Nixon vs. Bush

NIXON vs. BUSH….Matt Yglesias, riffing off a David Broder column, wonders why the public demanded Richard Nixon’s resignation three decades ago but hasn’t risen up with the same fury to demand George Bush’s:

I wasn’t alive in 1973-74. I have a vague sense that at that time America’s elites operated with some sense of conscience and dignity, and it was taken for granted even among Republican leaders that one couldn’t just break the law. These days, a misleading deposition taken in the course of a frivolous lawsuit aimed at avoiding the revelation of an affair is a grave national crisis, but it’s taken for granted that only a lunatic would believe that Bush or any of his henchmen should be held accountable in any way for repeated violations of the law. I don’t really know what changed, or why David Broder and other gatekeepers of elite consensus can’t see that something’s gone wrong here, but I’m not happy about it.

I agree that the David Broders of the world have been far too sanguine about the abuses of the Bush administration. At the same time, the difference here really is pretty obvious. Nixon broke the law repeatedly for purely political purposes: to help his friends, punish his enemies, and keep tabs on domestic groups he happened to personally dislike. There was no ideological dispute about the value of what Nixon did: once it became clear that he had actually done the stuff he was accused of, liberals and conservatives alike agreed that he had to go.

Obviously that’s not the case this time around. So far, anyway, there’s no evidence that George Bush has done anything wrong for purely venal purposes. He approved torture of prisoners and violated FISA because he genuinely thought it was necessary for national security reasons after 9/11 — and unfortunately, lots of people agreed with him at the time and continue to agree with him today. I too wish there were a broader consensus that Bush has acted illegally and ought to be held accountable, but the fact that he hasn’t met Nixon’s fate doesn’t really say all that much about how tolerant we are of executive lawbreaking. Ideological disputes are simply a different kettle of fish than personal vendettas.

UPDATE: Apologies for the sloppy writing. Matt was writing about torture and FISA, and that’s what I was responding to when I said Bush hadn’t done anything wrong for venal purposes. I only meant to be referring to the lawbreaking surrounding those two issues, not literally everything Bush has done. The U.S. Attorney scandal, among others, quite plainly has a fair amount of venality associated with it.