You know, I used to think that George W. Bush was a White House screw-up on par with Ulysses S. Grant
Following his commutation of prison time for Vice President Dick Cheney's No. 2 Lewis "Scooter" Libby's conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case, I've amended my opinion to thinking Bush as Nixonian — both with and without the tragedy and the scale.
Both parties had something to say about the president's action. Republicans said it was a step in the right direction to correct a miscarriage of justice while Democrats characterized it as an example of a gross disrespect for the rule of law.
It's a rare thing when both parties are correct at the same time. Even Ray Charles could have seen that Scooter is the "fall guy" for his former boss and ended up with the short straw when it was decided somebody had to be sacrificed for a treasonous act.
Of course, if this had been Bill Clinton's administration — hoo-boy, would that be a howlin' chorus of condemnation.
Anyhoo, in what most press accounts characterized as a personal decision, President Bush gave Libby a "Get Outta Club Fed" card saying, "I respect the jury's verdict ... But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive."
Tell me those words aren't going to be cited by every half-assed defense lawyer from now on.
Actually, I have the sinking suspicion that the president engaged in what he has called "strateegery": had he granted a pardon, then "Scooter" would be free to rat out every single person who had left him twisting in the federal court breeze as he would have immunity from further prosecution.
Let's not forget that what started this nonsense was the public disclosure of a covert CIA operative's identity as retaliation for a political dispute.
That disclosure in and of itself is a treasonous act, and the substitution of Libby for the entire cabal of criminals involved shows not only an extreme disregard for the foundations of the republic but also a cavalier disregard for the American electorate, both as individuals and as a body politic.
What the president really said was that you don't matter, period.
The president has violated the trust not just between himself and his supporters, but also with those who didn't vote him but whom he represents nonetheless.
Bush has taken the support and goodwill of a nation that reeled in the aftermath of an attack of terrorism on a biblical scale and turned it around to bend the rule of law to benefit his (and/or Cheney's) agenda of increasing executive branch power.
To what end? Can anybody answer that?
When the disgraced former president Richard Nixon resurfaced in 1977 in a series of interviews with David Frost, he showed quite clearly that he still believed he hadn't done anything to subvert the Constitution when he orchestrated the Watergate Hotel break-in cover up.
He said to Frost, "I'm saying when the president does it, it's not illegal."
At least Nixon had the sense to recognize his resignation was imperative for the republic to survive.
The Bush White House seems to be following the trajectory of Nixon's downfall. Rather than admit that the justification for the Iraq war was misinformation and error, the administration launched an all-out assault on those who disagreed.
This president has shown he prizes loyalty and partisanship above all things, including the best interests of the American democratic republic.
We have suffered a colossal loss of American troops in a war that no one was sure of at its inception (even less so now). We have an erosion of civil liberties in this country in the name of fighting terrorism that most Americans are have no clue about. We have a diminution of American international stature that will take years to rebuild, and all of this is ours because of a fit of political pique.
Bush's commutation of Libby's sentence wasn't illegal, but it sure as hell wasn't right.