"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, July 06, 2007

Bush Should Have Gone All the Way and Pardoned Libby (Sorry, Tom)

Mr. Van Dyke thinks the president’s Libby commutation is the end of the Bush presidency as we know it (see July 2 post). He cites very low poll numbers for a commutation or pardon, as if anything Bush did now would make him even more unpopular with the American people. The Iraq war, Katrina, immigration and other failures large and small have already brought him just about as low as he can go.

The problem with TVD’s assessment is that it isn’t with Democrats and Independents that Bush is losing support. He never had much Democrat support once the glow of 9/11 wore off, and Independents have been going south for quite some time. And there is nothing he can do at this point to win back any of these people. No, it is shrinking support among Republicans and the conservative base that has brought his approval ratings to historic lows.

To let Mr. Libby go to prison would not only not win back Democrats and Independents, it would have put another nail in the coffin for conservatives. Yet as Robert Novak argues (here and here), commuting Libby’s sentence doesn’t completely satisfy his conservative supporters and still drives Democrats mad. He may as well have gone all the way and just pardoned him now. But Novak makes a very interesting case for what he calls this “strange administration.”

This whole sorry episode gets at the personality of this president, which Novak does a good job of capturing.


That (the commuting of the sentence) might be described as a Solomonic decision, but only if King Solomon actually split the baby and distributed halves to rival mothers. Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who called the president's conduct "disgraceful," would not have been any more upset by an outright pardon. While friends of Libby toasted champagne Monday night, they complained there was no pardon. It was an unsatisfying performance as an unhappy presidency nears its end, with Bush again standing aloof from the passion he has stirred.

Fierce Democratic critics seeking to criminalize Bush's military intervention three years ago seized on the Valerie Plame case. In his harsh reaction Monday, Reid described Libby as part of "White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq war." The president and his political advisers always have seemed oblivious to this intense campaign against him. The White House attitude that what we don't know won't hurt us resulted in Bush pointing with pride to the appointment as special counsel of Patrick Fitzgerald, the non-partisan U.S. attorney in Chicago. At that point, Bush lost control of a case that his enemies seized on as a serious threat to his presidency.


What this points out, contrary to the left’s demonizing of Bush, is that he is just not a partisan guy. Liberals think he is the devil himself, a right-wing zealot bent on destroying America as we know it. But liberals have been divorced from reality for a long time. If the president had been a movement conservative and philosophically grounded in the principles that it represents, many of the problems that brought him down would have never happened. (Of course, he may never have gotten elected either, so this is very much an academic discussion.)

We all remember the “new tone” Bush tried to bring to Washington way back when. It didn’t work, as we can see, but that attempt reflects Bush’s penchant for believing that he could transcend partisan politics. You can see him thinking, “If only people will realize that my intentions are good, that I’m an honorable person, they will surely give me credit for . . .” Wrong. This is probably why, as Novak points out, that the president was oblivious to what his enemies were really trying to do to him and his administration. He was going to stand above it all. Wrong again.

So he lets a special prosecutor be appointed to basically harass his own administration. It was a travesty, and all the while Bush thinks he’s getting political points for allowing Fitzgerald almost unlimited power to uncover a crime he knew never happened. You think Bill Clinton would have ever allowed this to happen? I may despise the man and his politics, but he had the game down pat. But it’s just not in Bush’s nature, and he is suffering for it.

13 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Altho it's said the commutation made nobody happy, it made me happy. The outcome was the pretty much the same as Bill Clinton's, a fine and loss of law license. (Clinton had his troubles with independent prosecutors, too.)

Libby did lie, after all, as did Clinton.

As for the behavior of the Democrats, it is beyond the pale, as it has been for some time. Intelligent and reasonable comment is impossible because as you note, it is neither intelligent or reasonable. My concern was for whatever support Bush still enjoyed from independents and his own party, which has pretty much collapsed.

Mike D'Virgilio said...

I'm not sure Libby did lie. What you seemed to have is faulty memories or competing memories. The WSJ Editorial Page has made thus argument and it seems more than plausible to me. Clinton's lie was about much more than what he remembered telling somebody or not.

James F. Elliott said...

What this points out, contrary to the left�s demonizing of Bush, is that he is just not a partisan guy.

I disagree -- it points out what some of us have always known; this his party is a smaller, oligarchic segment within the Republican party, distinct from movement conservatism. The mistake in your logic is conflating movement conservatism with the party as a whole: Where the business/national security wing of the party clashes with movement conservatism, Bush's loyalty has always -- and visibly so -- been with the power and money side.

Aside from the last paragraph, which is devoid of actual facts, this post is a pretty good analysis of the fallout.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Nice to see you again, James, but you illustrate Mike's point exquisitely, that the leftist mindset---that's it's always about money and power--- precludes the possibility that Bush simply does what he thinks is right.

Me, I'm satisfied that Libby got much the same treatment as did Clinton. (That's one of us, anyway...)

James F. Elliott said...

...precludes the possibility that Bush simply does what he thinks is right.

Osama bin Laden thinks he's doing as is right as well, with goals and intentions he sees as good. Thinking you're doing right does not a good person make.

