I’d Love the Job, How About the Liability?

There’s an almost funny item in the papers about Independent Counsel David Barrett still investigating Bill Clinton’s Housing Secretary, who pleaded guilty, was fined almost six years ago and then pardoned by Clinton.  Like a dog with a bone, who just can’t bear to give it up, the Republicans want to keep on tugging, at a cost to you and me of $2 million a year.

Ten years and 21 million bucks, David.  Give it up!  Bad dog! The Housing Secretary was fined $10,000, plus $25 court costs.  The additional $20,989,975.00 is just a clock that keeps ticking.

Which brings to mind the other side of the matter, the various and sundry minor and not-so-minor players in this on-going Grand Jury game that both Democrats and Republicans seem incapable of ending. The other side might be called the slaughter of the innocents.

It’s cool to read about Karl Rove or Tom DeLay or the egoistic columnist Robert Novak getting called before a Grand Jury, but their testimony is just the sparkling tip of a very large iceberg.  And they (for the most part) have a ton of financial support from one source or another.  It’s the little guy, who struggles into the elevator to the 10th floor of this or that courthouse, arms full of documents, without benefit of admiring reporters shoving a microphone in their faces, who are out there on a limb.

It’s always the little guy who pays.  No one notices.  We should notice.

You work in the White House basement, doing grunt work for an administration you admire, getting maybe $35 thousand for the honor while you hope for some upward mobility, pay off your college loan and live in a shared apartment to just barely make it.  But it’s fun and you are making it.  Eating a lot of burgers, without much of a social life, but hey, it’s what you want to do and being out there in the fringe of decision-making is exciting.  Washington feels like a place for you.

And then, the subpoena.  Your boss’ boss or someone even further back on the branch to which you are only a twig, has a legal problem.  The special prosecutor drops a paper on you. How tough can it be, right?

Eight months, ten appearances, $50,000 in legal fees and countless sleepless nights later, Washington has stopped being fun any more.  Tired, burned out, dispirited and broke, any job at all looks okay as long as it’s not in this ruthless, unforgiving and thankless political city.

The fictional people I’m writing about are not bad people.  They are support staff to those who came to government from any of a number of places for any of a number of reasons.  Their boss may be great or an absolute rat, luck of the draw.  But Washington has become an increasingly partisan swamp, stinking of recrimination, where the lingua franca has become the special prosecutor. That’s evil, big-time evil, for a country whose government is supposed to be based on bipartisan negotiation and a minimal degree of respect for the office, if not the one who holds the office.  In fifty years of observation, I don’t remember a time as angry and grievously quarrelsome as now, where every disagreement creates an element of personal attack and ethics investigation.

It’s bad, getting worse and cannot end well.

But the young people who come to Washington with idealistic purposes and dreams of service must not be thrown into the cauldron of legal partisanship and punishment.  There should be and must be and can be a protective covenant, a one-size-fits-all agreement to hold financially harmless these un-indicted witnesses.

Their testimony is needed, but shouldn’t be career-ending and financially crippling.

See Taking My Country Personally on my personal web site.

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