I haven't paid a lot of attention to the Scooter Libby brouha. It seems he is guilty, which evidently has surprised no one. The commutation of his sentence by the president is also the predicatably squalid conclusion to the whole affair. However, I don't really care much whether Scooter Libby is punished. The purpose of Mr. Libby's proposed punishment would be symbolic, a way of telling the country that even the President and his associates are not above the law.
However, send Mr. Libby to prison for life and I, and I suspect most others, would not be convinced. After all, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and Mr. Gonzalez have themselves repeatedly argued that the President is, in effect, above the law when dealing with U.S. citizens declared, by the President, as unlawful combatants. I'm supposed to believe a President with this attitude won't also use this ability to protect his political power? Or, as attested by the numerous scandals afflicting the spectacularly misnamed Justice Dept., that Mr. Bush will disapprove of the dishonourable and illegal methods used by Mr. Libby to attack Mr. Wilson? This is just more of the same we've come to expect from this administration.
Nor is this, as some have claimed a case of Mr. Bush threatening the foundations of the "rule of law." Sure, we, the jury, and the judge might think that Mr. Libby deserved to be punished for his crimes, but obviously Mr. Bush (and many members of the media establishment as well) did not. Mr. Bush used the legal powers granted him by the Constitution to make sure that Mr. Libby is not punished. So where is the rule of law being disrupted? I don't see it. After all, if the country believes that this was an abuse of power by the president then we can change the law so that future presidents cannot pardon their own associates.
Update: I am not saying that we should ignore these situations. After all, Scooter did commit a crime and should be tried and punished. The crimes he committed were significant enough to be very embarassing to the administration. However, I'm not convinced at this point this further aspect to the scandal means much. If anyone didn't already realize that the Bush administration encourages the unscrupulous, corrupt, and/or incompetent behavior such as that exhibited by Mr. Libby then they will not be further convinced by this pardon.
Corruption and incompetence are problems that can afflict both parties. And every election, both parties run against the other party on this basis (e.g. see Edwards' populism and the refrain of Republican Congresspeople everywhere that they are for small government and are going to go to Washington and protect their constituents against the bureaucrats, etc.). In other words, no one is for corruption. However, some of the people who are going to run in the next election will support scandalous ideas such as the legalization of torture, the stripping of human rights and civil liberties from even U.S. citizens, and even more unprovoked attacks against nations such as Iran. Whatever your views on homosexuality or abortion, I would hope no one in the U.S. would support those ideas by voting for the candidates representing them.
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