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In Praise of David Brooks

On Jim Lehrer’s NewsHour, David Brooks — while properly castigating Rep. Joe Barton for his politically inept defense of BP and his muddled attempt to draw an important principle from what is happening — said this:

He actually had a kernel of truth at the core of what he said, which is that we’re a nation of laws. We have laws to protect the unpopular, and to even protect people who do bad things. And we have a set of laws, when somebody does something bad, does something negligent, to force them to pay and compensate those who were damaged. And that’s all on the books. And what President Obama did when he very publicly and very brutally strong-armed BP into setting aside this $20 billion, is, he went around those laws. And some people think, “Oh, it’s no problem. It’s only BP.” Well, if you’re upset about — I mean, if, imagine if Dick Cheney did it to somebody he didn’t like and said, “Oh, we don’t happen to like you. We’re going to set $20 billion aside, and I will appoint the person who is going to decide what is going to happen to that $20 billion.”

Now, I’m not personally worried about what’s going to happen to this $20 billion, because Ken Feinberg, who was on the show earlier, is a hero. He will be honest. He will be straight. So, I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about the erosion of the rule of law, which is a president using the vast powers of the federal government to strong-arm a company, no matter how unpopular and no matter how badly they may have behaved.

David’s point is well put, and, when passions among the polity are running high, it was a responsible observation to make.

In A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More and William Roper have an exchange in which Roper says to More, “So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!”

More answers: “Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?” Roper replies, “I’d cut down every law in England to do that!” And More answers this way:

Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

During this crisis, BP has acted horribly on almost every level; but the rule of law still matters, even — and maybe especially — in instances like this.



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