The Next Famous Director of the FBI

We’re old enough to remember a time when J. Edgar Hoover was not only every bit as famous as Johnny Carson or Spiro Agnew or Tiny Tim, but was even as legendary a character as Wyatt Earp or Gen. Douglas MacArthur or the cross-dressing Z-movie director Ed Wood. Hoover earned his renown, or notoriety, depending on which side of the vast political chasm of the time you were on, as the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and although even such politically-obsessed sorts as ourselves would be hard-pressed to name a single FBI director since then we suspect that Jim Comey is about to achieve a similar household-name status.
Comey’s FBI is so clearly and undeniably no matter what she says closing in on an investigation of possible multiple oh-my-God sorts of felonies against former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices and charitable work that even such polite media as Time Magazine acknowledges it, and Comey is quite publicly playing a leading role in the matter. Because Clinton is also the more-or-less-front-runner in the Democratic presidential nomination race, this will eventually require the attention of even the very most polite media. The whole problem could easily be resolved by a Democratic Attorney General appointed by a Democratic President and a mostly politely Democratic media all agreeing that there’s nothing to see here, and that might yet happen, but this Comey guy strikes as one of those intriguing characters that occasionally gum up the works.
The cynical assumption on both the left and the right is that eventually a Democratic Attorney General appointed by a Democratic President won’t file charges against a more-or-less-front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and that the mostly politely Democratic media and eventually the rest of the nation will agree that there’s nothing to see here, seems reasonable. This Comey fellow, though, has a long history of being admirably unreasonable. He first tangled with the Clintons as a deputy special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee, where he made a case that Hillary Clinton had mishandled documents and ordered others to do so constituting a “highly improper pattern of deliberate misconduct,” which endeared him to the subsequent George W. Bush administration to earn a high post there, but when he was serving as acting Attorney General during a health emergency by John Ashcroft and refused to sign on to a controversial surveillance program and later challenged other Bush policies he so endeared himself to Bush’s subsequent successor that he was named FBI director. Since then he’s been an admirable pain in the posterior to the Obama administration, offering frank testimony to Congress about Syrian refugees and policing that undercut the president, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t gum up the works yet again.
If he brings a convincing case against Clinton, or at least one as convincing as the most polite media have already been forced to acknowledge, it will surely shake up the most shaken presidential race of our long recollection. Even if the Democratic Attorney General appointed by the Democratic President with the blessings of the mostly politely Democratic media decide there’s nothing to see here, Comey seems likely to continue to his very public role in the investigation, but if he chooses to do so we wish him well in the effort. Such a quixotic quest against the Clintons would surely entail some controversy, and even the Republican security hawks would find something to dislike, but that goes with the territory. J. Edgar Hoover was a household name long before our birth, and his crazy career included something for both and liberals and conservatives to celebrate and loathe, much like MacArthur or Johnny Carson or our hometown bully-boy sheriff Wyatt Earp or any of those other childhood icons we could never quite settle on, so we hold out hope that Comey is cut from from the same crazy quilt.

— Bud Norman

Friends, Neighbors, and Big Brother

President Barack Obama spent much of last Friday trying to reassure the country it is not living under the watchful eye of Big Brother in a high-tech police state, but despite his best efforts we can’t quite shake some nagging suspicions.
Just the very fact that a president felt compelled to offer such reassurances is discomfiting enough, as it was when Nixon thought it necessary to explain that he was not a crook, but there were other troubling aspects to Obama’s lengthy oration on the National Security Agency’s surveillance and data-gathering operations. There are several questions to be raised about the rather modest reforms that the president announced, which mostly amount to continuing all the agency’s data-gathering about Americans’ phone and internet use but storing it with another entity of unknown reliability and accountability, yet there was something about the very tone of the speech that was even more troubling.
The president began with a brief but adulatory history of American intelligence operations from the Revolutionary War through Harry Truman’s founding of the NSA, an epoch he has never expressed much admiration for on any previous occasion, then sought to appeal to his political base of aging hippie radicals with horror stories about the domestic spying of the ‘60s, at which point he suddenly sounded far more sincere, and he spent the rest of it trying to strike a chord incorporating both dissonant notes. With the same exasperated smile one might use on a pouting child, Obama added that “After all, the folks at NSA and other intelligence agencies are our neighbors and our friends.” We live in a dangerous world that requires the vigilant efforts of a vast national security apparatus, Obama explained, but he was quick to let his supporters know that he hadn’t gone all J. Edgar Hoover on them by touting the layers of law and regulation that will prevent it front intruding on the private lives and political activities of individuals. He noted that the nation has “benefited from both our Constitution and tradition of limited government,” and that “our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power.”
Coming from a president whose entire career has been devoted to the unlimited growth of government power, has frequently waived key provisions of the laws he himself signed, made recess appointments while Congress was not in recess, flouted the constitution on various other occasions, and has recently declared his intention to act “with or without Congress,” this is not entirely convincing. Coming from a president who also promised that if you like your health care plan you can keep it, that the deadly attacks on America’s consulate in Benghazi were a spontaneous reaction to an obscure internet video, and that just his nomination to the office of the presidency would begin to heal the planet and lower the sea levels, and who offered his good intentions as proof of all these absurd claims, it is especially hard to believe.
Those aging hippie radicals can be confident that Obama won’t use the data being collected by the NSA to quash their protests against the Vietnam War or capitalism, but anyone whose political opinions aren’t so neatly aligned with Obama’s can be forgiven a doubt. Those who have lately been audited by the IRS or attracted more than usual attention of the regulatory agencies overseeing their business can even be forgiven if they think it’s all bunk.

— Bud Norman