Their Own Petard

The business with the missing emails and Lurita Alexis Doan, the U.S. Attorney purge, destabilization in the Middle East, festering rot in New Orleans, and even the President’s search for a “war czar” seem to me to be coming together into one big, hard, ugly knot. Because, when all is said and done, at the root of each of these issues is the simple fact that our government was taken over by people who don’t give a bleep about governing.

Let’s take the email scandal. Even assuming there’s nothing incriminating in the missing emails, shouldn’t it be troubling that White House staffers — people whose salaries are paid by our tax dollars — were expected to spend so much time on Republican Party business they were issued RNC laptops and blackberries on which to conduct that business? Further, these staffers allegedly were so careless about keeping the government’s business separate from the party’s business that much government business was conducted via RNC email servers.

Going further: It’s always been obvious to everyone that Karl Rove is, primarily, a Republican Party operative. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a Republican Party operative. But why is he drawing a government salary? Why does he have top security clearance? Why does he sit in on Cabinet meetings?

Of course, there’s always going to be some overlap between politics and government. But let’s have some perspective. In 1998 the House held bleeping hearings on the White House Christmas card list. Republicans were shocked, shocked I tell you, when they learned that some of the people who received Christmas cards from President Clinton were Democratic Party donors. And Republican congressman Dan Burton actually investigated the use of White House staff, postage, and stationery to answer mail addressed to Socks the bleeping cat.

Does that mean we can impeach Barney for those cutesy-poo Christmas videos?

Although there might be a fuzzy line between White House public relations (e.g., the Christmas card list; letters from Socks the cat) and partisan politics, as long as the Christmas cards were not soliciting campaign funds and Socks was not making charges against his master’s political opponents, what’s the big bleeping deal?

But of course, It’s OK If You’re a Republican. Joseph M. Birkenstock wrote in Salon (June 13, 2003),

Once upon a time, using the political power of one’s office to gather more power resulted in literally dozens of congressional investigations of the Clinton administration including, and I’m almost positive I didn’t just make this up, a taxpayer-funded investigation into the White House Christmas card list. During the Bush administration, the use of Vice President Dick Cheney’s official residence at the Naval Observatory for a Republican Party fundraiser, private briefings for top Republican donors by Bush Cabinet officials, and the simply astonishing use of the federal police authority of the Department of Homeland Security to intervene on behalf of the Texas Republicans in Tom DeLay’s shameless mid-decade redistricting power grab, have thus far resulted in a couple of watery editorials. So don’t expect much of an apology about the naked use of power to beget power from this administration.

On the other hand, in 1997 Vice President Gore admitted he had made campaign fundraising phone calls from his White House office, which is a violation of federal law, but he brushed it off with his “no controlling legal authority” speech. I’m as big an admirer of Gore as anyone, but to this day that episode disappoints me. It would have been better had he said “yep, sorry, I shouldn’t have done that” and paid a fine or done community service or whatever. I’m just putting this out there to say yes, I remember it, and I’m not making excuses for it. Except … wait a minute … is it possible the Vice President used his own cell phone to make the calls? Possibly not, but if he did, how would that be different from what Karl Rove et al. were doing in the White House with their RNC laptops and blackberries?

According to the finger-wagging editorials from 1997, Vice President Gore violated Section 607 of Title 18 of the U.S. Criminal Code, which states there is to be no solicitation of campaign funds in federal government offices. The law isn’t voided just because someone is using his own blackberry. Even so, we don’t know if anyone in the Bush White House was soliciting campaign funds, so let’s go on …

Right now details about the emails are coming out rather quickly. We can fairly accurately call it a “growing controversy,” I would say. But before we get too bogged down in details, can we take a moment to think about where governing ends and politicking begins?

After the dust settles, some legislators might want to revise federal code about political business conducted in the White House. That might be a good idea. However, I don’t think it’s possible, or necessarily desirable, to write laws that cover every possible contingency and keep the entire White House staff under constant surveillance to be sure the law is being followed. I think the biggest insurance against gross abuse is to elect presidents who are genuinely interested in governing. Then, one would hope, those presidents would appoint people to work in their administrations who were experienced in and dedicated to good government.

President Bush, on the other hand, consistently appoints people who are Republican operatives first and servants of the People second, if at all. And just about everything in government that could be bleeped, is bleeped.

Acts of Unkindness

Now that the Duke University rape case involving members of the lacrosse team has been dismissed for lack of evidence, the Right has formed a howling virtual mob and targeted the plaintiff complainant. In the New York Post, John Podhoretz writes “Let the liar be named and shamed,” and a number of rightie blogs have picked up on this, posting photos of the young woman who had made the charges and repeating her name several times in boldface letters.

