Schumer: Arrogance or impotence?

Why did the New York Democrat cave in to Bush on Mukasey?

By Joan Walsh
November 6, 2007 11:03PM (UTC)
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Is it arrogance or impotence that convinced Sen. Charles Schumer that Michael Mukasey's private reassurance that he'll enforce the law makes him qualified to be attorney general? I thought it was arrogance over the weekend, but when I read Schumer's New York Times Op-Ed defending his cave-in to the Bush administration, I decided it was impotence.

Clearly Schumer was stuck. He'd backed Mukasey as a "compromise" candidate, an alternative to a hard-right choice like Ted Olson, and Bush nominated him. But if we can't get an attorney general nominee with the courage to say, out loud, before the Senate, that he knows waterboarding is torture, and thus illegal, then we're in worse shape than I thought. And if leading Democrats think they have to collude in such avoidance, the situation is unbelievably dire. Sure I'd like to see an A.G. remoralize the Justice Department and restore its ethics, but I don't trust Schumer's insistence that Mukasey can do it when the retired federal judge isn't man enough to defy the Bush administration with a simple factual statement that waterboarding is torture. Thanks to support from Schumer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Mukasey's nomination was approved by the Judiciary Committee Tuesday afternoon and will likely soon sail through the full Senate.


Schumer's cowardice stood out for me today, particularly against the backdrop of two huge news events: The courage of Pakistani lawyers in leading the revolt against the Musharraf regime and Ron Paul's historic fundraising extravaganza. Does anyone else look at the riots in the streets of Lahore and Multan and wonder what it would take to get U.S. lawyers out of their offices and standing up to the Bush administration in any significant way? I know a lot of courageous Justice Department attorneys have quit or been purged over the past six years, but a lot more -- in the Justice Department and elsewhere -- have acquiesced in this administration's lawlessness. Schumer's reasoning just encourages more acquiescing.

Then there's Ron Paul. I was impressed by Glenn Greenwald's serious look at the roots of the Ron Paul phenomenon, after Paul raised more than $4 million in one day. I'm not as comfortable as Greenwald is with accepting Paul's single doctrinal dissent from libertarianism -- the Texas Republican's crusading opposition to abortion -- as consistent with a libertarian worldview (given that stopping murder is one acceptable government function for libertarians). The intellectual and moral leaps required to declare abortion murder, as Paul has done, and wipe out women's agency in the decision, make me doubt whether someone can really be considered a libertarian. (What if they think smoking is murder?) Anyway, I won't be writing Ron Paul endorsements as long as his idea of liberty excludes women. But I agree with Greenwald that Democrats have to pay attention to the people power Paul is igniting online, which Paul is smart enough to know is being driven by outrage over the war. Cowardice like Schumer's won't endear the party to voters looking for leaders with courage.

As I was wrapping up this post I noticed that Bush's disapproval rating is now higher than Richard Nixon's at his worst. Imagine how Schumer and Feinstein would be groveling if they had to deal with a lawless president who was popular too.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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