ABOVE THE LAW….The day after Bush gave Scooter Libby his get-out-of-jail-free card, the decision is still appalling. It’s one thing to expect the worst from those who have no shame and know no limits; it’s another to actually get it. Yes, this president has probably done more offensive things during his reign of error, but commuting Libby’s sentence has to be the most blatant example of the president thumbing his nose at the nation and our institutions.

There are more than a handful of angles to consider as part of the broader controversy, but I think the New York Times editorial board touches on one of the key points.

Presidents have the power to grant clemency and pardons. But in this case, Mr. Bush did not sound like a leader making tough decisions about justice. He sounded like a man worried about what a former loyalist might say when actually staring into a prison cell.

Quite right. Yesterday’s decision, as offensive as it is, brings the leak scandal into the Oval Office — even more so. It necessarily gives the impression that Libby lied and obstructed justice in order to shield Bush and Cheney from their role in an even bigger crime. Even now, it’s frustratingly unclear why, exactly, Libby decided to lie so brazenly, which suggests that he’s covering up a more serious matter that might involve his only two WH bosses (the president and vice president). Amnesty only exacerbates these suspicions.

Taking a step back, however, I keep thinking about a 2001 quote from the president: “[W]e must always maintain the highest ethical standards. We must always ask ourselves not only what is legal, but what is right. There is no goal of government worth accomplishing if it cannot be accomplished with integrity.” Six years later, the remarks sound more like a punch-line than an approach to government. It’s a reminder of just how big an embarrassment the president is to himself and those around him.

The White House seems to be making a point of emphasizing that the president rejected the rule of law without input from the Department of Justice or outside allies. I’m not sure why this is supposed to make us feel better. The president and his ventriloquist VP got together and decided to fiddle with the sentence of a felonious friend? This is how the chief executive of a democracy is supposed to operate? With two cowards conspiring alone to undermine justice?

Hilzoy’s perspective summarized the broader dynamic nicely.

Bush, typically, didn’t bother even trying to come up with a decent explanation for what he did. He didn’t address questions like: Mightn’t this give people the idea that there are two different standards of justice, one for people with powerful connections and another for the rest of us? Is it OK to exempt your friends from the rule of law? Isn’t it especially problematic to commute someone’s sentence when you yourself might have had a hand in that person’s criminal actions? And double especially when no one other than the now-free criminal has been held to account, despite your earlier promises? […]

His words mean nothing. He wouldn’t recognize honor or dignity if they sat down next to him on the bus. He’s a narcissistic child with the intellectual curiosity of a limpet, a heart the size of a pea, and a hollow empty void where his character ought to be.

I don’t doubt that conservatives will quickly argue that the nation, which strongly opposed Bush coming to Libby’s rescue, just “get over it.” And perhaps, in time, this will just be another bullet point on a long list of Bush’s disgraces.

But some offenses are impossible to forgive. Manipulating the rule of law and the U.S. system of justice to serve personal and political ends is one of them. Indeed, in a reasonable political world, it’s an impeachable offense.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.