When the allegations of rape first became public I made a decision not to write about the case until there was a conviction. Hence, I didn’t write about it. I’ve seen innocent people convicted in media and by public opinion many times before — Richard Jewell and Wen Ho Lee come to mind. It can be particularly tempting to assume guilt when a situation seems so familiar — rich white boys abusing a poor black girl. But isn’t that the essence of bigotry — making assumptions about an individual based on what you think “his type” is like?

On the other hand — “innocence” is not necessarily innocent.

In 2005 many bloggers took up the cause of a 17-year-old Oregon girl who accused three men of raping her. I’ll let Shakespeare’s Sister explain

A 17-year-old girl went to police at the urging of her friends after she was allegedly gang-raped by three men, including her boyfriend. The men testified that the act was consensual. After reviewing all the information and statements, prosecutors decided they didn’t think they could prove a rape allegation, and so declined to prosecute the case.

Instead, they prosecuted the victim for filing a false police report. Yesterday, she was found guilty.

The victim has never recanted her story. Instead, the decision was based on the judge’s opinion that the three men were more credible, in part because a police detective and the victim’s friends testified she did not “act traumatized” in the days after the incident. …

… Let me give you some more information—something that is only a possibility because The American Street’s Kevin Hayden has known the victim nearly her whole life. He attended the trial. He noticed that the prosecutor repeatedly referred to the attackers as “boys,” even though they were grown men and the victim was 17. He noticed that the judge acknowledged he had found inconsistencies in all of their stories, but, inexplicably, decided that the same reasonable doubt that kept prosecutors from pursuing charges against the attackers wasn’t enough to keep him from finding the victim guilty.

It was a sickening case. But the moral is that just because a rape charge is dismissed doesn’t necessarily mean the plaintiff lied or made the whole thing up. In the Duke case perhaps the young woman did make up the story for malicious reasons, or perhaps something happened that evening that genuinely distressed her. We don’t know. Neither does John Podhoretz or any of the several rightie bloggers who are making the Duke plaintiff a target of scorn, derision … or worse.

In our justice system people are assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. That goes both ways, righties. What some of you are doing today is no less heinous than making assumptions of guilt about the defendants. In particular, by exposing her identity and making her the object of ridicule you could be setting up the young woman to be a target of genuine violence or abuse. The world is full of sick puppies who might feel they are justified to “punish” — in the form of assault or homicide — a young black woman for daring to file charges against white men.

Just leave it alone, all of you. Even if the worst of the assumptions about her actions and character are true, it’s not up to a mob to hand out “justice.”

Along these lines — let me second what Natasha at Pacific Views said of this Kos post. Yes, we all get “idiotic” emails. I’m sure Kos gets ’em by the bucketload. But I can say from my own experiences that being the target of a hate swarm can be, at the very least, unnerving. This is especially true if the swarmers don’t limit themselves to insulting emails but proceed to threatening and obscene phone calls, which has happened to me a couple of times. The swarmers were trying to intimidate me into shutting up, obviously, and it’s more than unnerving to realize that some of them knew where I lived.

There’s a reason it’s always bad form for a blogger to publish the street address and phone number of someone he doesn’t like and then sic his readers on ’em.

In my case the swarms died down in three or four days. The only action I took beyond filtering out their comments on the blog was to ignore them, and the creeps lost interest and went away.

Kathy Sierra was so upset by the tsunami of hate against her that she canceled travel plans and locked herself in her home. The threats against her went on for weeks, she said. Threats — and her home address — were posted on other blogs.

This is not to be shrugged off. Misogyny, like racism, is pervasive in our culture, and there are plenty of violent men who need very little encouragement to take their rage out on a woman who has been singled out as worthy of punishment.

I agree with Kos that the inane “blogger code of conduct” is not going to stop what happened to Kathy Sierra. But that doesn’t mean we should shrug it off. Very often men who assault women — and whites who assault blacks — feel they are justified in doing so. And they interpret expressions of misogyny and racism in our culture and among their peers to be permission. But “boys will be boys” is no excuse, and neither is “idiots will be idiots.”

That’s why I’m glad to see the recent backlash against Don Imus. About time. Racist and sexist rhetoric does real damage and can sometimes escalate into something worse. Hatemongers will push their hostility further and further, rhetorically and physically, until they are stopped. And in my experience the one thing that really does make them pause is overwhelming public disapproval. If they get a clue that the society they live in is not, in fact, winking and nodding at them that their bigotry is acceptable, the bigots will at least be more circumspect about their bigotry.