Those of us of a certain age cut our teeth on Watergate. Civics books were weak gruel by contrast to the thrill of the chase unfolding daily on television and in the airwaves. The president a petty crook? Shocking as it was to our parents, we took it for granted.
Somehow we've become so inured to sleeze that there is little sense of urgency now when we find evidence that senior White House officials were willing to expose a federal agent to death if that is what it took to silence her husband. Those responsible for this leak make the Watergate bunglers look like Ferris Bueler on his day off.
A special prosecutor has spent months huddled away with a grand jury, and nearly two years investigating whether the president's deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, and Rove's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, Jr., are guilty of perjury and other crimes relating to disclosure of the agent's identity. There is even talk that Vice President Dick Cheney's fingerprints are all over the crime scene.
It is a shabby story. A diplomat accuses the administration of overstating the threat posed by Iraq and White House scummers -- we used to call them plumbers -- leak the fact that the man's wife is a part of the cloak and dagger crowd. Slick, real slick. And sick in some sociopathic way.
There seems to be a mindset among some power players that the law is a mere instrumental tool, to be broken with apparent impunity when the gain of lawlessness exceeds the cost. Expose the agent to risk, but get the message sent to the administration critic: We know where you sleep.
It may well be that Rove and his cronies are innocent. But enough questions have been raised to require either a public trial or plea. Are we to take the spin doctors' word that they did no wrong?
The political class seems strangely silent about all this, and when they speak it is in the shrill tones of partisanship. This is mere revenge, it is suggested, for the mauling of Clinton in his impeachment for lying about his sexual paccadilloes. And, of course, the Clinton impeachment was payback for earlier slights, whirling all the way back to Watergate. Oddly, Nixon's legacy lives in the form of a festering wound.
And don't talk to me about reasons of state, the traditional doctrine used to justify apparent acts of lawlessness by government officials. The disclosure of the agent's name was little more than venal thuggery.
How about putting politics aside? Ask the grand jury for indictments. Is there probable cause to believe the law was broken by men at or near the pinnacle of power? If so, indict. Let them mount a defense that can be challenged by cross examination. If not, close the file and move on.
All I know about the case is what I read in the newspapers. I have no inside sources, no deep throat to put things in whatever perspective his motives require. From where I sit, someone has some explaining to do. Let's hear an explanation; let Rove and company tell it to a jury.