“Illegal” is a proper subset of “wrong”

The Troopergate report highlights a distinction invisible to the Bush administration, to its further eternal shame, and kind of a challenge to a large part of the Republican party: a lot of things that are legal are Very Bad, and “not convicted [yet]” is not at all the same as “heckuva job”. An executive may legally fire anyone above the civil service level for almost anything except race, sex and the like. As the report makes clear, Palin was within her legal rights to fire Monegan because she didn’t like his face, or his accent, or his choice of ties – or his refusal to roll over for her hass on Wooten. Similarly, John McCain as president could legally appoint Phil Gramm to a cabinet position, and fire the second coming of Alexander Hamilton if he chose to. He had the legal right to try to foist an ignorant, vengeful, neanderthal on the nation as vice president to a 72-year-old cancer survivor.

But just because these decisions are legal doesn’t mean they are good ones, nor that the people who make them aren’t blameworthy, nor that they are qualified for office. Indeed, a drop-dead disqualification for high office is a history of bad decisions. Like these.

What Palin did that was illegal was to try to tilt the state pinball machine against Wooten for personal reasons, and that’s illegal because it is so toxic to fair and effective government. Diverting the attention and efforts of state employees from their proper duties to the people, which include managing Wooten’s performance as a trooper, to the private interest of the governor, is like having a state trooper (or a state painter) paint your house on state time. Or like stealing money from the public purse and spending it on, well, whatever Palin bought with the taxes she didn’t pay on her per diem. Yes, it’s patriotic to pay taxes, and yes, tax evasion is stealing.

Move along folks, nothing to see here you didn’t already know: small, mean, people way over their heads and way outside their moral capabilities, flailing around in a slough. It’s pathetic and disgusting, and it’s demeaning to us to be ogling it. Turn the dial to Jerry Springer and cleanse your mind.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.