Sunday, April 09, 2006

A minor observation

about American political culture. But maybe evidence is not "evidence," at least in the public discourse, unless it is evidence in a criminal proceeding.

We don't even give civil proceedings as much weight. A lawsuit against tobacco sellers or car manufacturers, and the plaintiff's evidence is theirs alone. But a criminal proceeding is, apparently, truth indeed. There is nothing in the evidence presented by Patrick Fitzgerald that is new. What is noteworthy, apparently, is that it is part of a criminal proceeding. Indeed, the article makes the point for me:

One striking feature of that decision -- unremarked until now, in part because Fitzgerald did not mention it -- is that the evidence Cheney and Libby selected to share with reporters had been disproved months before.
"Unremarked" by whom, exactly?

For some reason, our standard of truth in American political discourse, is criminality. It brought Tom DeLay down, and "Duke" Cunningham, and is doing George W. Bush more harm than Iraq and immigration and Katrina, combined. What can only be argued when it is observed or even experienced, somehow becomes inarguably true when it is evidence in a criminal case.

I'm not sure why that is.

Addendum: the other side of this problem, and perhaps the more worrisome one, is that, absent evidence that would satisfy a criminal prosecution, we seem to accept that the people in charge, are not also responsible. In other words, we find ourselves back at the "Ken Lay" defense. We can see that being arranged already, as a response to last week's news:

In a federal court filing last week, the prosecutor in the case said Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, testified before a grand jury that he was authorized by Bush, through Cheney, to leak information from a classified document that detailed intelligence agencies’ conclusions about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

A lawyer knowledgeable about the case said Saturday that Bush declassified sensitive intelligence in 2003 and authorized its public disclosure to rebut Iraq war critics, but he did not specifically direct that Libby be the one to disseminate the information.
Maybe we should call it the "Mafia don" defense: so long as the Don never actually said "Kill Lucco Brazzi," you can't hold him responsible for the execution his hit man carried out. That, at least, almost seems to be our standard for political accountability. I say "almost" because Tom DeLay has not yet even stood trial, but his political career is over. So while the politicians and pundits insist on evidence even beyond a shadow of a doubt, the public seems satisfied with a preponderance of the evidence.

An interesting gap in our public discourse.

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