HOLDER IS AWARE OF OUR LAWS AND TRADITIONS…. At this morning’s press conference in Chicago, I suspect most eyes were on Hillary Clinton. That’s certainly understandable — she’s a national political powerhouse poised to become the president’s most prestigious cabinet secretary.

But when each of the various officials briefly spoke at the press conference, I was especially struck by the remarks from Eric Holder, Obama’s Attorney General nominee. He only uttered 384 words, but his message was welcome.

“The Department of Justice plays a unique role on this team. It is incumbent those of us who lead the department to ensure not only that the nation is safe but also that our laws and traditions are respected. There is not a tension between those two. We can and we must ensure that the American people remain secure and that the great constitutional guarantees that define us as a nation are truly valued.

“For example, working with Republicans and Democrats in Congress, should I be confirmed, we look forward to actually structuring policies that are both protective and consistent with who we are as a nation.”

Some of the brief remarks included boilerplate comments about law enforcement and cooperation with state and local officials, but after eight years in which the rule of law was treated as an afterthought, if not a punch-line, Holder’s short-but-clear message was unmistakable: we’re going to start doing things differently from now on.

Notice the balance in his comments — for every reference, Holder stressed principles that have been forgotten of late. He talked about safety, but immediately connected it to our “laws and traditions.” He talked about security, but quickly shifted to a reminder of our “great constitutional guarantees that define us as a nation.”

It was an encouraging statement, to put it mildly.

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.