Friday, March 23, 2007

Wow. Just... wow.

Michael Kinsley has written one of the most self-deluded posts I have ever seen outside of evangelical-land.

Kinsley doesn't understand why liberals find "preposterous" the comparisons between Clinton's replacing all 93 US Attorneys (USAs) at the beginning of his term and the Bush regime's recent dismissal of 8 USAs. 231 commenters have taken him to task on this issue at the time I wrote this post, but I'm going to do it too.

The comparison is utterly preposterous, Mike, and here's why: New administrations generally replace most, if not all, political appointees at the beginning of their terms.

Reagan replaced all 93 USAs when he took office. George HW Bush replaced all 93 USAs when he took office. Clinton, as conservatives keep pointing out, replaced all 93 USAs when he took office. George W. Bush also did so. Pointing out 'Clinton did it!' as if it's an anomaly is disingenuous. It wasn't supicious because it's standard procedure. The Clinton administration did nothing different than the administrations before and after.

But firing 8 USAs in the middle of your second term, then lying to Congress about the reasons? Firing USAs that had either recently indicted Republicans or failed to indict Democrats due to lack of evidence? Sending e-mails back and forth trying to make up reasons why these USAs should be fired? All of that is why the comparison is preposterous and inapt.

But Kinsley, who once could put two thoughts together, now tries oh so hard to back up the ridiculous comparison:

If Karl Rove had gotten his way and Bush had fired all 93 US Attorneys at the beginning of his second term, would you (that’s you, Brad DeLong, and Kevin Drum, among others) actually have shrugged it off as no big deal? If Clinton had fired just eight, would you have been hammering him for corrupting justice? Would the fact that the firings came in the middle of the president’s term loom quite so large? If one of the prosecutors had just sent a Democratic Congressman to jail, would you be totally untempted by the White House explanation that the real cause was, say, a reluctance to prosecute abortion-clinic protesters under RICO? Or is there a humongous, crucial distinction between firing prosecutors in in your first term and doing it in your second?
It would, indeed, have been odd if Bush had fired all 93 USAs at the beginning of his second term. Why? Because administrations rarely dismiss USAs they themselves have hired. In fact, a Congressional report tells us that it has only happened a total of 10 times in the past 25 years before this scandal broke. And, the report tells us:

Prior to December, for example, only two U.S. Attorneys were outright fired for improper, and in one case criminal, behavior. The CRS report identifies six
other U.S. Attorneys who resigned during the 25-year period who were implicated
in news reports of “questionable conduct.” For two others, the CRS was unable to
determine the cause.
So, yes, it would have raised eyebrows if Rove had gotten his way, because it would have been very strange. Of course we would have been curious to know why, even if there was no implication of foul play involved.

If, on the other hand, Clinton had fired just 8 USAs? That would have been pretty odd too. But in a completely different way. Because Presidents don't usually do that. I doubt anyone would have thought Clinton was obstructing justice by keeping the other side's prosecutors on the job. But we would, of course, have wondered why he would do that, since it is standard to put your own people in place. But, since that would have involved firing USAs the previous administration appointed, it wouldn't be at all the same thing.

I don't understand how Kinsley can write such preposterous ramblings, let alone publish them.

But then Kinsley displays a naivete that is surprising in a Beltway insider:

I do tend to think that the solution is in electoral politics—punish liars by voting against them -- and not in subpoenas and hearings and special prosecutors and impeachment talk and all the other paraphernalia of scandal.
Er... I think I just lost some neurons. When those "liars" are lying about using the power of government to subvert the electoral process, then you really can't fix things by just "voting against them." Remember, Michael, that some of these USAs were dismissed because they wouldn't trump up false charges against Democrats in order to help Republicans win in the last election. Also, how do people know who the liars are to vote against if they aren't exposed through, oh, I don't know, subpoenas, hearings, and special prosecutors? Let us not forget that some of these USAs were dismissed for doing just that, investigating Republican corruption.

Jeesh. According to Kinsley, I guess we shouldn't bother sending election monitors out to Third World countries to make sure the elections are fair. After all, if the ruling party rigs the election and lies about it, then the voters should just vote them out, right? Why bother to speak out about human rights abuses or censorship in other countries, because if people don't like being tortured and kept in the dark, they should just vote those leaders out.

Amazingly, amazingly stupid. The electoral process lets us replace leaders whose policies are unpopular. But the founders recognized that the electoral process can't protect the electoral process itself, and that's why they created the separation of powers and gave Congress oversight and impeachment authority over the President.

This isn't rocket science here. If A = 1 and B = 2, then A and B aren't equivalent no matter how many times you assert they are. I just can't understand how Kinsley could possibly miss the distinction here. I really can't.


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