Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Mess at Justice

Product Warning: What follows is rank speculation, uninformed by any inside knowledge whatsoever.

More than forty years ago, my first wife and I spent a summer in England while she did archival research on Puritan diaries and saints' lives for her doctoral dissertation. We had only been married for two years, and were still at that stage when one is accumulating household belongings [I am now, at the other end of my life, trying to unload some of what has piled up over the years.] We were much taken by eighteenth century antiques, and spent some time in places like Alresford looking for bargains. Like many amateur antiquers, I dreamed of stumbling on a fabulously valuable piece whose true nature was unrealized by the country shopkeeper. After a while, it dawned on me that if I spent a few hours on the odd Saturday looking for antiques, and the shop owner spent all of every day buying and selling antiques, it was actually quite likely that he or she knew more about them than I, and would therefore realize that a chair was genuine Chippendale, even if it had a coat of dust on it.

I drew from this early experience a lesson that has stood me in good stead in the years since, as I observe the passing political scene. Very simply, people who spend all their time doing something know exactly what they are doing, and have thought a good deal about the consequences. They may be wrong -- disastrously wrong -- but they are never just thoughtless.

As the scandal unfolds at the Department of Justice over the firing of eight -- or is it now nine -- U. S. attorneys, there is as yet no hard evidence that the firings were part of a deliberate, carefully thought out plan to use the Department of Justice as an instrument of intimdation to depress the turnout of voters likely to vote for Democratic candidates in hotly contested races in the 2006 bi-elections. But it is, at least to me, transparently clear that just such a coordinated plan of intimidation was under way. The Republican Party has a long history of targeting minority voters in an attempt to tilt the electoral balance [as did the Democratic Party in the South before it, of course.] Recall that the late distinguished Chief Justice of the United States, William Rehnquist, got his start in politics as a party operative accosting African-American voters at the polls and trying to scare them into leaving with groundless threats of legal action.

It is easy, but mistaken, to see Alberto Gonzalez as a hapless fool, cluelessly, fecklessly presiding over a major government department with no idea what his underlings were doing. But that is surely wrong. The reason for his seemingly endless string of "I do not recall" responses in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, despite weeks of intense preparation, is, I think, obvious: what he would recall, if he were, against all odds, to answer the questions honestly, is a carefully crafted plan, overseen jointly by himself and Rove, to tilt the balance to the Republicans in as many Congressional and Senatorial races as possible.

This is not unusual, of course. When I was young, the consensus among politics watchers in Illinois, for example, was that the outcome of any statewide election depended on whether the Republicans could steal enough votes downstate to compensate for the votes that the Daley machine stole in Chicago. In a way, it was a crude but effective test of their relative competence and hence fitness for office.

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