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Clients vs. Acolytes

Gabe Rottman,
Legislative Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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July 6, 2007

Rosa Brooks, law professor and LA Times columnist, nails it once again, ridiculing the media’s incredulity at the recent Libby commutation, the Cheney power-grab reported in the Post and the rest of the “oh, wow” newfound fright at the Bush administration’s overreaching and incompetence.

The new media message is righteous and clear: Administration officials tricked us — all of us! They assured us that everything they did was legal … necessary … for our own good … but now we see that they were lying!Well, yeah. So what else is new?

Booyah. That said, I had a couple of observations. Professor Brooks writes:

From the very beginning, this administration had no real plan, no coherent ideology, no evidence behind many of its assertions (including the ones that led to our ruinous war in Iraq). That’s been entirely obvious for more than five years now.

No plan? No question.No coherent ideology? Not exactly. On the contrary, I think this has been one of the most ideologically driven presidencies in American history (rivaled, maybe, by an administration like Hoover’s). The issue isn’t incoherence, it’s ideological disparity within the administration itself.The president is notorious for surrounding himself both with loyal soldiers from his Texas Rangers days, and with old hands like Cheney, and Rumsfeld. In doing so, however, he set up a battle royale, which he was unable to mediate, between ideologically extreme executive supremacy types and pragmatists, who harbored a fundamental distrust for the true believers, but felt obligated to pledge fealty to the president. Perhaps that’s a noble goal as a bureaucrat, but given the sins of the Bush administration, that is also to their shame.Professor Brooks also says something interesting here about the Cheney Fifth Column in the West Wing:

And, hey, this whole time, Dick Cheney’s been completely off the reservation! The guy kept everyone out of the loop, including the Cabinet, as a recent Washington Post series meticulously documented. When senior administration officials learned — belatedly — of Cheney’s machinations on military commissions, Guantanamo and interrogation tactics, many of them considered the vice president’s positions unjustified, outrageous, even dangerous. Why, much of the time, virtually no one seems to have supported the controversial positions Cheney took, except for Cheney himself, a handful of dedicated acolytes and the clueless president (who was allowed to be “the decider” only as long as Cheney rigged the options in advance).

Notice the use of the term “acolyte.” It’s one I always use when referring to the cadre of Cheney loyalists in the administration (John Yoo, David Addington, Scooter Libby, etc.). According to my dictionary, that term actually has a religious connotation. It’s an individual who helps a religious leader conduct a religious service.Now, having lived in Washington for about six years, the usual path to power isn’t through acolytion (I just made that word up—dig it). Rather, it’s through something more akin to the patron-client relationship so prevalent in ancient Rome or in the professions in medieval Europe. You’d latch onto a dude who’d made it, and he’d help you make it in exchange for diligent work on his behalf. You didn’t necessarily have to be ideological bloodbrothers.The American government is supposed to be a custodian of our rights, liberties, safety and welfare. It is meant to do what works, not what individual members of that government think is best because they read it in a book during an undergraduate political theory seminar. Maybe we need a return to patronage (in the good way, not the Abramoff way) and a step away from acolytion (man, I wish that was a word).

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