Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry won’t be doing any prison time for vetoing a bill while in office, and we’re glad of that, but the political ruthlessness that created any doubt about it is likely to continue.
Perry’s case took so long winding through the justice before Texas’ top criminal appeals court dismissed all charges that you might have forgotten what it was all about. The story began when Travis County district attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving, and and was so belligerent and issued so many threats of her official power while being processed that she wound up in the same sort of restraints used on cinematic cannibal Hannibal Lecter. A video of the fuss was widely replayed on Texas news stations, became a runaway hit on YouTube, and Perry was among the many Texans calling for Lehmberg’s resignation. When the Democrat Lehmberg defiantly refused to leave, the Republican Perry threatened to veto the funding for a commission she headed that was charged with rooting out official corruption, which seemed reasonable use of the governor’s constitutional veto power to most Texans but aroused the ire of a leftist group and a special prosecutor and some Democratic judges who alleged it was an abuse of power that deserved a 109-year sentence.
The dismissal of such absurd charges was inevitable, but not before Perry was perp-walked and finger-printed and had his mug shot printed in all the papers, and perhaps not coincidentally after his presidential campaign came to a quick end. The vindication didn’t get the attention that the perp-walk and finger-prints and mug shots did, of course, and the legal fees were no doubt high, so it’s hard to consider Perry a winner.
Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and former Texas Rep. Tom DeLay were also vindicated of the charges that ended their political careers after prolonged and costly legal battles, with the acquittals getting far less attention than the allegations, and there are local examples of the same thing happening in all sorts of jurisdictions. It happens often enough to arouse suspicions even when the charges seem to have weight, such as the corruption charges against New Jersey Sen. Bob Mendendez, a rare Democrat to find himself on the docket but only after he became an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s awful Iran deal. There are also suspicions when charges aren’t filed despite a considerable weight of evidence, such as in the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of “tea party” groups, and perhaps former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s highly suspicious private e-mail account.
Such efforts to criminalize one’s political opposition and shield one’s allies are not helpful to maintaining a republic of free men and women under the rule of law, nor are the suspicions they arouse and the cynicism they create. The tactic has usually been employed by the left, which in its heart does believe that any political opposition is criminal and that any allies deserve shielding, but these days we’re hearing a lot of folks on the right insisting that a similar ruthlessness is called for. Much ugliness is likely to ensue, and to whatever extent the right is less interested in maintaining a republic of free men and women under the rule than it is in punishing its enemies the ugliness will be greater. We’d like to think that an appeal to constitutional principles, and the sound arguments for limited government and free markets and a general policy of being nice to one another leaving people be would have some appeal in these times, but at the moment that seems a pipe dream.
In any case, we’re pleased for Perry, who was an excellent governor and might have made a good president. We wish him well in his days free of prison, and hope he’ll also enjoy his freedom from politics.
— Bud Norman