Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Ashcroft/Gonzales Lesson: Cronies are Always Worse than Ideologues

It seems like just yesterday that John Ashcroft was every progressive's worst nightmare: a Christian conservative fundamentalist, authoritarian, crackpot Attorney General with a megalomania complex, no respect for taxpayer dollars, and a moonlighting interest in jingoistic singing and songwriting so bad that it would make William Hung blush.

How naive we were. As bad as John Ashcroft was, there can be no doubt that Ashcroft's justice department was a veritable bastion of honesty and upright government compared to the travesty that is the department under the tenure of Mr. "soon-to-be-spending-the-rest-of-his-short-assed-term-under-agonizing-impeachment-threats-or-resignation-demands" Gonzales here.

Indeed, the enormity of Gonzales' transgressions against basic human decency and the principle of impartiality that is the foundation of our entire legal system is so overwhelming that mere words cannot do it justice. Such was the chutzpah of this weasel of a man in so obviously subverting the entire purpose of having a "justice department" that the entire politicization scheme is is becoming unraveled at a record pace. Hell, it's so blatantly transparent that they can't even keep telling the same lie from one day to the next.

What's frightening about all this, however, is that we can surmise fairly confidently that this would never have happened under Ashcroft's tenure. As evil and sick as Ashcroft's ideology may have been and continues to be, one gets the sense that he actually cares about America. That he would not have tolerated or condoned even half of this ugly business. Even Ashcroft's biggest detractors would, I am sure, admit that the man undoubtedly cares about the concept of "justice"; that he believes in the ideal of a just America; and that, in his own fucked up way, he actually has the best interests of America rather than just the Republican Party at heart. One gets the impression that, while Ashcroft may have been doing the wrong things and pursuing the wrong policies, that he at least tried to be competent, and was at least vaguely interested in the notion of what we might broadly call "justice"--even if he figured it didn't apply to terrorism suspects at Guantanamo.

But Gonzales? The creep was Bush's personal lawyer. And so far as anyone can tell, he really hasn't been interested in anything more than doing his client's/boss' bidding--just like Bush's other personal lawyer, the appalling Harriet Miers, who has also been implicated in the scandal. And do we really need to mention Karl "Turdblossom" Rove? These people aren't civil servants; they're just cronies of no value to anyone but the petty masters they serve.

You see, ideology is really beside the point here. Reasonable people can disagree about matters of public policy. Reasonable people can disagree about the balance between freedom and national security. Reasonable people can even disagree about whether Guantanamo detainees are actual prisoners or war, or deserve their own classification. Those disagreements can be strong; they can be virulent; they can be passionate--but they all rely on the common assumption that the arguing parties care even in theory about the health of the United States of America.

But these people--people like Rove, like Gonzales and like Miers--these people do not give a damn about justice or even about what's good for America. They really don't. And they never have. So when orders come straight from the top to turn the entire justice department into one big baseball bat with which to whack the Democratic Party, they just go right along with it with an obedience that would make even the most hardheaded right-wing nutcase cringe with shame. Because they're cronies who don't give a shit about their country, electing to serve their momentary patrons above all else. And what's most insidious about them is how much less dangerous they seem at first glance than the ideologues we tend to fear. They are, if anything, more dangerous to America and all it represents.

And this isn't just about Gonzales: it's about every crony that Bush and Cheney have nominated to positions of influence and power.

It goes for Roberts--an administration lawyer who seems so much more reasonable than does Alito or Luttig--but votes just as unreasonably and is, I imagine, even less likely to "grow" in office than is Alito.

It goes for Miers, a Sith of a woman whom Dubya attempted to install on the court with a wink and a nod to his base. Fortunately for the rest of us, his base was too stupid to realize what it would mean for Bush to appoint a crony to the Supreme Court--but Alito will be far more independent and likelier to vote our way than ever Miers would have been. Hell, I'd take the likes of Michael Luttig of Harriet Miers any day.

It goes for Brownie--a seemingly innocuous man who, when word came from Karl Rove to screw over a female Democratic governor by letting an entire American city drown, obeyed his masters like a sheepdog and said nothing--until that is, they sold him down the river as the fall guy. As evil as an ideologue like Grover Norquist is, I can almost guarantee you that he wouldn't have failed so spectacularly in allowing New Orleans to drown--no matter how badly he may wish to drown the federal government.

It goes for "Scooter" Libby--a seemingly serene and gentle man who is so indebted to his PNAC patrons that he is apparently willing to go to prison to protect them by outing a nuclear proliferations covert agent and then lying about it. I'd frankly rather deal with Ollie North--at least I know where he's coming from, and he can't stab me in the back.


The upshot is this: when evil bastards give you a choice between accepting the nomination of a scary-looking ideologue, or a moderate-looking crony, the choice is clear: pick the ideologue every time. Because quite frankly, there's nothing scarier than cronies like Gonzales and Brownie making you pine for the days of ideologues like Ashcroft.

Impeach the cronies. Then (if politically feasible) impeach their bosses. Keep a close watch on the ideologues. And then remove them ALL from power ASAP. But for the love of our country, start with the cronies--because at least the ideologues care bad enough about something besides their masters to try to do the jobs they were appointed for.

Cross-posted at MLW and at There Is No Blog

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