« Taking Stock: Checking the Date | Main | Friday Fronts: In the current Vanity Fair »

Note on Scandal

As a rule, I regard David Brooks's presence on the Times's Op-Ed page as something of a Trojan Horse. Instead of Greeks, his column is often full of plausible conservative arguments that upon examination - examination by me, that is - turn out to be more clever than sound.

Today, however, I'm in complete accord. "Wolfowitz's Big Mistake" goes straight to the heart of what's literally maddening about the Bush regime, it's ironclad determination to cooperate only with itself. Mr Brooks points out that even though the World Bank staff is composed primarily of people who vote Democratic, it would have been easy for Paul Wolfowitz to win support, if only he had made nice. But he "forfeited that opportunity by being aloof." Then Mr Brooks goes on to the nature of scandal itself.

The conflict of interest charge is out of proportion to the hubbub. But scandals are like that - they are never about what they purport to be about. The Clarence Thomas scandal wasn't about a hair on a soda can. The Larry Summers scandal wasn't about comments at a conference. Most scandals are pretexts for members of an establishment to destroy people they don't like.

In most scandals, people adjust their standards of rectitude, depending on whether they support or oppose the person at issue. The subjects enemies whip themselves into a fever of theatrical outrage, and the subject's defenders summon up fits of indignation at the lies of the accusers. Scandals are playgrounds for partisans, and everybody gets to play the rose of the junior high school bully, ganging up on whoever seems weakest and most alone. 

Although I have very little good to say of the American electorate, I wonder if it isn't scandal-fatigue that has rendered it so inattentive. I myself cannot get worked up about various eminence's awful but entirely incidental misdeeds - not, at least, while genuine problems, such as the debt balloon and the abrasion of our regulatory structures, go utterly unchecked. Is "popular culture" to blame for the normalization of junior high school behavior?

Although I agree with everything that David Brooks has to say today, I don't agree with some of his silences. I suppose I ought to be happy that he doesn't include the very real Alberto Gonzales scandal in his list. In an adjoining essay, "He's Impeachable, You Know," Frank Bowman writes,

The president may yet yield and send Mr Gonzalex packing. If not, Democrats may decide that to impeach Alberto Gonzalez would be politically unwise. But before dismissing the possibility of impeachment, Congress should recognize that the issue here goes deeper than the misbehavior of one man. The real question is whether Republicans and Democrats are prepared to defend the constitutional authority of Congress against the implicit claim of an administration that it can do what it pleases and, when called to account, send an attorney general of the United States to Capitol Hill to commit amnesia on its behalf.



TrackBack URL for this entry:

Post a comment

I am a kottke.org micropatron

Powered by
Movable Type 3.2