Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Essence of Moderation

It isn't that I lie at the precise center of the political spectrum. I don't--at least not anymore--and I'll freely concede that. It isn't David Broder-esque "pox on both their houses", either. I have political commitments, most of which find far greater support from one party than the other.

No, moderation flows out of a post I didn't write this afternoon, on this Washington Post story. Here's the key quote:
If questions remain, Mr. Rove and Ms. Miers should be interviewed. They don't have to testify under oath, since lying to Congress is a crime.

Both Jon Chait and Steve Benen, writers whom I respect immensely, read this passage as the Post trying to accommodate Rove and Miers' inevitable lying. As Chait puts it:
I don't don't which is funnier: the Post's casual, unstated assumption that Miers and Rove will lie, or its casual, unstated assumption that this is perfectly OK. I look forward to the Post applying this logic to other areas of our legal system. ("Mr. Escobar's runners should not be searched for drugs at the airport, since importing cocaine into the United States is a crime.")

And I was about to write a Post joining that choir, for such a claim is horrifying and utterly indefensible.

But as I read further, I realized the Post's point was different. They were saying that the oath is unnecessary because "lying to Congress" is a crime, even if the witnesses are not under oath. Swearing them in is thus redundant.

Now, I think this is a relatively weak point, to be sure. The lack of a transcript would make proof of any lies by Rove or Miers nearly impossible to prove. And perjury is a far more serious crime than lying to Congress, and would probably have a greater deterrent effect. Finally, while the Post seems hell-bent on avoiding a "constitutional crisis", I'd say there is no crisis on the horizon. What is on the horizon is a court finally smacking down the President's argument that Congressional oversight is a separation of powers violation (Think I'm joking? Quoteth Tony Snow: "The executive branch is under no compulsion to testify to Congress, because Congress in fact doesn't have oversight ability."). There is no crisis, because there is really no question--outside Bush's fevered imagination, there is no doubt that Congress is a co-equal branch of government and indeed can hold executive branch agencies accountable. Incidentally, this is an example of the "bad" type of moderation--evading a conflict between Bush and the Democrats for the sake of avoiding conflict. When the point of contention is one party's insistence that checks and balances are a quaint relic of a bygone era, that's a claim that needs to be nipped in the bud (alas, too late for that, so nipped before it fully blooms).

However, the point the Post was making, while stupid, did not say that lying is okay. That was a misreading on Chait and Benen's part. If moderation means anything, it means hitting your opponents on their actual failings, not ones of your creation.


PG said...

Originalists actually ought to perceive Congress as a superior branch to the Executive, Yoo's arguments about wartime powers (despite Congress's failure to declare war since 1941) notwithstanding.

DavidD said...

Congratulations on realizing that the meaning of what was written in the Post is indeed, "Swearing them in is thus redundant," not that Rove and Miers will necessarily lie.

Is merely being able to read all it takes to be moderate, though? That would be a bigger story.

Jack said...

David, I don't know your positions on every issue but I'm pretty you agree with the majority of Americans on the majority of issues. I don't know of any other definition of "moderate" that makes sense.

The political spectrum used by most pundits, mainstream media figures and the whole "Unity '08" crowd is ridiculously distorted. The so-called moderates are well to the right of the majority of Americans.