The most devastating fallout for the state of the nation today isn’t just about the carnage in Iraq or the dire economic consequences down the road from current domestic policies or even the growing disparity between the haves and have nots. It is rather the American people’s sense of disillusionment with and distrust of their government.
For most of our history The Constitution has been at the core of a national willingness to conform to our system of laws and governance. But in a few short years the questionable legality of actions taken in our name and the secrecy surrounding White House decisions have undermined confidence in the very structures that have kept the country strong over time. More than military might and warlike posturing it is a populace committed to basic principles of truth and justice that define the integrity of a nation.
That is why the scandal at the Justice Department is important and why, like so many other administration departments, the taint of partisan politics and cronyism reminds us that this White House does not guarantee equal justice for all. We hear repeatedly that federal attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, but they should be approved by the Senate, not slithered in as a result of a clandestine insertion into the Patriot Act and certainly not appointed or removed for politically-motivated reasons. And make no mistake; playing political games at Justice diminishes the reputations of everyone in the department, not just the falsely-accused “performance-weak” attorneys who were removed – – those who remain become suspect.
While it is certainly acceptable for an administration to have proscecutory goals and to appoint attorneys who will pursue those goals it is not acceptable for the Justice Department to become a tool for partisan advantage at election time. Nor is it desirable to have an Attorney General who appears to act as a mouthpiece churning out the White House position on everything from torture to habeas corpus. The statue, Lady Justice, wears a blind-fold not to suggest decisions made blindly, uninformed by evidence and the body of established law, but rather to emphasize her role as impartial arbiter. Politicizing the Department for advantage or protection undermines basic jurisprudence.
It was clear from the outset that this White House maneuvered to keep the electorate uninformed about its intentions and methods. Whether it was energy policy or the basis for invading Iraq there was little if any transparency when the country’s most important decisions were being made. The justification for invading Iraq was wildly over-stated and plans for both the invasion and its aftermath were poorly devised and undertaken so carelessly as to border on criminality.
What is worse, people in a position to speak out at the time failed to do so assuring that voices in opposition went unheard except for a few politicians and critics who were pilloried for their lack of patriotism. Would the country be mired in the Iraqi killing fields if Colin Powell or George Tenet had gone public with their misgivings before the path to war became inevitable? To whom do leaders owe their allegiance? Should there be any doubt that they have a responsibility to the American people, not just to the administration they serve?
In the 1970s Thomas M. Weisband wrote a book called Resignation in Protest: Political and Ethical Choices Between Loyalty to Team and Loyalty to Conscience in American Public Life. Without attempting to assign merit to or disagreement with the positions taken, the book makes the point that people resigned because of values they believed were more important than the prestigious positions they held. The title pretty much tells it all, and in light of what happened here before the war, one can only wonder if the choices made by this White House at the urging of neo-con proponents might have been debated in a more informed manner if some of those who knew better had spoken up.
George Tenet’s book reinvigorates the questions many people had regarding assertions made before the war about yellow cake, mushroom clouds and the rest. It is a disturbing reminder that the country was not well represented by those who chose loyalty to a regime rather than to the Constitution and the American people.
Even today, many of the same people who misled us before continue on the same path. On ABC’s This Week Condoleezza Rice danced around questions as to why the president went ahead with his remarks about Saddam Hussein attempting to buy yellow cake from Niger when the White House was told by the CIA that this was a weak and dubious claim. Secretary Rice asserted that neither she nor Stephen Hadley recalled receiving any communication to that effect. It would seem nobody in this administration ever recalls anything but the spin they have committed to memory.
The scandal at Justice and the endless revelations about the administration’s incompetence and corruption only serve to further alienate an electorate already suspicious of a government that refuses to deal honestly with them.

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