The business with the missing emails and Lurita Alexis Doan, the U.S. Attorney purge, destabilization in the Middle East, festering rot in New Orleans, and even the President’s search for a “war czar” seem to me to be coming together into one big, hard, ugly knot. Because, when all is said and done, at the root of each of these issues is the simple fact that our government was taken over by people who don’t give a bleep about governing.
Let’s take the email scandal. Even assuming there’s nothing incriminating in the missing emails, shouldn’t it be troubling that White House staffers — people whose salaries are paid by our tax dollars — were expected to spend so much time on Republican Party business they were issued RNC laptops and blackberries on which to conduct that business? Further, these staffers allegedly were so careless about keeping the government’s business separate from the party’s business that much government business was conducted via RNC email servers.
Going further: It’s always been obvious to everyone that Karl Rove is, primarily, a Republican Party operative. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a Republican Party operative. But why is he drawing a government salary? Why does he have top security clearance? Why does he sit in on Cabinet meetings?
Of course, there’s always going to be some overlap between politics and government. But let’s have some perspective. In 1998 the House held bleeping hearings on the White House Christmas card list. Republicans were shocked, shocked I tell you, when they learned that some of the people who received Christmas cards from President Clinton were Democratic Party donors. And Republican congressman Dan Burton actually investigated the use of White House staff, postage, and stationery to answer mail addressed to Socks the bleeping cat.
Does that mean we can impeach Barney for those cutesy-poo Christmas videos?
Although there might be a fuzzy line between White House public relations (e.g., the Christmas card list; letters from Socks the cat) and partisan politics, as long as the Christmas cards were not soliciting campaign funds and Socks was not making charges against his master’s political opponents, what’s the big bleeping deal?
But of course, It’s OK If You’re a Republican. Joseph M. Birkenstock wrote in Salon (June 13, 2003),
Once upon a time, using the political power of one’s office to gather more power resulted in literally dozens of congressional investigations of the Clinton administration including, and I’m almost positive I didn’t just make this up, a taxpayer-funded investigation into the White House Christmas card list. During the Bush administration, the use of Vice President Dick Cheney’s official residence at the Naval Observatory for a Republican Party fundraiser, private briefings for top Republican donors by Bush Cabinet officials, and the simply astonishing use of the federal police authority of the Department of Homeland Security to intervene on behalf of the Texas Republicans in Tom DeLay’s shameless mid-decade redistricting power grab, have thus far resulted in a couple of watery editorials. So don’t expect much of an apology about the naked use of power to beget power from this administration.
On the other hand, in 1997 Vice President Gore admitted he had made campaign fundraising phone calls from his White House office, which is a violation of federal law, but he brushed it off with his “no controlling legal authority” speech. I’m as big an admirer of Gore as anyone, but to this day that episode disappoints me. It would have been better had he said “yep, sorry, I shouldn’t have done that” and paid a fine or done community service or whatever. I’m just putting this out there to say yes, I remember it, and I’m not making excuses for it. Except … wait a minute … is it possible the Vice President used his own cell phone to make the calls? Possibly not, but if he did, how would that be different from what Karl Rove et al. were doing in the White House with their RNC laptops and blackberries?
According to the finger-wagging editorials from 1997, Vice President Gore violated Section 607 of Title 18 of the U.S. Criminal Code, which states there is to be no solicitation of campaign funds in federal government offices. The law isn’t voided just because someone is using his own blackberry. Even so, we don’t know if anyone in the Bush White House was soliciting campaign funds, so let’s go on …
Right now details about the emails are coming out rather quickly. We can fairly accurately call it a “growing controversy,” I would say. But before we get too bogged down in details, can we take a moment to think about where governing ends and politicking begins?
After the dust settles, some legislators might want to revise federal code about political business conducted in the White House. That might be a good idea. However, I don’t think it’s possible, or necessarily desirable, to write laws that cover every possible contingency and keep the entire White House staff under constant surveillance to be sure the law is being followed. I think the biggest insurance against gross abuse is to elect presidents who are genuinely interested in governing. Then, one would hope, those presidents would appoint people to work in their administrations who were experienced in and dedicated to good government.
President Bush, on the other hand, consistently appoints people who are Republican operatives first and servants of the People second, if at all. And just about everything in government that could be bleeped, is bleeped.