Responding to the National Review on Eric Holder:
The National Review Online
has posted an editorial criticizing Obama's apparent pick of Eric Holder as Attorney General. NRO's bottom line: "To be blunt, Holder is a terrible selection. If there's any Obama cabinet nomination that Republicans feel moved to oppose, this should be it."
NRO makes two basic arguments against Holder. First, he is a "conventional" liberal. According to NRO,
[Holder] is convinced justice in America needs to be "established" rather than enforced; he's excited about hate crimes and enthusiastic about the constitutionally dubious Violence Against Women Act; he's a supporter of affirmative action and a practitioner of the statistical voodoo that makes it possible to burden police departments with accusations of racial profiling and the states with charges of racially skewed death-penalty enforcement; he's more likely to be animated by a touchy-feely Reno-esque agenda than traditional enforcement against crimes; he's in favor of ending the detentions of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay and favors income redistribution to address the supposed root causes of crime.
In any other time, Holder would simply be an uninspired choice. But these are not ordinary times — we face a serious, persistent threat from Islamist terrorists. At the same time, Democrats have expressed outrage over both the alleged politicization of the Justice Department and the reckless disregard of its storied traditions. For these times, it is difficult to imagine a worse choice for AG than Eric Holder.
I don't know Holder well (I once shook his hand, I think), and I don't have any particular reason to defend him. But I don't quite follow the argument here. Holder's views sound a lot like President-Elect Obama's, which are in turn more or less the views you might expect to be held by a Democrat appointee. Isn't that what you would expect from a Democratic President? Of course, you don't have to vote for the Democratic nominee: I didn't. But the Democrat won, and surely the standard for measuring who would be a good pick for AG has to factor this into account. Also, to the extent the NRO is arguing that Holder is too political or somehow has "recklessly disregarded" DOJ's traditions, the editorial hasn't even bothered to provide evidence for it. (Having served under Holder myself at DOJ for 2 and a half years, I can say that I never thought of him as political.)
Next, NRO argues that Holder played too much of a role in controversial pardons and commutations that President Clinton granted. The lead example is of the Marc Rich pardon, which was the subject of a Congressional report that labeled Holder's role "unconscionable." But the NRO leaves out that the report was directed by Dan Burton, a ferocious Clinton critic
who was famous for believing that Vince Foster was murdered (you may recall Burton as the guy who reenacted Foster's death
in his backyard by shooting a pumpkin that was supposed to stand in for Foster's head in order to help show Foster must have been murdered). A report championed by Dan Burton hardly seems like a neutral source for a judgment like that.
More broadly, the idea that Holder somehow furthered the Rich pardon to help himself become AG never quite made sense to me. Holder was already a natural pick for AG in a Democratic administration, and it's unclear why he would have thought that helping Jack Quinn with a private client would help get him that job — or how giving the pardon that the President wanted to grant a "neutral leaning favorable" review would be a way of helping Quinn. The story just doesn't make sense. I am certainly open to hearing more about it: Maybe there are details to the story that remain unknown that make the criticism of him more understandable. I trust the confirmation hearings will go through these issues again, and that certainly seems fair. But based on what we know so far, the case that Holder's conduct was "unconscionable" seems pretty weak to me.
I recognize, based on yesterday's post on Holder, that this post is likely to enrage a number of our more partisan Republican readers. Holder is a "Dem," after all, and some Republicans are eager to get back in the aggressive posture of attacking the Dems with whatever they can. But in my experience, Holder was an honorable and apolitical public servant. It might serve Republican party interests to go on the attack against him, but it doesn't strike me as either fair or honorable to do so.