Similarly, if President Bush felt he was writing a wrong, what of the man convicted of perjury, lying to federal investigators, and obstruction of justice whom Bush's Dept. of Justice sought and successfuly obtained a sentence of 33 months, a man whose sentence the Supreme Court upheld as in holding with federal sentencing guidelines just days before Libby was sentenced to 30 months on identical charges? What about President Bush abrogating his own standards of when he would consider commutation (Libby's legal process was not complete, the proper legal avenues not taken, and his sentence not yet begun)? And then there's the issue of what commutation, in place of a pardon means legally: That Libby can still plead the Fifth in any legal or Congressional inquiry so long as his appeals process is in place (which probation and the fine insure is the case), and further allows the President and Vice-President to adhere to "not commenting on ongoing criminal case(s)." I'm simply pointing out that Bush's definition of what's "right" appears to track rather closely and conveniently to what is "good" from a vantage of political power.

It's not so much a Marxist point of view as the facts simply failing to measure up to such a generous interpretation as yours.

James F. Elliott said...

Holy crap. "righting a wrong..." not "writing a wrong..." Freudian slip perhaps?

Tom Van Dyke said...

You want the argument both ways: that Bush, like bin Laden, does what he thinks is "right," and that he cynically pursues the course of money and power. Tails on both sides of the coin.

For the record, what Bush did was politically harmful, and he did it anyway. As for the boilerplate of the current conversation elsewhere, I'm content with my observation that Libby's punishment is pretty much the same as Bill Clinton's, the latter of which the left or the media (but I repeat myself) had no apparent problem with.

As for our pursuit of cosmic justice, wake me when Mr. Fitzgerald indicts Dick Armitage. He's had the evidence to do so for a couple of years now.

James F. Elliott said...

You want the argument both ways: that Bush, like bin Laden, does what he thinks is "right," and that he cynically pursues the course of money and power. Tails on both sides of the coin.

No, Tom, I was pointing out the error in your logic.

For the record, what Bush did was politically harmful, and he did it anyway

How so? He and Cheney aren't up for re-election and his political capital had nowhere to go, having been squandered on the immigration kerfluffle and with every Republican with re-election within the next four years quietly edging away. There's no political harm if there's no downside you aren't willing to live with.

As for comparing things with Clinton, you surely must be joking. Clinton lied in a civil case about sexual harassment and accordingly received a sentence commensurate with the underlying act, pursuant to punishment guidelines. Libby lied to investigators, committed perjury, and obstructed justice during a criminal investigation (and was found to have done so by a jury of his peers) and sentenced under existing federal guidelines commensurate to the gravity of the underlying act. Both men got (or, rather, would have) what they deserved.

As for our pursuit of cosmic justice, wake me when Mr. Fitzgerald indicts Dick Armitage. He's had the evidence to do so for a couple of years now.

No, he doesn't, because the Intelligence Identities Protection Act clearly and unequivocally states that to be prosecuted, the "leaker" must know that the individual whose identity they reveal is a covert officer. Armitage only knew that Plame worked at CIA, from a document he received. Come on, Tom, if you're going to assert something, have all the facts first. The whole "Armitage wasn't prosecuted" thing is a red herring the size of a beluga whale.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The error in logic is yours, sir. You have Bush coming and going.

You have a point about Armitage, in that Fitzgerald decided to take him at his word that he didn't know Plame was covert. Or it could be that the law itself also has a five-year window for "covert" status, and Plame's had expired. In other words, she was no longer covert: no crime.

Still, Fitzgerald kept "investigating." Fitzgerald never held that as a point of law, Plame was covert. This is part of the underlying travesty.

I continue to hold that this has indeed damaged Bush's "power," and also that Clinton and Libby's punishments are relatively equal and just. Harm is part of the philosophy of crime and punishment, and the harm both men did was to the abstraction of "rule of law."

This is not to say that abstractions cannot suffer harm, but each man did equal damage.

Your mileage varies, of course, for this reason and that. But that is to be expected.

James F. Elliott said...

Or it could be that the law itself also has a five-year window for "covert" status, and Plame's had expired. In other words, she was no longer covert: no crime.

That window covers the time after she leaves her position, which she was still in. It's not some mythical five year window wherein she is appointed to her job and then only enjoys covert status for five years. That's the most willfull misreading ever.

Harm is part of the philosophy of crime and punishment, and the harm both men did was to the abstraction of "rule of law."

Harm, eh? Harm in Clinton: Full justice was unable to be reached in a civil litigation stemming from sexual harassment; not trivial, but not exactly earth-shaking. Harm in Libby (in terms of the "underlying act"): Along with Ms. Plame's cover, her "company" was exposed as a CIA-front for their counter-proliferation initiative, for which she was the chief operations officer, thus effectively blowing the cover of everyone using that company as their front and exposing people who had had interactions or contact with those people acting in their "official" capacity, where such knowledge to become known, to physical, legal, and financial danger. Remember, Plame -- whom the CIA contends was covert and are presumably in a far better position to rule on such matters than you -- is not the only person whose professional work was compromised.

Yeah, lots of equivalency there. Or, rather, only if one refuses to live in the real world where actions have consequences beyond the abstract.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What were the consequences? Even in a civil case, where the burden of proof is split 50-50, you must make your case more than rhetorically and abstractly.

Trying to hang with you here...

Evanston2 said...

JFE, the CIA never made a clear contention that Plame was covert. That's why Fitzgerald avoided the issue during the trial, and waited until the sentencing phase where his assertion could not be disputed by the defense.

Hunter Baker said...

My James Elliott meter went off and here I am!!!