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Thoughts on the IG Report From 35,000 Feet

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OK, let’s start by consolidating sources.  Here is a link to the report itself.  (Fair warning – the Executive Summary is 14 pages.  This thing is a Russian novel, not a report.)  I have only skimmed it.  I am more interested in the “meta” aspects of this whole thing than the nitty-gritty – advantages of not being a lawyer.  If you have not, you should definitely take in the first hour of the radio show from this morning.  The host relied on some great sources as I will in this post.  First John Hinderacker at Powerline.  Second Kimberly Strassel at WSJ.  Finally, the host cited Andrew McCarthy’s Twitter feed this morning on the show, to which I will add McCarthy’s great NRO piece from later in the day which begins with appropriate sarcasm:

You’ve got to hand it to Michael Horowitz: The Justice Department inspector general’s much-anticipated report on the Clinton-emails investigation may be half-baked, but if it is, it is the most comprehensive, meticulously detailed, carefully documented, thoughtfully reasoned epic in the history of half-bakery.

Why say do I say the report “may be half-baked”? Why don’t I just come out and declare, “The report is half-baked”? Well, I figure if I write this column in the IG’s elusive style, we’ll have the Rosetta Stone we need to decipher the report.

See, you probably sense that I believe the report is half-baked. But if I say it “may be” half-baked . . . well, technically that means it may not be, too. I mean, who really knows, right?

As the day has worn on the self-contradictions and doublespeak of the thing have been mounting to the point that I am not sure I will even eventually make my way through it in detail.  I prefer my nonsense in comic books and professional wrestling.

I really want to comment on three things that do not require a detailed reading given the good sources cited above, one political and two philosophical.

First, the political comment – if the you find the evidence in this thing, despite the findings prevarications, at all surprising you have not been paying attention.  Consider Victor Davis Hanson’s NRO piece published just before the report was released:

…as Barack Obama left office, his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, strangely boasted that the Obama administration “has been historically free of scandal.” Obama himself recently concluded of his eight-year tenure, “I didn’t have scandals.”

Those were puzzling assertions, given nearly nonstop scandals during Obama’s eight years in office involving the IRS; General Services Administration; Peace Corps; Secret Service; Veterans Administration; and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, not to mention the Clinton email-server scandal, the Benghazi scandal, and the 2016 Democratic National Committee email scandal.

For nearly eight years, the Obama administration sought to cover up serial wrongdoing by waging a veritable war against the watchdog inspectors general of various federal agencies.

Have you ever wondered why the Democrats grew so overconfident of their permanent installation in government during the Obama years? When you consider the gross politicization of so much of the supposedly apolitical departments of government during the Obama administration one begins to see a concerted effort to establish a machine – much like the one that has held sway in Chicago for decades.  It has worked awfully well in Chicago for a very, very long time.  I might grow cocky if that is what I thought was up.  Fortunately, in a national election the actual voting mechanisms are under various auspices and the kind of garbage that everybody knows happens in Chicago (think Kennedy v Nixon), but no one can prove, was simply not possible.

If Obama was not trying to set-up a Chicago like machine, with this level of scandal one must assume that he was the most inept administrator in the history of the office and his hires just ran amok.  Which is probably what Obama wants you to think.

First Philosophical Comment.  I recall a conversation I had with a renowned constitutional scholar some years ago.  It was about the options a state’s chief executive had in light of a state Supreme Court’s ruling the scholar, myself and the particular executive found problematic.  The scholar thought the executive should simply not abide by the ruling, citing Lincoln post-Dredd Scott.  I am acquainted with the executive in question and told the scholar that his respect for the law and his honor would prevent such a thing unless the situation was far more extreme than it was.

The point of this story is that in the end the honesty and reliability of our government comes down to the honesty and honor of the people in it.  As Hanson points out, the government can ignore and stonewall its own watchdogs.  The check and balances of the constitution are limited.  For example, the judicial branch must rely on the executive to enforce their decisions.  Likewise the legislative branch must rely on the executive to enact its decisions.  Only the executive controls law enforcement and the military and can therefore make anybody do anything.  In the end it comes down to personal honor and respect for the system we have established.  Absent such honor and respect the executive could run amok.

I wrote on Thursday about the fact that good people are made, they are not born.  We are clearly falling down on the job of making good people.  In the end that is what happened here.  The justice department was obviously rife with people something less than good.  Maybe not criminal, but certainly not up to the standards the nation has come to expect of its officialdom.  And as Hanson points out, a lot of other parts of the Obama administration suffered from the same weakness.

In this nation we have come to associate concepts like “good” and “bad” with religion and then used the “separation of church and state” to drive such notions out of governance.  And since our educational institutions are so tightly tied with government, we now make people full of information but wholly pragmatic and completely without any of sort of normal behavioral constraint.  Put more plainly we have a lot of highly educated people that don’t know the difference between right and wrong – people for whom concepts like honor and respect are abstracts to be called on only when they are helpful to the task at hand.

The fact that the report provides ample evidence of misconduct, yet refuses to call it what it is is emblematic of exactly what I am talking about here.  We have to get very serious in this nation about making good people, not merely educated people.  This report shows that we came dangerously close to edge.  We seem to have stepped away from the edge, but we have to get a lot farther back to once again be safe.

Second Philosophical Comment.  What we are seeing is a logical consequence of the prevalence of relativism in thought today.  I am sure that every person in this sad chain of events has thought they had good reason to behave the way they behaved.  After all, if there are no absolutes, if everything is relative, then in some situations behavior that might be considered unethical, or worse, can be justified.  The very inconclusiveness of the report itself is evidence that its authors thought that actual misconduct, clearly evidenced, was not necessarily bad – it depended on the circumstance and motivation.  That’s pretty much the definition of relativism.  Is it any wonder that we have a hard time making good people if we have such a hard time actually deciding what is good.

The current president illustrates the divide between relativism and absolutes pretty clearly.  His detractors are all about style – as Billy Crystal used to say, “It is better to look good than to feel good.”  Trump’s supporters, often derided as under-educated, are about substance.  There has to be absolutes for there to even be substance.  When everything is relative, all you are left with is style by which to make a judgement about something.

I am not sure Larry Arnn had a clue how fundamental things really were when he said during campaign 2016 that, “Fundamental things are afoot.”  What is happening here is far more fundamental than simply who holds office and what policies they have.  We are seeing a nation trying to regain reasonable footing after eight long years of intellectual drivel passing as clear and deep thought.

Perhaps, Aslan is on the move.


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