I believe Ted Olson would be an excellent choice for attorney general.
Before I undermine any chance he might have by letting Rush Limbaugh or other Republican conservatives disqualify him because I endorsed him (or infuriate my fellow liberal Democrats by my endorsement), let me add:
I strongly disagree with most of Ted Olson's political and philosophical positions.
Ted Olson and I served together on President Bush's Five-Member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the Congress in 2004 on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. I was the only Democrat on the Board. Mr. Olson and I disagreed on some issues, mostly concerning the scope of the Board's mandate under the language of the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004, which established the Board; and the structural position of the Board as part of the Office of the President. (Briefly: my perception was that the Board could and was intended to be completely independent of the White House, and Ted's view -- shared by the rest of the Board -- was that Congress placed the Board in the Office of the President and, thus, intended the Board to be part of the White House staff structure and not completely independent. Both my view and Ted's and the other Board members' views had a legitimate basis in trying to interpret ambiguous congressional intent and wording in the underlying statute.)
There are three important reasons why I believe President Bush should nominate Ted Olson to be attorney general -- despite my strong disagreements with him both politically and philosophically.
First, based on my experience with him on the Civil Liberties and Privacy Board and my many conversations with him over the years, I believe he is 100 percent intellectually honest: meaning, he applies the same standards of analysis and applies the same set of principles to each issue, regardless of whether the outcome will be a liberal one or a conservative one. I wish there were more people in Washington and in politics I could say that about, on both sides of the ideological and partisan spectrum.
Second, he is extremely smart -- and by smart, I mean the ability to pierce through the weeds, get to the core issues quickly, analyze first, second and third levels of analysis to see the subtleties and nuances of complicated issues, and reach well-grounded conclusions.
Third, while he feels strongly about his principles, I can say from personal experience that he is a good listener -- and sometimes even I was able to change his mind or slightly influence him to reassess his position. In short, while he is a strongly principled conservative, he is also intellectually open-minded and open to new ideas and new interpretations of the facts.
Finally, and most important, Ted Olson is a strong believer in the power of The Law -- I capitalized the first letters of these two words because, as I have come to know him, I am certain that The Law is a fundamental principle and a core value in Ted Olson's belief system. He views the Constitution, the rule of law, and attorneys who are part of the legal system to have a higher duty than partisan causes, personal loyalty, or political philosophy. And I know for a fact that he reveres the U.S. Department of Justice -- as an institution that must be above reproach and any taint of politicization.
It is the latter reason why I believe Ted Olson, most importantly, is needed now as attorney general, especially in light of the difficulties experienced by Attorney General Gonzales. Unfortunately, the Justice Department's reputation for integrity above politics, so vital to the perception of the neutral administration of justice, has been undermined in the last several years.
Of course the attorney general has to feel some loyalty and dedication to the president of the United States, who appointed him presumably because their political philosophies are similar. That would be silly to deny -- and indeed, unwise to want it to be otherwise, whether a Democratic president or a Republican one.
But Ted Olson's commitment to The Law -- and his institutional investment in the independence and integrity of the Department of Justice -- would permit him to reconcile loyalty to the president who appointed him and complete independence of the Department of Justice.
It must be remembered that Ted Olson's career and intellectual growth was greatly influenced by his many years serving in leadership positions at DOJ. For example, In the 1980s, he served Ronald Reagan as an Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel -- the intellectual powerhouse position in DOJ, acting, in effect, as the attorney general's inside law firm. Then he served under President Bush as solicitor general. And I can say from personal experience, he was highly regarded at DOJ by career lawyers from both sides of the aisle. During virtually every one of our visits to the Department while I was serving on the Privacy Board, I was always impressed with the friendly and warm greetings Ted received from career lawyers who I knew had served at DOJ in both Republican and Democratic Administrations.
In short, Ted Olson may be wrong on a lot of issues -- and I think he is. But he has the political savvy, integrity and -- I will use the word, that I also experienced during my term on the Board -- the stubbornness to defend his principles that is exactly what President Bush and the nation need to restore full confidence in the great institution of the U.S. Department of Justice.
To my fellow Democrats, don't be too shocked or upset at my endorsement of Ted Olson. We have a Republican president and he is entitled and will get an attorney general who shares his political philosophy. But in Ted Olson, in my judgment, we will get a principled and independent thinker who will focus on the word "Justice" in the Department's name, even when some in the White House or the members of Congress from both parties try to pressure him into partisan choices and decisions.
And to those on the Republican conservative right, including the conservative blogosphere and talk show hosts (including Mr. Limbaugh):
Please don't hold my endorsement of Ted Olson against him. Don't worry: He is very conservative and very principled, and I disagree with him on most issues. So I am endorsing Mr. Olson in spite of, not because of, his political views; and because of his legal expertise and integrity, and not because he might be subject to influence by liberal bleeding hearts like yours truly.
This piece was first posted here.
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