In its Thursday (January 22, 2004) edition, the Boston Globe reveals that Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year. We’ve all heard of the memos that were revealed after having been pilfered from the computers of various Democrat offices on the hill. The cynicism and political spite of certain Democrat legislators was starkly revealed by way of the memos in question. The Globe, however, reveals that GOP staffers had been “spying” on their Democrat counterparts using tactics that are clear violations of not only US Senate rules, but of the law in general.
We have to fight the instinct to say “Good work, fellas. Way to go.” At the end of the day, there’s a litmus test that we need to apply: How would we feel, and what would we say, if it had been the Democrats who broke through Republican security systems and had been conducting surveillance on Republican internal memos. I can honestly say that I would be extremely angry, and I’d be calling for swift and heavy legal action against the offending staffers.
There are two distinct issues in this situation. The first has to do with the legality and moral implications of this security hack. On that front, the Republican staffers are clearly in the wrong, and need to be brought to task for what has occurred. The second issue is whether the Democrats should be held accountable for the communications that have been revealed. The answer there is also yes. After all, would we have hesitated to investigate Enron if the whistle blowers had illegally acquired documents that proved Enron’s egregious scheme? Of course not.
The information regarding the Democrats’ questionable and dubiously cynical political strategies is now in the public forum, and any attempt to change the focus of the debate towards the illegality of GOP staffers should be treated as exactly what it is, a political tactic to obfuscate despicable actions. There is room enough for both issues in public discourse. Both the actions of the GOP staffers as well as the jaded tactics of Democratic legislators can be decried.
It is important, however, that right-leaning pundits do not fall into the trap of defending the indefensible. Trying to defend the actions of the offending staffers on the right will only put the GOP into an untenable position. The answer is to come to grips with the fact that the security breach is serious, and that the staffers (though bold, and in the views of many, possibly courageous) were out of line. The right should not provide the left with ammunition by defending these actions. The left can be easily disarmed if we, as a political segment, rightfully dismiss these actions, and then demand that the left rightfully dismiss the cynical and destructive political tactics that the exposed memos reveal. This is how a scandal can be skillfully transformed into an opportunity.
Wrong is wrong, and if we do not hold ourselves to the standards we claim to respect, we should expect the political damage that comes along with hypocrisy.
At the moment, the article is only an accusation. The absolute facts are not yet known. It remains a possibility that the entire situation will be forgotten as a mere misunderstanding, and that power brokers in the Senate will smooth the affair into obscurity. It may also turn out that the “spying” in question is much less serious than many suspect.
In any case, we should remain true to our philosophy and try to stand on the side of virtue, even if our short-term fortunes would thereby be threatened. This issue may simply vanish, or it may grow in scope and scandal. Either way, the right thing to do is not in question. In the long run, we are best served by our own integrity.