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July 6, 2007

Insolence of Office

Roy Meachum

The post-Libby commutation polls have only begun to trickle in. Judging by the furor this week, they are guaranteed to pull down George W. Bush's position; vis--vis history's other presidents, to an even greater degree. It was sliding already.

Before the current uproar, a Republican friend insisted that history will be much kinder to the current White House. He compares Mr. Bush to Harry S Truman, whose standing has vastly improved over the course of time. But the differences between the two chief executives could not be more pronounced.

Except for six months in Germany, I was stationed in Washington during Mr. Truman's entire second term when his critics' roar drowned out all reason.

Returning from Berlin during the Airlift, I rediscovered a country deeper into the Cold War than even European allies. As proof, take the rampage that McCarthyism set off. The senator's speech about a list of known Communists in the state department nearly coincided with the first anniversary of the president from Missouri being sworn in, again.

Successfully painting Mr. Truman as "soft on Communism" hit home in homes that were encouraged to add bomb shelters in their backyards. He was further denigrated for a no-win war although he acted simply to save the nation's honor. The world knew that Washington had a pact with Seoul promising intervention if South Korea were attacked. It was and we did. His move against Stalin in the Berlin Airlift had already stopped the spread of communism in Western Europe.

The level of the red-scare hysteria of the post-World War II period was not reached after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Public surveys showed 2001 tensions lessened with every mile farther away from the East Coast. Still, it's possible to speculate how many votes Democrat Adlai Stevenson would have received if Tom Dewey had been the Republican candidate, again.

Interesting to note war hero Dwight Eisenhower took office on a chorus of raves for his service as general of the armies; his reputation diminished considerably when he left office to another similar chorus of raves for his successor, John F. Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy's presidency has lost much of its shine, as did Ike's, while Harry S Truman's has elevated markedly.

None of that has much to do with how and why this furor. Mr. Bush said his commutation was partly based on his consideration that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was sentenced to prison for a term way beyond his crime's merit. Notice that the president acknowledged the vice president's former chief of staff had been guilty as charged. Interestingly, the convicted felon had not written, asking for a reduction.

At the first White House press briefing after the news broke, a reporter informed Mr. Bush's gentleman in charge of his public relations that several thousands who did were still waiting on presidential response. Tony Snow stuck to the official line.

To attempt to sell Mr. Libby's commutation was handled in a routine manner grossly insults the general public and the journalists who report for them. There was patently nothing routine about the man at the center of the controversy. His former boss did what he does best, drop a stink bomb and scoot out of sight.

Does anyone, of whatever political persuasion, truly believe Vice President Dick Cheney was not involved? After all his former chief of staff took the bullet meant for his "betters," as Hamlet put it. (In a single word Shakespeare summed up the world's higher brass.)

In an unlikely Washington Post column, Bob Novak ticked off the points when the president could have stopped the criminal proceedings; most came before the special prosecutor hauled Mr. Libby before the grand jury. It will be recalled that my former colleague triggered the tragicomedy. In an earlier column, he revealed that an Iraq war critic was married to a CIA agent, thus "outing" a spy, which is against the law.

When Bob Novak aims a shotgun at Mr. Bush's propensity for delay other than indecisiveness, the current White House is in trouble. Big time. The Prince of Darkness, as the columnist now calls himself, revels in being a conservative's conservative. His Wednesday Washington Post piece should be considered the GOP right wing's loss of confidence in the people they swept into high office.

Shoving aside all the political brambles and barbed wire, I am shaking my head about the brazenness with which Mr. Bush tossed aside federal law and sentencing guidelines, which he stoutly praised in the past. When he so coarsely sublimated entirely the judicial branch for his executive branch, the constitution itself is in big trouble.

In my meaningless opinion, the sentence was too long. But I. Lewis Libby, Jr., was not deserving of commutation, which he had never asked for. His friends in high places, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush, paid him back for taking their fall. It's that simple.

What really bothers me down deep is this on-the-way out administration continues to make its own rules; legal precedent and public opinion does not count. Before our very eyes we are witnessing a first class example of what Shakespeare's Hamlet called "the insolence of office."

Currently this is neither a democracy nor a republic but an oligarchy, run by self-satisfied politicians for themselves and their friends. Laws do not count. That's what "insolence of office" truly means.

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