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Jeffrey Feldman Headshot

The Rising Tide of Cynicism

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That pesky word "faith" popped up in the White House press briefing, today, although not as it is typically used. Apparently, Bush wants the American people to believe that his complete commutation of Fibber Libby's "excessive" jail sentence was an expression of "faith" in the judicial system.

Yep.

Bush wants us to believe that commuting jail time for a man who subverted the American justice system is somehow an act of affirming our faith in the justice system.

It seems like such a farce. But it is a dangerous farce that will make the level of cynicism towards government in this country rise to greater levels than any of us thought possible.

Listen closely:

Q The jail time issue -- normally, somebody at least serves a
day in jail, a week in jail, a month in jail.

MR. SNOW: Because the President thought the jail time, in fact, was inappropriate, and therefore, he decided to --

I thought he said the jail time was excessive, the sentence was excessive. He didn't say it was inappropriate.

MR. SNOW: Right. No, he said it was excessive, and he thought that any jail time was excessive. And therefore, he did not see fit to have Scooter Libby taken to jail.

Everybody follow that? Jail time is "excessive" in the President's mind. But this next statement by Tony Snow is where the "faith" comes into play. Snow continued:

Keep in mind that Scooter Libby has been convicted of a felony; that remains the same. He has a $250,000 fine to pay; that remains the same. He's got two years of probation; that remains the same. And a felony conviction has profound impacts on his ability to earn a living
as a lawyer because he's not going to be able to practice law. So this is hardly a slap on the wrist, in terms of penalty. It is a very severe penalty.

But the President also believes, for those who were arguing on behalf of a pardon, that you need to respect the jury system. Scooter Libby was tried before a jury of his peers. And it is important to make
clear our faith in what really is a pillar of the American justice system, which is everybody's right to be tried before a jury of the peers.

So out of all this, we learn that the President really did not want to issue a full pardon because to do so would have undermined America's faith in a the right to be tried before a jury of one's peers--as if excusing a man convicted of lying to the courts somehow plays no role in weakening our collective faith in the judicial system, or in our constitutional system.

Meanwhile, back on planet earth...

Correct me if I am wrong, here, but there is a larger, more foul smelling issue wafting out of this transcript.

It seems that Bush wants us to believe that the value of our justice system is the experience of going through a trial--not the actual findings of that trial. Everyone has a right to a trial, he is telling us, but the conclusions of that trial are the sole proprietorship of the commander-in-chief--or should I say: the commander-in-crown.

"Faith in...everybody's right to be tried before a jury of peers," but not faith in the outcome of that trial! That must be part of a different belief system.

Tried by jury, perhaps. But sentenced by the king.

The disturbing part of Bush's logic--as if there is any part that is not disturbing--lies not in the idea that a President has the power to commute a sentence, but in the monarchical worldview he voiced after the fact, a pre-Revolutionary notion of government that contaminates the Bush presidency like a toxic fungus.

According to this logic, the people shall enjoy the right of a trial, but the President--the one who is above the people (and also Dick Cheney, and also everyone who works for Dick Cheney)--shall enjoy another right: the right to conceal the truth at will, the right to govern by secrecy, the right to collude.

As has been the case throughout American history, the level of corruption in the Oval Office is directly proportional to the level of monarchical thinking in the executive branch. The degree to which the President believes he has the powers of the crown is the degree to which his actions violate public faith in constitutional government itself.

And believe me, cynicism towards government is spreading faster than iPhone mania.

Perhaps in the wake of this new chapter in the Libby trial scandal, we should remind ourselves that the American Revolution was revolutionary for a very specific reason: because it replaced a monarchical system of rule with a constitutional democracy--a system of government whereby the king's rule over his subjects would be forever replaced by the government's representation of the people (by the people, for the people).

The king rules, but American government represents.

Given this basic logic--which was the departure point for the entire American system of government--how can the President's act of commuting the sentence of a man who subverted justice somehow be twisted into an act that reaffirms faith in our system of justice?

Only if the Constitution has long-since been devalued in the eyes of President Bush--has become little more than a game board in an endless round of legalistic word play.

Maybe it's time to stop worrying about what is right and wrong to win elections and start worrying about stemming the tide of cynicism before it crashes over the country with disastrous consequences.

(cross posted from Frameshop)