Saturday, June 28, 2008


In the past, I have scrupulously avoided talking about this Administration’s position on legal issues generally and its Department of Justice in particular. It has been tough some times to follow that policy, especially when the topic concerns something like torture, about which I feel so strongly. (Let’s just say that, unlike some former DOJ officials, I can unequivocally announce my opposition to burying people alive … though I did really enjoy watching Uma Thurman dig herself out of a coffin in Kill Bill 2. ) Still, if you are going to take money as an employee of the DOJ, you ought to have the class not to publicly bite the hand that feeds you. Right?

Well, today I’m going to violate my own policy and talk critically about the practices at my Department under George W. Bush. My rationale is that the Administration’s official position is that the practices at issue are indefensible. Supposedly, we all agree that what took place when the Department hired attorneys under its “Honors Program” was inappropriate. And yet it happened. Over and over again, perpetrated by one DOJ official after another, it happened – 30ish right wingers pored over resumes of law students and weeded out those who sounded like maybe, just maybe, they could be liberals. They could have been top students at Harvard or Yale, but that didn’t matter. If they had something on their resume that demonstrated a commitment to something like planned parenthood or even “social justice” … let’s just say that they weren’t wanted at the Department of Justice. Better to take any fresh faced Southerner or Midwesterner from real America. Lower test scores? Fewer accomplishments? No problem. Political conservatives were in demand at my beloved DOJ and liberals were persona non grata.

You can’t find anyone today with the stones to go on TV and defend the practice I’ve just described. Clearly, though, that practice had its advocates at fairly high levels, otherwise it wouldn’t have been carried out by multiple officials. As a person who has to work with these new hires, I would sorely love to find out who is responsible for this outrage. Whoever it was (or were), these policy makers are nothing less than saboteurs of our nation’s Government. It’s really that simple.

Let me begin by saying that on this issue, I do practice what I preach. Routinely, I’m called upon to recommend the hiring of expert witnesses or consultants for the Government, and sometimes these individuals’ resumes indicate their political or religious views are likely much more conservative than my own. To me, taking those differences into account would be a violation of my obligations to this country. My job is to ensure that we hire the most ethical, intelligent, and accomplished people. Politics and religion have no part whatsoever in this analysis.

That attitude is easy for me to take, though, because I respect the institutions of Government. It’s much tougher, I suspect, when you come to the Department after years and years of drinking the anti-Government Kool-Aid spewed out by Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, and the other “philosophers” of the right. When Dittoheads find themselves working on Pennsylvania Avenue, they so often bring with them antipathy to the entire civil service project. They resent “do-gooders” who could be making bazillions of dollars working for law firms but choose instead to work to protect the environment, enforce laws against corporate fraud, or advocate the rights of consumers. To the Dittohead, these “paternalistic” do-gooders need to get the hell out of Washington and get a real job. And to Dittoheads, there are only two kinds of real jobs: private sector jobs and military jobs. The last I checked, DOJ jobs are neither.

The hiring practices that have caused such shame to the Administration can be directly traced to the level of anti-Government rhetoric on our airwaves. That rhetoric is harmful on so many levels – it has caused people to vote for unqualified politicians simply because they bash Washington or to mistrust the proposals of statesmen and women simply because they happen to be “liberal Democrats.” And now, it has caused professionals who find themselves in civil service positions to take steps to ensure that their colleagues are unqualified based on any traditionally accepted measure of merit. Perhaps even Rush would think that things have gotten a little out of hand.

The fact is that no matter how right wing you are, I suspect you support most of what the Department of Justice stands for. “Conservatism” doesn’t condone, for example, criminal or fraudulent conduct; read Adam Smith if you don’t want to take my word for it. So why then hamstring our ability to prosecute such conduct? Why refuse to accept the services of most intellectually accomplished law students? Like I said, the practices at issue are indefensible … but they’re unfortunately not inexplicable. They are signs of the times, an era when our nation has become so ideologically polarized that many on the right simply can’t bring themselves to respect those on the left. Hopefully, those of my fellow liberals who read this will take note of what happened at DOJ and remember that if and when the liberals return to power, we should be as respectful of our Heritage Society candidates as they were disrespectful of us.

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