Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Washington insiders rally to protect one of their own (a convicted felon)

Seeing the outpouring of neocon/wingnut support for convicted felon Scooter Libby is bad enough. The argument seems to go something like: "Libby lied to protect Dick Cheney. Therefore he is a loyal soldier who shouldn't be abandoned to liberal partisans. Therefore Bush should pardon him." (Never mind that both the prosecutor who convicted him and the judge presiding in the case were Republicans and George W. Bush appointees to boot.)

But when allegedly liberal "heavyweights" like Joe Klein rally to Libby's defense, you really have to scratch your head (Klein is not talking about a pardon here, but rather saying Libby shouldn't have to spend time in jail):
I have a different feeling about Libby. His "perjury"--not telling the truth about which reporters he talked to--would never be considered significant enough to reach trial, much less sentencing, much less time in stir if he weren't Dick Cheney's hatchet man.[...]

But jail time? Do we really want to spend our tax dollars keeping Scooter Libby behind bars? I don't think so. This "perjury" case only exists because of his celebrity--just as the ridiculous "perjury" case against Bill Clinton, which ballooned into the fantastically stupid and destructive impeachment proceedings.
Wait a sec, this case doesn't just exist because of Libby's "celebrity". A lot of "celebrities" were questioned by Fitzgerald in the investigation (including Rove), and they didn't get convicted on multiple perjury and obstruction of justice counts. And why does Klein put the word "perjury" in quotation marks? It makes it sound like it wasn't really perjury. The guy was convicted of perjury. It doesn't get any more real than that.

In the very same piece, Klein argues that Paris Hilton should go to jail for violating her DUI parole, because it sends the right message:
But jail time for Hilton, however "unfair," strikes me as a public service--it is exemplary: It sends the message, as Gilmore suggests, that even rich twits can't avoid the law.
So let me get this straight: rich twits shouldn't be able to avoid the law, unless they're members of the Bush administration. Maybe Paris Hilton should have gotten herself appointed Attorney General. Then all the Washington folks would decry her imprisonment as "needless partisan witch hunting."

(I promised myself I wouldn't mention Paris Hilton on this blog, but she managed to creep in nonetheless. Going to jail was an excellent career move on her part. If I were her agent, I'd be pumping my fist and making "ka-ching!" exclamations all the way to the bank.)

Greenwald's explanation is that in Washington, the insider vs. outsider distinction trumps the Democrat vs. Republican distinction, and indeed all other distinctions. Scooter Libby was an insider, and so other insiders naturally rally to his defense:

It is difficult to recall a single episode which has been more revealing of our political culture than the collective Beltway horror over the plight of the poor, maltreated and persecuted (and convicted felon) Lewis Libby. It is hardly surprising that the right-wing movement of which he is a part operates from the premise that their comrades ought to be exempt from criminal prosecution even when they commit felonies. That "principle" is a central and defining one for that movement, applied religiously to the Leader and everyone on down the right-wing food chain.

But what the Libby case demonstrates is that so many establishment journalists believe this just as religiously. To our media stars, "Beltway crime" is an oxymoron, at least when it is committed by a high-level political official. In exactly the way they treated all prior acts of lawbreaking by Bush officials as innocuous political controversies, the Beltway press speaks of Lewis Libby's felonies as being something other than a "real crime," all so plainly based on the premise that Libby -- as a dignified member in good standing of the elevated and all-important Beltway court -- ought to be exempt from the type of punishment doled out to "real criminals" who commit "real crimes."

When I heard Markos speak in Berkeley a while back, he spoke about this insider-outsider distinction and how important it was to understanding Washington , and how destructive it was to our politics. At the time, I didn't quite realize how important it was. But I'm finding he was right.

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