Thursday, January 29, 2015

What's the big deal about an indictment?

I am a regular reader of Esquire's political blogger Charles Pierce but I am always cautious about citing him on our blog. Pierce is openly and aggressively inflammatory. He is also smart, funny and clear-eyed. He is largely immune to the groupthink that afflicts most of his colleagues accross the political spectrum and, in a profession where most have lost their stomach for calling a spade a spade, Pierce goes out of his way to point out naked emperors. 

I may not agree with all of the specifics in the following passage, but the main points about lack of proportionality and the dangers of naive cynicism are extraordinarily important and get nowhere near the attention they deserve.
I have made light of the fact that, of the putative Republican frontrunners on their "deep bench," two of them are under criminal investigation (Walker and Chris Christie), while one of them, the guy that Costa assures us has learned from his mistakes in 2008 and who is now bringing energy to his public appearances (which is true) is actually under indictment. Now, I grew up in the Commonwealth (god save it!), where once people re-elected James Michael Curley when Himself was in prison, so I have no illusions about the traditional American taste for rogues and mountebanks in our politics. But this is also an era in which the elite political press makes every candidate jump through countless biographical and intellectual hoops to qualify as a "serious" contender. (If you don't believe me, watch what happens 30 seconds after Hillary Clinton announces.) You can be disqualified from the "top tier" if, for example, 20 years ago, you underreported your maid on your income taxes, even if you made good on it later. You can be disqualified from political life and your government job if you once voiced the opinion that the Bush Administration hid a great deal of what it knew about the circumstances surrounding the 9/11 attacks. The fact that you wind-surf, god help us, can be discussed endlessly on the campaign trail. We've got people taking Mike Huckabee's bad-mouthing of Beyonce seriously. But the fact that three of the prime cuts from the GOP have the law on their heels is somehow disappeared from relevance almost entirely. 'Ees a puzzlement, and IOKIYAR doesn't begin to explain it.

One of the factors in play unquestionably is the fact that over 40 years of empowered hatred toward government has had the very much intended consequence of cresting generally a belief that all government is not only oppressive and incompetent, but also corrupt. Along with that, a more modern variation has been created whereby, if everything is political, then any investigation of a politician must needs be political, too. This began, I believe, with the delegitimization of Lawrence Walsh's probe into the crimes of Iran-Contra. (Side note: I know I'm a one-note piano on this subject but, dammit, so much of what's wrong in our politics goes back to those days, and those people, and the crimes with which they got away. Ollie North arranged the sale of missiles to a terrorist-sponsoring state. He got to be a hero. The country went bad wrong.) It got worse when the Republicans determined to use the actual criminal investigative techniques that Walsh conducted to pursue Bill Clinton on charges that actually were purely political, at least prior to those used in the impeachment kabuki, which was such a farce that it soured all but the most virulent souls on any investigations at all. Which is how we lost the special prosecutor status, and why the Bush administration was so cavalier about stonewalling Congress in the latter's pursuit of what was being done in the name of the country all over the world. The redefining of any investigation into government corruption as essentially political has so deprived any such investigation of widespread public credibility as to delegitimize any such investigation almost from jump.

That's pretty bad when it comes to our functioning as a self-governing republic, but it's halfway understandable. People have lives and problems of their own. But the elite political media has no such excuse. This is their job. That a man under criminal indictment can zip around the country, selling T-shirts off his own alleged wrongdoing, and do so full in the knowledge that his criminal indictment is treated in the coverage as less important than the fact that he wears glasses now, is a dreadful verdict on journalistic malpractice. The fact that Scott Walker is under investigation (again) for crimes in (another) office really ought to count more than the fact that he's learned how to yell at people on the stump.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with Pierce that there's a lot of scalp gathering and the media covers the process of demanding a scalp. The internet makes that worse. I suspect the issue has become bigger because the old methods of deflection and stonewalling don't work when the process has become one that demands an endpoint of taking a scalp. I also suspect this will abate once public figures find a method that works as a counter because people will copy that method and the discourse process will change.

    My guess is the best defense will turn out to be a strong offense. My observation is people still come out and play deflection/stonewall/denial defense as though the attacks will cease as the news cycle moves on. Doesn't happen anymore because it's too easy to keep things alive with the internet and 24/7 coverage. My guess again is that attacking the people doing the attacking will turn out to be more fruitful. So for example rather than sit there and produce answers that Dan Issa ignores you have to fight back. Hard. And by doing that you make him look more like Joseph McCarthy and the story may become more about that.