From the Left



The cost of our war on public life

E.J. Dionne Jr. on

NEW YORK -- We didn't know how hard it was to be president until we had one with no idea of what it takes to do the job.

We didn't appreciate having a government that was relatively honest and free of venality until we had one riddled with corruption.

And we didn't know how wildly irresponsible Republican criticisms of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were until the GOP fell silent in the face of abuse after abuse from President Trump. Obama was "not presidential" for wearing a tan suit? Benghazi? Really?

Let's start there. When the current administration finally reaches the end of the line, we will need some serious rethinking about how to grapple with the asymmetry in the behavior of our two parties. Republicans -- and particularly the party's dominant right wing in the House of Representatives -- have kicked away a lot of credibility in a very short time.

A prime example of their partisanship-above-everything attitude: The leaking to Fox News by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee of a private text message between Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and a Russia-connected lawyer. Let's not have amnesia a few months or a few years from now about how political warfare took priority over the nation's security or how double standards became the rule for a large part of the GOP.

To their credit, Warner's Republican colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee were outraged over the behavior of their House counterparts whose primary interest is in protecting Trump and disrupting any serious investigation of Russian collusion. Warner had disclosed the contact to his colleagues months before, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., had said it had "zero impact on our work."

Both Warner and Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., complained to House Speaker Paul Ryan about the irresponsibility of their House counterparts, led by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. Ryan said he did not run the committee, thus pushing away an obligation to act. Imagine that: A House speaker who uses all of his prerogatives to push through his own priorities claims utter powerlessness in the face of a runaway committee chairman.

Good for Burr and Rubio, and may more Republicans stand against the madness.

The larger lesson from this shameful interlude is about what self-government demands. Aspects of governing we regard as boring and pay little attention to are important to making it function well.

For the last week or so, an avalanche of commentary about the chaos of the Trump regime has pointed to how key appointees are rushing toward the exits; how Trump springs new policies with little preparation and changes his views news cycle to news cycle; how ill-prepared Trump and many of his aides were for the rigors of the White House; and how recklessly they cast aside norms and rules aimed at preventing conflicts of interest and sleaze.


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