Saturday, November 13, 2004

Let the bowdlerization begin

Senate Democrats seem likely not to oppose Alberto Gonzales’s nomination, because setting the legal groundwork for Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib is nowhere near as significant as, for example, hiring an illegal immigrant as a nanny. Remember Zoe Baird? Remember Kimba Wood? If not, go have a look, and remember the standards nominees of a Democratic president were expected to meet. At the time, I thought that Baird had disqualified herself from being attorney general (Wood was another matter), but Nannygate somehow doesn’t compare to the disregard for the rule of law Gonzales has demonstrated.

The LA Times has a good editorial on the Saving Private Ryan incident, which, like the legal work of Mr. Gonzales, shows the dangers when the predictable application of the rule of law is replaced by the whim of the executive:
the FCC’s refusal to provide advance guarantees to affiliates that it wouldn’t take action if they aired “Saving Private Ryan” makes it look as if the commission’s main priority is to tailor its response to whatever level of pressure it feels from self-appointed morality guardians.
A more sinister interpretation (and the LA Times may be right that it’s just weak-minded opportunism) would be that maintaining ambiguity about what standards it would apply, and applying them unevenly, induces self-censorship, as we just saw happen, which isn’t the PR problem that overt censorship would be, but gets the job of bowdlerization done at least as well. (If you don’t know the word bowdlerization, look it up, because I guarantee you will see it again as the puritans settle into their work with the special sort of glee seen only in those who are improving everyone else’s morals, whether they like it or not.

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