Curb Your Nostalgia for Political Process

wm. barr usa today

Tuesday, January 15, was the congressional hearing/job interview to determine William Barr’s fitness to serve as our new AG. I watched most of the proceedings on TV with occasional gaps to deal with some loads of laundry. For a warm, mushy minute the hearing harkened back to the calm, respectful order of less partisan days. Hard to believe there is nostalgia for a political process that can seem as uneventful as watching paint dry, except that recently such occasions have offered something more akin to fireworks.

Everyone treated William Barr with seriousness and regard because he certainly has the chops for the job, having been AG thirty years ago (in a Republican administration) and having lived a life of public service. William Barr had with him his 8 year old grandson, apparently a child with some charisma, but the presence of family did not prevent the confrontational tone of the Kavanaugh hearing.

These days we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of comfort. Underneath the welcome civility of a well-conducted political ritual, the content revealed during questioning was more problematic. While Barr obviously trusts Mueller to refuse to conduct a “witch hunt” style investigation, he made no promises that the public will ever learn what the special prosecutor has found. He said it nicely. He said he could not answer the question until he saw the report, but he firmly insisted on his absolute power over whether to release the information and over exactly what information he will release. Then there is the question of why he, or indeed anyone, would want this job.

So I was yanked from my sentimental swoon and reminded that, while these hearings seem civil on the surface, they are an empty form. Democrats will only be allowed to ask questions. Republicans have the votes to confirm William Barr without any assistance from the Democrats and nothing would be negative enough to deter them.

We are being humored, swayed by phony protocol, until we forget that we still have no power to approve or disapprove Trump appointees. Republicans in the Senate are just putting on a show at taxpayer expense, but have actually bought themselves a rubber stamp. They need the show hearing because without it everyone would see that there is no such thing as regular order and wishing for it will not make it so.

It seems Republicans are also willing to reveal that the money we spent on a special prosecutor does not give ‘we the people’ access to Robert Mueller’s findings. My heart sank; I had not considered this until it came up in discussions over the past few weeks. (And then there was that moment when Lindsay Graham – in a very calm tone – asked Barr to promise to investigate Mueller’s staff because of rumored bias – the word liberal is understood – and Barr agreed that he would.) We cannot afford to let sentiment cloud our vision. Our power to check this administration will not really exist until we win at least the Senate in 2020.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search ; USA Today

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