Washington Democrats are fond of justifying their otherwise inexcusable behavior on the grounds that "Republicans did it first." It is time we recognize this tactic for what it is.
At least three things are wrong with the tactic. First, it reeks of childishness and suggests that our political institutions ought to operate under the guiding principle that two wrongs make a right. It elevates "revenge politics" to an exalted status instead of decrying it as improper behavior.
Second, by accusing the other side of similar misdeeds, those engaging in the questionable conduct deflect attention from their actions. As a result, partisan misconduct proceeds unchecked. Third, it distorts reality by seeking to reduce to moral equivalency radically dissimilar sets of actions.
A few examples will illustrate the efficacy of the tactic:
When Democrats were accused of systematically raising illegal foreign campaign contributions, they said that Republicans were equally guilty. In fact, though Republicans were involved in one such incident, Democrats were forced to return more than thirty times the amount of such contributions that Republicans were required to return.
When Vice President Cheney refused to turn over to the GAO documents pertaining to his Energy Task Force, Democrats screamed that there was no difference between Cheney’s behavior and that of Hillary Clinton’s in refusing to reveal information about her 1993 Health Care Task Force. In fact, there was no relevant similarity between the two events. Members of Cheney’s task force were all part of the public sector. No one has seriously suggested that Cheney operated illegally. Hillary’s group, by contrast, was made up of mostly private advisors, though the administration falsely claimed that the group consisted only of full-time government employees. Federal Judge Royce Lamberth held that Hillary’s task force had operated illegally and ordered the government to pay more than $285,000 in sanctions.
When shortly after the Enron scandal emerged and it became apparent that there was no evidence of a political scandal implicating the Bush administration, Democrats defiantly cited the Republicans' investigation of Whitewater. Democrats fail to mention that the Independent Counsel obtained a number of convictions of Clinton partners and close associates and that the Clintons’ unclean hands were all over Whitewater (among other things), even if prosecutors determined not to prosecute them personally.
The most recent example of the tactic is the Senate Democrats’ obstruction of President Bush’s judicial appointments, and specifically that of Judge Charles Pickering. I have written a couple of columns denouncing this attempted usurpation of the presidential appointment power.
After both I received a number of petulant e-mails reminding me that turnabout was fair play. Since Republicans were the first to employ this strategy against Bill Clinton’s nominees, they should expect reciprocal treatment. You could just see their sadistically jubilant faces as they hit the send button to dispatch their triumphant e-mails.
Put aside the fact that Republicans were not the first to draw blood. President Nixon had a devil of a time with certain of his nominees. And Judge Bork was treated as unfairly as you can conceive mistreatment by a supposedly civilized body. But you see, by even going down this road I am falling into their trap. This isn’t about what happened before. The question under the Constitution is whether Judge Pickering is qualified to sit on the federal appellate bench -- period. But by throwing out the bogus charge that Republicans did the same thing to Clinton they seek to avoid dealing with the merits of Pickering’s fitness for office.
Senator Daschle has stated that he will not allow Pickering’s nomination to be considered by the full Senate if he is not approved by the Democrat-controlled Judiciary Committee. This, despite the fact that Democratic Committee members Leahy and Biden have both argued in the past that judicial nominees must not be rejected without a floor vote of the full Senate. So you have 10 members of the Senate thwarting the constitutional prerogative of the president.
Despite claims of Republican obstruction, the Republican Judiciary Committee killed no Clinton nominees. And, Clinton had the second highest number of judges confirmed (374) of any president, though Republicans controlled the Senate six of his eight years. Democrats have made other allegations about Republican obstruction, all of which have been exposed as fraudulent by Thomas Jipping and the Free Congress Foundation.
The next time you hear Democrats saying, "Republicans did it first," you can be reasonably sure they're up to no good.