Thursday, February 26, 2009

For Cryin' Out Loud

A word of caution to all you bloggers out there: as it turns out this practice of diverted discourse is seen as a danger in certain districts of our democracy. (How's that for alliteration?)

But seriously.

As Professor Dawn Johnsen of Indiana University, Obama's nominee to head up his Office of Legal Counsel, has come to learn, of all the sins and scary closet skeletons that can come to the surface in the vetting process for cabinet and staff, the one that seems to elicit the most bipartisan dismay is the illicit practice of ...blogging.

This week she appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss her possible service. And the dark truth saw light. Senator Sessions, R-Ala., accused her of outright aid and comfort to "the other side" with her "blogging, advocating, and speeching (sic)."

(More on how we define "sides" in a moment).

If you would think the supposed liberals on the panel would come to her defense in this you would be wrong. "You have been an activist," gravely pronounced Senator Feinstein of California, as she quizzed Johnsen —on her preparedness to "give that up."

Advocacy, that was the new word for the old scarlet letter.

What's odd is the fact that there is little doubt of Professor Johnsen's preparedness to actually serve the OLC. Yes, she has offered critical opinion that was deliberate and direct on the past practices of the office, in opinion forums and in popular publications. But she also led a rigorous effort to offer the bipartisan perspective of a number of former OLC lawyers on the subject of "Principles To Guide the Office of Legal Counsel."

Hmmm, informed advocacy... based on "principles."

Dahlia Lithwick sums up the situation well in her piece for The problem with Johnsen: "She has spoken out clearly! She has criticized openly! She has used language like "outrage" and "torture" to describe outrages and torture. Curiously enough, nobody on the committee disagrees with these legal conclusions today. They're just mainly bothered that she said them aloud."

I know the notion of change with the new administration is popular to lampoon, especially on this blog. But I for one am hopeful that this notion of "sides" —even both sides— being offended at the sound of principled Americans speaking their mind, this notion of labeling candid earnest discourse "radical" as a way to simply avoid it —that these might become outmoded tactics. There is a better possibility

Of course, this isn't something Obama can deliver. That's up to us. But with Dawn Johnsen's nomination it seems like there may be something better allowed for. Even out loud.

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