The DLC Weighs In
BOLDING by Holly
DLC | New Dem Dispatch | October 28, 2005
Idea of the Week: Raising the Bar for Public Service
This has been a sad week for America. Today's criminal indictments of a top White House aide, coming on the heels of the dispiriting Miers nomination, may be judged by the chattering classes of Washington as a win, loss, or tie, for one party or another, or for one ideological tendency or another. But in our view, they reflect a woeful trend, not invented but certainly accelerated by this administration, toward a model of high public service based on low private motives. Whether it's a lifetime appointment to the high court, or a position of trust in the White House, the primary qualifications ought to answer a higher calling, not simply loyalty to the tribal chief, service to the partisan cause, and in general, a monopolization of public service by "our team."
America's interests must come first. In the absence of any other standards of qualification or performance, an approach based on ideological purity, partisanship, and cronyism invariably leads to the abuse of power and the persistence of mistakes and bad policies. As we've seen during this horrendous hurricane season and in the maelstrom of Iraq, failures in office affect the lives of millions of Americans and vital national interests. And as we've seen in Congress in recent years, one-party rule unmitigated by any higher fidelity to responsible behavior affects the moral character of our democracy and the country's economic and fiscal future.
Yes, the president finally did bring himself to hold a few people at FEMA responsible for the incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina, and yes, he did withdraw a Supreme Court nomination widely held to fall short of minimum standards. But it is time for the President to hold his advisers accountable for a long series of mistakes in Iraq; repudiate the growing ethical lapses at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue; and show the courage to veto runaway spending, not just shed crocodile tears.
Unfortunately there are disturbing signs the White House may be learning exactly the wrong lessons from this week's developments. Conservatives who helped force a withdrawal of Miers now confidently predict the president won't cross them twice. The only thing worse than choosing a Supreme Court Justice on the basis of personal loyalty to the president is to choose one on the basis of loyalty to partisan or ideological constituency groups. Either approach ignores the public interest in a highly qualified and impartial judiciary, especially in the Supreme Court.
As for today's news from the special prosecutor, the fact that the indictment of the vice president's chief of staff was not accompanied by the indictment of the president's de facto chief of staff is apparently being greeted in some quarters as a victory for George W. Bush. That's a perfect example of a dangerously low standard of public service.
We care too much about the office of the Presidency to wish indictments upon anyone. For the same reason, we believe that for the sake of that office, President Bush should not wait for Patrick Fitzgerald to tell Karl Rove to go. Whether or not he was criminally involved in the Valerie Plame leak case, there's no doubt Rove is openly and notoriously involved in an ongoing effort to create a politics of maximum partisan polarization, infecting every institution of our democracy.
From that perspective, it's beside the point that Rove may well escape a long vacation in one of our fine federal correctional institutions. If he truly wants to clear the air, the president should direct Rove to take a permanent vacation from the White House. Let him practice his dark arts at the Republican National Committee or some other venue far from official policymaking circles, and let him be accompanied by the other permanent-campaign warriors who have infested the people's institutions.
Public service is a public trust, and until such time as we re-establish standards for choosing and holding public servants accountable for their qualifications, integrity and performance, public trust in government will continue to decline, to the peril of our country's strength.