The uproar over the White House-orchestrated firing of conscientious U.S. attorneys stirs mixed emotions. It would be nice to believe it's grounded in public outrage, but such outrage would have been searingly befitting years ago -- and it never came. If an illegal war didn't merit the public's unforgiving disgust then, what possibly could now? The canning of government lawyers? Come on. Let's get real, even though these days that is a sad exercise.
My guess, proffered as an empirically based one, is that Americans at large could name more contestants on "American Idol" than those principals behind the latest subversion of the U.S. constitution. I would further guess -- again, empirically -- that if stopped on the street and asked about the current "uproar," a depressingly statistically significant number would respond, "What uproar?" Indeed ... "What scandal?"
No, the furor is mostly taking place in the Washington bubble, and politicians from both sides of the aisle are merely trying to stay ahead of the issue as an electoral one in a year or so from now, just in case. That's why we read comments coming even from the right about the administration's behavior being "troubling" and "dysfunctional." It's not that the pols themselves are deeply troubled by the democratic dysfunction, however. They're just nervously cautious, which often renders their somber comments on the matter as laughably calculating.
Republican Congressman Thomas Davis III, for instance, said "This is going to be a rockier year for the White House because every time there is a perceived mistake, they can fire up an investigation. It puts the White House on the defensive." Now there's a statement intended to please just about everybody in its CYA cautiousness.
"Mistake" is snuggled in there as a partial reality check, but preceded by the thoroughly modifying "perceived" for the reality-denying crowd. Then the "fire up" is meant to make any investigation sound like nothing more than a politically motivated shot from the hip by the irresponsible opposition. Last, the White House is on the "defensive": meaning the Democrats are executing a wicked offense, meaning by implication that the scandal's genesis lies somewhere separate from the corrupt little buggers who actually spawned it.
Nice tricks. They may cover Mr. Davis' rear, but did they really suggest he is "troubled"; that White House "dysfunction" is the least bit intolerable? Nah, it's all just politics, something those incorrigible Democrats play.
But consider the real and ultimate reality check: Fundamentally what the White House attempted was a covert, political revamping of the American legal system. The occasionally attentive may think it was just petty politics, but in some respects its potential consequences loomed greater in terms of constitutional subversion than even an illegal war.
When one thinks more than one move ahead in the White House's game of political chess, one can easily imagine a future legal system in which there are excusable, unprosecuted crimes committed by "good" Republicans and inexcusable, prosecutable crimes committed only by all others. Taken to its logical extreme: did Unitary Executive Adolph's political supporters have to fear prosecution -- for anything?
In the study of comparative political systems there's a name for the particular one that accommodates that sort of selective jurisprudence. Yet I seriously doubt the at-large public is giving more than a minute's thought, if that much, to the White House's attempt at Move One, let alone Move Six, or Eight. And therein lies the deeper danger -- today, and tomorrow.