The KC Blue Blog is doing a great job of staying on the US Attorney scandal and how it played a role in Missouri. I haven’t written about it before today, though the story has all the elements I seek in a story. Corrupt republicans playing slimy politics under the cover of National Security to oppress poor people. Classic stuff.
The problem I’ve had writing about it is that the bigger lesson I draw from it is difficult to articulate. The lesson is that the Republicans are fouling the nest of government – turning the very workings of government into corruption. And even though it’s a matter of degree, it’s a matter of degree to such an extent that it changes the very nature of things.
Brad Schlozman was not the first US Attorney for the Western District of Missouri to be appointed with an eye toward politics. Take, for example, Steve Hill. When he was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1993, he had been out of law school for all of 7 years (a year behind me at Mizzou) and had no significant prosecutorial experience. He had worked as a staff member for Ike Skelton. But everyone, on both sides of the aisle, knew that Steve was a solid lawyer with great judgment and a sincere desire to be the best US Attorney possible. Hill was hired because he would play it straight, and I’ve never heard anyone complain that he didn’t do that.
So, no, Brad Schlozman was not the first US Attorney for Missouri’s Western District chosen because of political connections. As far back as you care to look, you’ll see the the office has been filled by lawyers with political connections – during both Republican and Democratic administrations.
But here’s where it gets tough to explain. Schlozman was different. Never before have we had a political goon hired into the position. Where we’ve had lawyers with political connections appointed in the past, they have always been good lawyers with able intellects and a mission of doing their job as fairly and competently as possible. While I was no fan of Todd Graves, the republican appointee prior to Schlozman, my disagreement comes in the area of politics, not in the area of how he sought to do his job. But Schlozman was chosen partially because he was willing to back the unconstitutional Texas redistricting scheme. Better to be far-right than right.
I knew John McKay, the US Attorney who got fired in Seattle. John is one of the most conservative lawyers I know – he sincerely believes the government ought to be trimmed as much as humanly possible to defense and a court system – but he was so competent and effective that he was elected chair of the ABA Young Lawyers Division, a group which tends to be dominated by left-leaning folk (with some notable exceptions). Again, while I could disagree with John’s politics, I respected his fairness and competence. He’s the sort of person who has traditionally been appointed to the US Attorney’s office. Bush/Gonzalez fired him.
That’s the pattern I’ve seen in so many instances during this administration. Political ties have always been important, but it’s new and different now. During the tenure of Bush I, and Reagan, the republican administrations were filled with what they thought were the best and brightest of the conservative ranks. Now, they seek the most thuggish and extreme.
During prior Republican administrations, the College Republicans at places like Dartmouth and Princeton would flow into the ranks of the staff. Bush/Gonzalez has hired 150 people from Regent University School of Law, an academically weak but far-right stronghold founded by nutcase televangelist Pat Robertson. 150. That’s incredible.
Not only is it incredible, but it is a shift in the rules of the game. I can’t adequately express how sad that is. The US Attorney of the Western District of Missouri has always been a politically-connected lawyer chosen for his or her competence. Now, we have an administration which is filling the ranks of the US Attorneys office with people whose competence is shaky, but whose loyalties are not. And that, my friends, is a very bad thing – a diminished US Attorneys office will hurt us all, Republicans and Democrats.