Bill Murchison

The Sotomayor ruckus, with its senatorial and media back-and-forths about judicial power and racism, is one indicator that Americans like and trust each other less, if possible, than they have since maybe 1861.

Still a stronger indicator is the storm boiling over whether, and how hard, to go after Bush administration officials -- former Vice President Cheney among them -- over what they did to defeat terrorists.

No course of action would make less sense, or point more directly to the truth of the ancient maxim that those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.

To his credit, President Obama shows lack of enthusiasm for Holder's proposed maneuver -- hardly surprising in a chief executive fighting hard just to stay in charge of his own domestic agenda. He needs a battle over Bush era intelligence policy the way the viewing public needs another Michael Jackson special.

And yet … !

Here was Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California on Fox News calling for an investigation of news reports that Cheney kept from Congress intelligence about a controversial CIA anti-terrorism initiative. That's on top of other reports that Attorney General Eric Holder may name a special criminal prosecutor to investigate Bush-era interrogation policies.

The un-slaked thirst among Democrats for the blood of some who waged the counter-war on terror -- and kept America completely safe up through the handover of power in January -- is hard to come to grips with. What's in it for the Democrats? The joy of poking Republican hornets to fury? That helps the Democratic agenda? How? Who could think such a thing?

Oh, it's a Matter of Principle, as some say when speaking of Holder's motives. A Matter of Principle to go after public officials for the advice they gave the president? What about the principle that it's unwise to start civil wars when you don't have to?

Why can't Holder see where this thing is going? The destination is a great political toxic dump. He'll poison public discourse. Nobody will talk about Principles; they'll all talk about Payback, as Auden foresaw so many years ago in a great poem: "I and the public know/What all schoolchildren learn/Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return."

"Evil" -- too strong a word? Possibly. Not so strong it doesn't correctly point to what Democrats can expect if they decide to criminalize political disagreement.

The Democrats go after the last Republican administration; the Republicans, once returned to power, as they will be, and maybe very, very soon if the Democrats keep doing the angry second-grader bit, look around for Democrats to go after. Don't we understand how this is how life works, even if it shouldn't?

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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