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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.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“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.”