Saturday 11 October 2008

Troopergate: why we should care

I'm new to blogging, and I may be breaking a rule of blogging etiquette by taking issue with another blog posted on the same site....but then I don't think Next Left should be afraid of a little respectful, comradely disagreement. So here goes....

Sunder's blog 'Troopergate: who cares?' strikes me as profoundly mistaken (unless it is intended ironically, and I am not getting this, in which case ignore what follows).

Sarah Palin is seeking election to the second highest executive office in the USA. It is by no means inconceivable that she could become President if John McCain were to die suddenly. So the question of her executive ethics is of paramount importance. Does she understand, at a basic level, that those who hold public office hold office as a public trust and that they abuse this trust when they use public office to pursue purely personal agendas? Do they grasp that one of the key bulwarks - indeed, the key bulwark - against arbitrary power is the practice of keeping the rule of power-holders within the bounds of the law and related norms of impartiality?

It seems clear from the 'Troopergate' case that she simply does not understand these things. This disqualifies her from holding high executive office.

What is at stake here is not a minor matter of concern only to the citizens of Alaska. It speaks to the essence of what executive leadership is, or ought to be, in a democratic society.

So who cares about 'Troopergate'? I do. And so should you.


Sunder Katwala said...

Hi Stuart

There's absolutely no breach of etiquette: it's something that, I hope, might happen more often.
And I don't entirely disagree. I've not cared enough to read through the report - its pretty damning, in the disregard for due process.

However, I feel my broader points stands. My main point was that Palin was already clearly very much not qualified to be V-P or President.

It was already clear she did not have the knowledge or political judgement to be VP/President. You might now supplement that: this might also suggest she does not have the integrity/character to be VP/President either. But the point was only that we didn't need any new information to clear the 'not qualified' threshold with room to spare.

(By contrast, Nixon - whose political values I don't share - did have the knowledge to be President but not, as it turned out, the ethics; but then the same can be said of JFK, whose broad political values I do share, since trying to steal elections, or indeed succeeding, is rather similar). Interestingly, Truman did have the integrity to be President but not the judgment: he was a woefully underqualified candidate for a very ill FDR to pick in 1944 (and indeed to then not brief properly). The fact that it turned out more than fine doesn't perhaps excuse the fact that, at the time, there was no evidence that was not as bad almost as bad a pick for VP as Palin.

The 'era of small things' point wasn't an absolute point either. I wouldn't defend Clinton over the Lewinsky case, unlike many liberals. Not so much over the public lying, but the dubious ethics of the CEO having sexual relationships with interns, and the reckless damage the President did to his administration, legacy and party were all fair charges against him. But one can still criticise the prominence in politics: it was not an impeachment issue; it was not important enough to be dominant to the exclusion of all else. Scrutiny is legitimate and important - but the use of judicial investigations as a primary tool of partisan politics is still regrettable.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should care but it doesnt really matter...Palins goose is cooked...

Stuart White said...

(1) Palin's 'goose' is by no means yet 'cooked'. There are three weeks plus to go in the campaign and none of us knows how much unspoken racism will push the final vote out of line with the polls.

(2) Even if Palin's goose is cooked, it is important to take the issue seriously, and give it an appropriate salience, because this affirms basic principles of executive ethics in a democratic society.

(3) The fact that Palin is underqualified in one way for office (ignorance) does not make it uninteresting or unimportant that she is also disqualified in another (ethics).

(4) A strong focus on executive ethics is part of a broader commitment to procedural goods in political life which ought to be central to a social democratic philosophy. It matters not just what governments do, but how they do these things. 'Process' matters as much as 'outcomes'.