I mentioned this once already, but it bears repeating: any spinner, excuser, minimizer or defender of the I.R.S. scandal who uses the “it was a Bush appointee” talking point has insulted your intelligence or impugned his own, as well as marked himself or herself as an untrustworthy hack. I’m taking names and making lists myself now, and it’s growing by the hour.
Yesterday I added Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, whom I once believed had some integrity, and Donna Brazile. Today Richard Cohen, among others, joined the list. It really is shocking, and it’s increasingly more difficult to shock me. It is also ominous. Things we haven’t yet learned must really be ugly for such a transparently desperate excuse to be trotted out so early by people who almost certainly know what garbage it is.
Yesterday I heard Rendell literally drive Joe DiGenova, the former Attorney General, to apoplexy—Joe’s eyes were popping out of his head and I though he was going to fall over to the floor foaming at the mouth— by stating repeatedly that the I.R.S. fiasco “couldn’t be a conspiracy because a Bush appointee was in charge.” This is either unbelievably ignorant or despicably dishonest, and I suspect the latter. As I wrote in a previous post,
“What supervisor, in any organization, ever points to the person who hired one of that supervisor’s staff as sharing culpability for conduct that occurs after the hiring supervisor is no longer in charge? None…because it is ridiculous, and a violation of the principles of management responsibility. The current regime is 100% responsible for the staff it elects to retain and for the performance of the staff it oversees. Did Doug Shulman, the I.R.S. chief in charge during most of the period under scrutiny, engage in misconduct under Obama when he did not while under Bush? That’s Obama’s responsibility. Was he demonstrably corrupt and incompetent under Bush, but Obama’s Administration allowed him to stay on? That’s also Obama’s responsibility. The I.R.S. chief is supposed to be a non-partisan job, but subordinates often conform their performance to the signals they get from above, and Obama and top Democrats certainly painted Tea Party groups as menaces to the realm.”
I was too kind. This is Washington, D.C.: most appointees, managers and staff members, the true professionals, put their jobs first and their personal political beliefs second, if they are even that high. It is a lawyer’s culture, which means that one hires out one’s talents and skills to meet the goals of whoever pays your salary—not your goals, theirs.
I worked for both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (pro-business, anti-regulation, generally Republican) and the Association of Trial Lawyers (anti-business, pro-regulation, furiously Democrat) and did a damn good job for both of them without compromising my values one whit. Neither organization cared what my personal politics were; it didn’t matter as long as I did my job. This is typical. I know a long-time executive and spokesperson for a conservative advocacy group who is as liberal as they come. I know a nationally prominent spokesperson for conservative causes who votes Democratic. Lawyers have the distinction between their personal beliefs and the objectives of their clients written right into their ethics rules; doing your best for your client does not mean you are personally endorsing your client’s objectives or agree with them in any way. Gov. Rendell knows this, for he’s a lawyer himself. Cohen knows this (or should), because he’s been covering government since I had hair. Anyone who claims sufficient sophistication to work in government or comment on it knows this, and if they don’t, they are utter fools, because the principle is as old as the city, indeed as old as government itself. If they say otherwise, they are lying to you.
Doug Shulman, the head of the I.R.S. in Obama’s Treasury Department when the misconduct occurred, is a lawyer (graduating from my alma mater), and like every single employee in Washington worth hiring, it can be safely presumed that his goal was to serve the objectives of his current bosses, not his previous one, and not his own. That is fact. It is also a fact that his being appointed by Bush, like his being retained by Obama, tells us nothing about his personal beliefs, because as a lawyer, it is his skills and performance that matter, not his partisan preferences.
If Shulman knew about the targeting of conservative groups by his subordinates and allowed it to go on, it is because he received the message, explicit or implied, that this was what his client wanted, which makes his client, the Obama Administration, responsible. If he did so because he had his own agenda or was incompetent, it is still the Obama administration’s responsibility for retaining a poor employee, giving him too much responsibility, or not supervising him effectively. Who his prior clients may have been, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, are completely irrelevant, and everybody who works in this city or writes about it understands this.
Don’t let any of your friends accept or perpetrate this ignorant or intentionally misleading talking point. You have an obligation to educate them, because civic ignorance feeds bad government and bolsters untrustworthy leaders. And do not, ever, ever, trust a pundit, talking head, columnist, party spokesperson or elected official who dares to make this assertion. But do send me their names.
That list will come in handy.
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.