No Comment — February 1, 2009, 4:36 pm

Rod and Norm and Eliot and David

Jon Chait has an interesting piece in the next issue of the New Republic entitled “Spare the Rod.” He contrasts former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman with former Illinois Governor Ron Blagojevich and finds something amiss.

Some differences in the scale of relative guilt do present themselves. In Coleman’s defense, he’s currently just a subject of an FBI investigation, while Blagojevich has been voted out of office. And, of course, Coleman hasn’t been caught boasting about his scheme. On the other hand, Coleman is accused by a Houston businessman of having actually accepted illicit funds, while Blagojevich is merely being accused of harboring an intention to sell his Senate seat.

Now consider how the two stories have fared in the national press. Blagojevich has turned into the biggest crime story since O.J. Simpson. Can you guess how many articles about the Coleman scandal have appeared in the national media? One short wire story. When I bring up Coleman’s scandals with my colleagues, many of whom follow politics for a living, invariably they have little or no idea what I’m talking about.

Here’s another matched pair that make the point: former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and current Louisiana Senator David Vitter. The accusations against them are identical. Both are high profile political figures. Both used the services of a pricey prostitution ring and got caught in a federal probe. That’s about where the similarities end.

Where they differ is how the federal prosecutors have handled these matters. In the cases of Coleman and Vitter, those pushing the inquiries are the very soul of discretion. Nothing slips. No dramatic press conferences. No lurid details appearing in the newspapers courtesy of “a source close to the investigation.” Spitzer was incinerated in a public scandal fanned in the pages of the New York Times, which consistently had the inside scoop on the story and then ran an exit interview with the U.S. attorney who oversaw the case that set new standards for hagiography. But David Vitter? He’s still in the U.S. Senate–in fact he took the lead for the Republicans in lambasting Hillary Clinton over the perceived ethical lapses of her husband.

Norm and David are Republicans, whereas Rod and Eliot are Democrats. In theory this shouldn’t make any difference. But anyone who has tracked politically sensitive criminal probes through the entirety of the age of Bush knows that it makes all the difference in the world. And that’s a good part of the reason why the public now holds the Justice Department in such low repute.

But then let’s come to Jon’s question. Is the answer that the Rod and Eliot treatment should be applied equally to Norm and David? Or is it that now that the political gods favor the Democrats, Justice should go after Republicans with equal force and savagery? No. The answer is that Justice should revisit its ethics rules and should adopt a more rigorous posture of adherence to them. Justice wears a blindfold because she is supposed to be indifferent to the party of the defendant who appears before her.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2015

Black Hat, White Hat

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beyond the Broken Window

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In Search of a Stolen Fiddle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Displaced in the D.R.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quietest Place in the Universe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Displaced in the D.R.·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“How is it possible that my birth certificate is invalid if I was born here?”
Photograph by Pierre Michel Jean
Article
The Quietest Place in the Universe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Gaitskell and his colleagues are approaching the revelation of a new order, a new universe, in which even light will be known differently, and darkness as well.”
Painting by Sebastiaan Bremer
Article
The Test of Time·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“One by one his books dismantle the idea that art consoles, that art contains truths, that art expresses the soul. He insists on the artificiality and createdness of his narratives.”
Article
Saving the Whale, Again·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“While the other Wall Street behemoths are currently tapering their derivatives trading, Citi has been expanding its own.”
Illustration by Ross MacDonald
[Browsings]
On Broadway·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Photograph by the author

Chance that an American would give up at least one week of life to avoid taking a pill every day:

1 in 3

Iowa urologists reported that only a minor portion of locker-room teasing arises from “the presence of excess foreskin”; most teasing targets small penises.

A pair of Russian film directors asked President Vladimir Putin to invest $18 million in a new restaurant chain intended to drive McDonald’s out of the Russian market. “Every project these days,” a Russian television personality said of the proposal, “must be smothered in patriotic sauce.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today