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Selective Forgiveness


It’s nearly impossible to follow all the laws. Our society’s rulebooks have grown too large. Federal and state laws, local ordinances, and the procedural pronouncements of regulatory bodies at every level are beyond the comprehension of even the government bodies who write them. That a nominee for a high-profile public office might be in violation of a couple of laws is probably not a big deal.

But it depends on the prospective office and the particular violation. We should expect nominess to be aware of, and abide by, the regulations controlling their area of expertise. Cops should know about use of force and rules of evidence, for example. A cop who made a mistake on a tax form regarding personal investments, while still a violation, is within the realm of reasonable forgiveness.

An Attorney General candidate has a pretty high burden of knowledge. As chief prosecutor for a government, an AG might be called upon to enforce any existing law. A Director of Homeland Security should know and abide by immigration law. And a Treasury Secretary should be able to keep track of his own finances.

Congress showing more forgiveness to Tim Geithner than granted to Bernard Kerik or Zoë Baird, lowers our general standard of accountability. It is a move away from the rule of law toward the rule of mood. “We really like your resumé, and it’s a crisis, so we’re calling your crime a minor one.”

Would a small business owner get the same treatment? Unlikely. Normal people are expected to pay their taxes. Hiring a criminal alien (an “illegal” to some) opens that business owner to charges relating to compromising national security. And we are told, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

If the law doesn’t apply equally to all, we no longer live in a republic. The precedent of selective forgiveness is a trait of oligarchy. If the elite governing class has written rules they don’t always care to enforce, particularly on thier own kind. If the government hopes to cling to legitimacy, they should either follow their own laws, or start tearing up the rulebooks for everyone.