In commuting Scooter Libby’s sentence so that the vice president’s former chief of staff won’t spend a minute in jail, the president is sending a message, one that, while going out to multiple recipients, consists of a sentiment succinctly summed up in two words: Screw you!
The first recipient is the general public, which is being disabused of the notion that America is a country without an aristocracy. As chief prosecutor Patrick J. "Bulldog" Fitzgerald averred: "It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals." Yet the commutation and the Bushies still haven’t ruled out a total pardon tells a different story, one that presents a much more realistic picture of what life in post-9/11 America is all about.
While the rest of us the serfs are at the mercy of such laws as the PATRIOT Act, the Military Commissions Act [.pdf], and the extensive surveillance and snooping authorized by a Congress that has betrayed its constitutional mandate, our rulers and especially the philosopher-kings of the neoconservative sect are exempt. The president’s action merely confirms the neocons’ worldview, which, according to their guru, the philosopher-cult figure Leo Strauss, places a few "enlightened" souls far above us common everyday folk. According to Straussian doctrine, these Wise Men our leaders are the possessors of a secret knowledge, which is dangerous for ordinary men, but in their hands is a Force for Good. Their wisdom is so potentially subversive that they are forced to speak in code. When Scooter’s "turning aspens" missive to Judy Miller showed up, John Dickerson, writing at Slate.com, reported:
"Scooter may have been playing with coded meanings that most of us are too dull to see. This suspicion arises naturally because of Libby’s connection with Straussianism. Leo Strauss, the German-Jewish political philosopher, is seen by many as one of the intellectual fathers of neoconservatism. Wolfowitz, Libby’s teacher at Yale, was a graduate student at the University of Chicago during Strauss’ ascendancy, and Libby won membership into that conservative club via Wolfowitz. Part of Strauss’ teaching is that ancient philosophers wrote on two levels: for the mumbling masses, but also, and often in contradiction of the literal message, on an ‘esoteric’ level that only initiates could make out."
This explains the downright weird arguments being made by Scooter’s defenders, who must be writing in some obscure Bizarro World code, where the meaning of commonly accepted ideas and even words is inverted. Take, for instance, the president, who writes,
"I have said throughout this process that it would not be appropriate to comment or intervene in this case until Mr. Libby’s appeals have been exhausted. But with the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react to that decision."
Translation: I lied.
Telling a lie isn’t a sin, in the Straussian handbook: told by the Right People, for the "right" self-serving reasons, deception is a virtue. The unwashed masses, you see, can’t handle the Truth.
Continuing with the president’s coded message:
"From the very beginning of the investigation into the leaking of Valerie Plame’s name, I made it clear to the White House staff and anyone serving in my administration that I expected full cooperation with the Justice Department. Dozens of White House staff and administration officials dutifully cooperated."
Except for Scooter Libby. Instead of cooperating, Libby lied: he "threw sand in the faces" of investigators, as Fitzgerald put it, and consequently, their view of the conspiracy to "out" CIA covert agent Valerie Plame was obscured. George W. Bush, you’ll recall, vowed to fire anyone who failed to cooperate. Now he’s rewarded Libby for his lies.
Surely this presidential missive is written in Straussian code, or else what do we make of the following?
"After the investigation was under way, the Justice Department appointed United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald as a Special Counsel in charge of the case. Mr. Fitzgerald is a highly qualified, professional prosecutor who carried out his responsibilities as charged."
Translation: Fitz, you did a good job and now I’m going to undo it.
The president then goes into a "on the one hand, critics say, on the other hand, Scooter’s defenders say" routine, in which he manages to repeat most of the neocons’ talking points it was Richard Armitage who was the "real" leaker, Plame wasn’t covert, etc. which I won’t bother refuting here, except via hyperlinks. The meat of Bush’s argument, however, is another Straussian enigma, wrapped in a riddle: "Our entire system of justice relies on people telling the truth, and if a person does not tell the truth, particularly if he serves in government and holds the public trust, he must be held accountable." In spite of all this, and although "I respect the jury’s verdict,"
"I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison."
Translation: I have utter contempt for the jury, the judge, the entire legal system that puts Libby one of My Guys on the same level as all the rest of you plebeians.
It’s funny, but Scooter and his legal team didn’t seem like one of Bush’s guys in the earlier stages of the trial. Back then, you’ll remember, they were threatening [.pdf] to call Dick Cheney and a whole platoon of administration insiders to the stand and force them to testify under oath, which given that Scooter was covering up for one or more of them opened up the possibility of more prosecutions. Initial sessions of the trial underscored the rising tensions between the White House and the office of the vice president, starting with the defense’s opening statement, which blamed Libby’s legal predicament on Karl Rove!
Then, all of a sudden, the Libby legal team changed course, quieted down, and delivered what can only be described as a perfunctory effort to defend their client. In retrospect, it looks like their strategy, which might be described as the Samson option, worked: promise us a pardon, and Scooter will take the rap.
Faced with two-and-a-half years of hard time, would Scooter have talked? This, of course, is why prosecutors seek maximum jail terms: it helps persuade convicted felons that their best interests would be served by spilling the beans. And what a story Scooter would have told, or, rather, might have told if only the president hadn’t intervened.
That’s one scenario, and not a totally incredible one.
Oh yes, before I forget: the second recipient of Bush’s message-in-a-commutation-bottle is the GOP, the fate of which Bush couldn’t care less about. With the issuing of this de facto pardon, he’s basically telling his putative Republican successors to go take a hike. Naturally, the Democrats are competing with each other in their eagerness to condemn the president’s action and pin it on his party. This has its comic aspects, such as Hillary getting up on her high horse and issuing a blast of self-righteous rage to which the only proper response is: Marc Rich.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN