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Who's Hyperpartisan?

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By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Friday, March 9, 2007

Hand-wringing over extreme partisanship has become a popular cause among learned analysts. They operate from Olympian heights and strain for evenhandedness by issuing tut-tuts to all sides, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

But the evidence of recent days should settle the case: This administration has operated on the basis of a hyperpartisanship not seen in decades. Worse, the destroy-the-opposition, our-team-vs.-their-team approach has infected large parts of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. That's a shame, since there are plenty of good people in both. Still, the tendency to subordinate principles to win short-term victories and cover up for the administration is, alas, rampant on the right.

Take the rush of conservative organs demanding an immediate pardon of Scooter Libby after his conviction on four counts related to lying and obstruction of justice. Last I checked, conservatives were deeply committed to the rule of law. They said so frequently during the Clinton impeachment saga.

But the conscientious Libby jury had barely announced its conclusions when the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the National Review, among others, called for a pardon because the case, as the Journal editorial put it, involved "a travesty of justice."

In other words, when an impartial judicial system does something that conservatives don't like, the will of conservatives, not the rule of law, should triumph. Is there any doubt that a Democrat who used executive power to protect a convicted political ally from the consequences of the legal process would be savaged for abusing his authority? (Since you might ask, I pilloried Bill Clinton for the Marc Rich pardon.)

And only the Marx Brothers could have done justice to the manic us-vs.-them response of administration lieutenants to angry jottings that Vice President Cheney scrawled in the margins of former ambassador Joseph Wilson's op-ed piece attacking administration claims about Iraq. Imagine if these guys had spent the energy they put into discrediting an opponent into planning for the war's aftermath.

A reader once expressed his amazement that Republicans win office by saying government can't work, then go about proving it. They don't take responsibility for their failures until they have no other choice. Instead, they just keep discrediting government by shifting as much blame as possible to that wonderfully serviceable group of unnamed creatures called "bureaucrats." We all know that bureaucrats are liberals, right? Besides, the word comes from the French.

More than a week after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Bush was still suggesting that "bureaucratic obstacles" might be "preventing us from achieving our goals." The president, who took a long time to realize what was happening in New Orleans, made a firm pledge: "In other words, bureaucracy is not going to stand in the way of getting the job done for the people." Heck of an alibi, Mr. President.

The White House (thanks, perhaps to new Defense Secretary Robert Gates, or to the gruesome facts themselves) responded more quickly to the devastating Post series on the fiasco at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. But even in this case, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson couldn't resist telling NPR's Melissa Block on Monday that to help veterans get what they deserve, it was necessary "to cut the sometimes just overbearing bureaucracy that can confront these people." That's the overbearing bureaucracy Nicholson himself runs.

And anyone who doubts that this administration has gone hyperpartisan should take a look at how it pushed out competent, high-performing U.S. attorneys for what in so many cases appear to be political reasons.

Thanks to congressional hearings, we'll learn whether a U.S. attorney in New Mexico, David C. Iglesias, was let go in part because he was not prosecuting local Democrats fast enough for the tastes of Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, both Republicans. They called Iglesias about this; Election Day was approaching, after all. Another U.S. attorney was bumped out to make way for a White House political aide who withdrew only after the whistle was blown. More than any other scandal, this one threatens to expose just how besmirched by politics the administration's approach to government has become.

All of which leaves conservatives and Republicans who care about the rule of law with a choice. If they keep going along with this White House's way of doing business, their own cause will continue to suffer long after the president's term is over. Principled conservatives should be the first to want to clean up these stables and end the hyperpartisanship.

postchat@aol.com


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