Monday, September 17, 2007

Michael Mukasey

[posted by Callimachus]

A good thing or a bad thing?

The administration has so lowered the competence bar that you can praise it for making a good choice and really mean it avoided making a terrible one. In this case, I hope, it really made a good choice. Gonzales was slammed for allowing the Justice department to be too much the handmaid of White House politics. Mukasey and Bush hold similar views on most of the questions of the day, it seems, but Mukasey is not, as Harry Reid put it, “another partisan administration insider.”

The darling of the conservatives was Ted Olson, a candidate qualified by ability and experience, but also a partisan and ideological conservative. Many no doubt looked forward to him unleashing his rhetoric on the sort of flabby pseudo-liberal pontification that characterizes Senate hearings. But the battles are won in the voting, not the talking, and “Olson would’ve been a bloodbath,” one Senate aide said.

Dodging a fight it would not have won, the Bush administration may have earned a concession it does not deserve. Democrats in Congress should not be mollified by this apparent deference and in a reciprocal gesture drop their insistence on learning more about the firings of certain U.S. attorneys, allegedly for political motives, under Gonzales. Those charges, having been raised, need to be investigated and answered — one way or another — or they hang as a political cloud forever.

The U.S. attorney general is a cabinet official who serves at the pleasure of the president. I expect such a public servant to be roughly politically aligned with the president. At the same time, he has to be even more committed to the Constitution and the process whereby it governs America — even unto telling the president that what he wants to do is unconstitutional, if that is the case.

Also, as head of a large department in “disarray” (Arlen Specter’s word) with employees of every political stripe, Mukasey will have to be an effective leader and morale-builder. Early assessments from those who know Mukasey suggest he has the legal skills, the administrative skills, and the independence of mind to do this job.

Perhaps the most hope-inspiring assessment was this one, by a political opponent: “He knows how to separate and he does separate his own political views from what the law says. We haven’t had an attorney general like that in quite a long time.”

Personally, I found these two Mukasey quotes worth a cheer:

First, in the department of understatement: "Like any other act of Congress, the Patriot Act should be scrutinized, criticized and, if necessary, amended. But in order to scrutinize and criticize it, it helps to read what is actually in it."

Second, on the ludicrous fact that "U.S. PATRIOT Act" is in fact an acronym: "You get the impression they started with the acronym first, and then offered a $50 savings bond to whoever could come up with a name to fit."