As another old saying has it, "Every District Attorney looking in the mirror sees a Governor," and politically motivated prosecutions are an inevitable result of that reality. The recent case in North Carolina—in which a prosecutor rushed forward with indictments against two Duke University lacrosse players despite a complete lack of plausible evidence against them and openly disregarded undeniable exculpatory evidence regarding one of them, in order to court votes from people of the same skin color as the accuser during primary elections that were then just a couple 0f weeks away—was just one of the more blatant examples of prosecutorial misconduct in recent months.
But the king of them all today is surely New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, who is now running for governor of that state, in full confirmation of the old saying. As today's Wall Street Journal notes, Spitzer has truly taken the art of political prosecution to new heights, using the powers of his office to bully and intimidate all those whom he sees as obstacles to his agenda. Here's a good example of his style, from the Journal article:
A spokesman for New York Congresswoman Sue Kelly reported in 2003 that after Ms. Kelly disagreed with Mr. Spitzer over legislation that he felt would hamper his investigations, he hit her with a "slew of political threats and personal insults," warning he'd come to her district and "cause problems." Mr. Spitzer's office described the event as "spirited and frank." To which Ms. Kelly's spokesman bluntly replied: "The attorney general acted like a thug, and his office can try to spin it any way they want to."
The Journal article includes several other examples, and indeed an entire book could be written about Spitzer's use of his office for vendettas against prominent businesses and individuals. He is not the most repugnant AG ever, one supposes, but his roughhouse tactics and naked ambition show just how vulnerable society is to the ambitions of its leaders (as if any confirmation were needed). As the Journal story notes,
[T]here are disturbing suggestions that Mr. Spitzer is peddling information to the public that may not be accurate. You can bet that if this were President Bush, the press would be all over the disparate versions of events. But this is Mr. Spitzer, who at this very moment is running campaign ads that are nothing more than a compilation of the adulatory headlines he's received over his tenure.
Far better for the public if a little more light were directed on these discrepancies. Mr. Spitzer is asking to govern one of the most populous states in the nation. Politicians are certainly allowed "passion," but given the power they wield they also have to demonstrate restraint, honesty and good judgment. Voters deserve to know if Mr. Spitzer has the character to hold such a job.
Yes, we must expect our governors to "demonstrate restraint, honesty and good judgment." But we should expect that of our attorneys general, too, and indeed of all those who step forward to serve the public in leadership positions.