Paul Greenberg

Executive Privilege. It's a constitutional principle but it might as well be an old dance, the steps are so familiar.

First a congressional committee demands some documents from an administration.

When not enough are produced to please the committee, it moves to hold the federal official in charge of them in contempt. In this case, Attorney General Eric Holder, since his Justice Department was in charge, to use the term loosely, of a highly suspect operation dubbed Fast and Furious. It turned out to be entirely too fast and too furious, and a lot of guns wound up in the wrong hands -- those of a Mexican drug cartel. And a Border Patrol agent wound up dead.

The next step in this practiced minuet is taken by the president, who invokes executive privilege to shield the documents from the committee's eyes.

Other steps await -- maybe action by the full House, maybe a court case, maybe an agreement between committee and administration. Probably nothing of consequence.

But the usual, tinny accompaniment to this dance soon comes forth -- much talk about a Constitutional Crisis and mutual accusations of partisan motives.

It was all to be expected. Like the appearance of the chorus in a classical Greek play.

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For those attuned to the repetitive rhythms of American history, this little number is music to the ears. There's nothing as cheering as an old dance tune played with traditional zest, and all the dancers performing on cue, not missing a step.

Allemande left, allemande right, backtrack, balance, bend the line, do-sie-do and circle back. What fun. It's good exercise, and despite all the commotion, nobody gets hurt. Is it over yet? If not, it soon will be.

All constitutional crises should be so well orchestrated. This one is a tribute to the continuity of American political history.

It's rather assuring, since this dance has been going on since the first days of the Republic under our then new Constitution. Here's hoping it goes on for another 236 years.

This isn't just a dance but a tradition, a ceremony, a ritual. A welcome confirmation that the separate, independent branches of our federal government are as zealous of their competing but complementary roles as ever.

The Republic lives. And not just lives, but thrives, feisty as ever. Like old-timers in good health and good spirits doing a traditional reel in high style.

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Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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