George W. Bush: When Did Justice Become Just Me? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Human Psyche

The United States Attorney scandal continues to offer insight into the machinations of unbridled partisan politics and the flaws of the human psyche. It now appears that efforts to remove those who were viewed to have failed to be proactive enough in their partisanship were being forced from office prior to the 2006 midterm election. The latest example involves the resignation of Missouri attorney Todd Graves and his replacement Bradley Schlozman. An editorial in today's New York Times discusses the particulars.

Jim Talent, the Republican incumbent, was facing a strong challenge from Claire McCaskill last year when the United States attorney, Todd Graves, resigned suddenly. Mr. Graves suspects that he may have been pushed out in part because he refused to support a baseless lawsuit against the state of Missouri that could have led to voters’ being wrongly removed from the rolls.

Mr. Graves was replaced by Mr. Schlozman, a high-level Justice Department lawyer who had made his name in the Bush administration by helping to turn the department away from its historic commitment to protecting the voting rights of minorities. Mr. Schlozman was one of the political appointees who approved Tom DeLay’s Texas redistricting plan and Georgia’s voter ID law, over the objection of career lawyers on the staff, who insisted that both violated the Voting Rights Act. McClatchy Newspapers reported that Mr. Schlozman also has been accused of hiring Justice Department lawyers based on their political party.

Mr. Schlozman injected the United States attorney’s office directly into the Talent-McCaskill race. Days before the election, he announced indictments of four people who were registering voters for the liberal group Acorn on charges of submitting false registration forms. The Republicans turned the indictments into an issue in the campaign, although Ms. McCaskill won the election anyway. Congress should investigate whether the indictments violated Justice Department guidelines, which say that election crime investigations should not be conducted right before an election, because they can themselves become a campaign issue.

Mr. Schlozman’s short stint in Missouri — he left after about a year — appears to be another case of the Bush administration’s politicizing federal prosecutors’ offices. Mr. Graves was reportedly on a list to be fired, and clues are emerging about why. He said this week that when he interviewed for the job, he was asked to name one attribute that describes him. “I said independent," he said. “Apparently, that was the wrong attribute."

Granted, we lack sufficient information to draw any conclusions that Schlozman was sent to Missouri to assist with Jim Talent's reelection but the circumstances are certainly suspect and worthy of further investigation. Keep in mind that the vast majority of U.S. Attorney appointees are members of the sitting president's party who have historically been strong political and financial supporters. Notwithstanding, the apparent need to hold and wield power was so strong that it led to dismissals and resignations of those who weren't using their positions within the justice department to further the objectives of the Bush administration.

Taken individually, each example of the Bush administration's efforts to push the partisan envelope could be viewed as the overzealous efforts of loyal, though misguided supporters. However, when viewed together, there is what lawyers might call an alarming pattern and practice. I've previously argued that there are similarities between the Nixon administration and the current Bush administration.

Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that George Bush has broken the law and should therefore be impeached...that is a subject for which I prefer to withhold commentary and judgment...I simply don't know enough to voice an opinion. What I'm talking about in drawing this comparison is the apparent fear that seems to be the driving force behind both of these presidents.

Richard Nixon was devastated by his early political losses and those experiences laid the foundation for his future actions and his virtual obsession with winning and holding power...even if that required questionable and illegal methods. The Richard Nixon that left office in disgrace had once been impassioned and sincere in his desire to serve...but the drive for power in conjunction with bitter loss apparently overwhelmed what remained of his good intentions

I would suggest that the George W. Bush psyche suffers from the same preoccupation. Perhaps its the result of his less than stellar track record in business coupled with his well documented substance abuse that led to the insecurity that so frequently leads otherwise good men astray. Add to that what I believe are issues with his father...perhaps the need for approval and vindication for prior moments of parental disappointment...perhaps it stems from the need to one up a successful father by winning a second term. Such influences are difficult to pinpoint but they can undoubtedly be significant.

Sadly, we humans are fragile beings who are often driven by those elements of our psyche that are furthest from our awareness. Unfortunately, they often dictate behavior and that means they have consequences. George W. Bush may have extracted some psychic victories in the last seven years but he may have also done so at the expense of his own well intentioned moral standing...as well as the best interest of the country he serves.

As a child, I remember my anger at Richard Nixon but I also remember my moments of empathy for a man who lost his way. With regard to George W. Bush, I suspect that my empathy is being held in reserve until his misguided white knuckles can be pried from the helm of this ship we call America.

Daniel DiRito | May 10, 2007 | 8:24 AM
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