Election season is upon us and political opponents seem willing to do anything to get the upper hand. The Hatch Act recently resurfaced as a tool in this battle when Carolyn Lerner, the newest head of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), sent a letter to Congress claiming that the Hatch Act is flawed, ineffective and unfairly penalizes political appointees. She wants the statute to be changed.
Even more interesting is that the New York Times and the Washington Post have taken valuable space on editorial pages to support Democrats' new push to reform the Hatch Act, calling reform a "no brainer". A central theme to this sudden concern is that the Hatch Act is an all too easy, political, “gothcha” weapon to be wielded by partisan opponents to score puny political victories in advance of the next election.
Yep. Been there. Experienced that.
Democrats and mainstream media folks once held far different views about the Hatch Act and routinely went to great lengths to justify any assault to score political points during the Bush Administration. Then, the Washington Post seemed to think the Hatch Act was one of the most important statutes and made room on page 1 for any tidbit related to the Bush Administration. The NY Times also fell in line to champion kangaroo court investigations that they thought would help their candidates in future elections.
Well, well, well. Now the wheel has come full circle. With Democrats holding the White House and holding only a very slim majority in the Senate, they have become concerned about the Hatch Act's overly broad interpretation of "political" activity. And even though the Post and Lerner focus on recommendations for changes at the State and Local level, the OSC has also proposed changes at the federal level.
No doubt with the full knowledge of just how much damage an unscrupulous investigator can manufacture with a skillful use of false or exaggerated accusations, Democrats are anxious to change the laws so that the very tactics they invented and used with such great skill cannot be turned against them in a similar manner. Hence, leading Democrats now are voicing their fears that the Hatch Act may be misused and that political opponents may take it to extremes.
It also seems clear that these changes are a result of Democrats' fear of the damage a rogue Office of Special Counsel can do to election ambitions. This is a wise fear. Members of the Bush Administration can affirm--it is possible for the Special Counsel and the opposing political party's pursuit of Hatch Act violations to go too far. The last guy to hold the job at OSC, Scott Bloch, did just that.
During the Bush Administration Scott Bloch falsified investigation data, engaged in cover-ups, purged government computers to hide his actions, and conducted a propaganda campaign on blogs against his targets (of which I was one). Leading Democrats and the main stream media, meanwhile, were willing accomplices in these shenanigans for it supported their broader goal of discrediting political opponents.
The Hatch Act, essentially, allowed a rogue Special Counsel, such as Bloch, to commandeer the vast investigatory powers of the OSC while running roughshod over the justice system, for political and personal gain.
Unfortunately, these efforts were not only supported, but egged on, by Democrat political operatives, such as Congress Waxman, who skillfully exploited the Hatch Act as a way to attack the Bush Administration and help Democrats gain an edge over Republicans in the upcoming election. Moreover, even after multiple indictments by a Grand Jury and an admission of guilt, Mr. Bloch has escaped any punishment for his crimes.
So Democrats are worried that the precedents, set by Waxman and Bloch, might be repeated, only this time directed at members of the Obama Administration. This, too, is a justifiable fear, so now the Obama Administration is arguing that the Hatch Act is "overly restrictive", while the Washington Post expresses worry that the statute "sweeps too broadly" and worries about "the unduly draconian penalty structure".
As all of these folks well understand, oversight, whether federal, state or local in its pursuit, isn't always consistent, unbiased, competent, or free of taint. Having participated in the past in making political hay with the Hatch Act, they understand better than anyone that in the hands of unscrupulous zealots, the Hatch Act can be used as an effective tool to beat up one's opponents.
One question that Republicans might ask is: Does the recent Washington Post editorial calling for changes in Hatch Act investigations serve as the proverbial canary in the coal mine? Is this sudden conversion of the mainstream media timed to help rationalize possible future transgressions within the Obama Administration--and if so, how bad are they?
Another question: Why has there been such a dramatic flip-flop in the media's position concerning the potential for misuse of the Hatch Act? Or, is this just another example of the mainstream media's bias favoring Democrats?
Or, hold on to your hat here, is it possible that, at long last, Democrats and the enablers in the media have finally understood the damage they unleashed and the unfairness of their endeavors? One can only hope.
Americans can hope too, that, should a Republican president be elected come November, the Washington Post won't flop back to the flip (or is it flipping back the flop?) and insist that the "draconian" Hatch Act is needed after all and find space, once again, on page 1 to abuse a new crop of Republican political appointees.