 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Political? Perhaps - in that all organizations are "political" in some regards.

But the politicization of the DOJ hiring practices is something new, entirely, and it has awful threats for our future.

8/02/2008 9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan graduated law school during the Reagan administration? Anonymous remembers the early 70s?

Aren't you both too old to be blogging?

8/02/2008 9:52 AM  
Blogger Phil Cardarella said...

Thanks, Dan. I phrased it badly.

It is interesting that you are the only person who actually does talk about the DOJ's political corruption. God knows the Star is not interested in making the local connection's logical conclusion.

Of course, the DOJ has always had a political bent. It was up to the Bushies to turn it into a branch of their campaign for a Permanent Republican Majority.

8/04/2008 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wah wah wah, Phil....

The only reason you all got off was because you were fortunate enough to find 12 people sitting on the jury who bought the load of crap you all sold...

8/04/2008 9:39 PM  

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