“Stand-up guys do time”

If Scooter doesn’t talk, Scooter goes to jail. Those are the rules of the game.

Machiavelli was right. (Whatever the topic, It’s almost always the case that Machiavelli was right.) “The few are always the friends of the few.”

There’s more sympathy among non-conservative Washington insiders for the project of keeping Scooter Libby out of jail that would be predicted on purely partisan grounds. Joe Klein wants him to do community service. Barack Obama’s campaign counsel wants him pardoned (because that would pin the blame on Bush, who deserves it). Jim Carville co-signed his wife’s letter to the judge.

If you’re a Washington insider, Libby is “one of us.” If you’re a liberal Washington insider, sympathy for Libby shows magnanimity toward a vanquished foe. And apparently he’s a nice guy in private life. But the main thing is that Libby’s suffering is real to these people, in a way that the suffering of approximately 2.05 million of the 2.1 million people we have behind bars at any one time in this country is not real: despite the fact that the sort of “Club Fed” where Libby would serve his time provides the safest and most comfortable prison experience available in the United States. Compared to the Level IV Federal joints that hold lots of middle-level drug dealers, or any high-security state prison, Allenwood is paradise.

Look, prison is an ugly institution. But it’s the way we hold people accountable for breaking the law. Libby lied, repeatedly, under oath, to protect his boss. And he’s still not telling what he knows. In some sense that’s admirable behavior; he’s taking a hit for the team. But those are the rules.

In one of the George V. Higgins novels (I can’t recall which one), a low-level mobster begs a cop to help him avoid another trip to prison. The cop says he can stay out if he turns in some other mobsters. The low-level guy says that his conscience won’t let him do that. And the cop replies, “Okay. You’re a stand-up guy. Good for you. Stand-up guys do time.” [See below for correct quote.]

Libby has decided to be a stand-up guy. Now he has to take what’s coming to him. And who knows? He might actually change his mind when he contemplates spending two-plus years in the clink, even a safe and comfortable clink. It worked on Judith Miller, didn’t it?

Update Through the miracle of Google Book Search, a reader finds the relevant passage. It’s from The Friends of Eddie Coyle, in dialogue between a prosecutor and a defense lawyer named Clark. We hear the prosecutor’s voice first.

“… if he wanted to, he could probably make half the hoods and forty percent of the bikies in this district. But he doesn’t want to do that. Okay, he’s a stand-up guy. Stand-up guys do time.”

“So he’s got to talk,” Clark said.

“Nope,” the prosecutor said, “he doesn’t have to do a damned thing except decide which he wants to do more, talk, and make somebody important for us, or go down to Danbury there and get rehabilitated.”

If you’ve never read Eddie Coyle or The Digger’s Game, run out and buy them right now. Higgins in his prime was the best crime novelist since Hammett and Chandler.

Second update Judge Walton denies bond pending appeal. Time for Scooter to pack a toothbrush.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com