Sunday, March 25, 2007

Public Opinion's Potential Impact on the Executive Privilege Standoff

I've been telling reporters who ask about executive privilege that if Congress and the President ultimately strike a deal about the conditions under which Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and/or others testify about the Gonzales Eight Massacre, the terms of the deal will likely reflect the parties' relative bargaining power, which in turn will depend on how the issue is playing with the public. The latest Pew poll shows that most people aren't paying much attention to the story. To my mind, such inattention favors the administration. If people think that the scandal is much ado about nothing very much, they're unlikely to regard efforts by Congress to get to the bottom of the story as especially important.

To be sure, public apathy could cut the other way: If people think the issue is no big deal, they might think the administration is overreacting by not just revealing everything there is to know about it. But I think that's unlikely. I would expect that the "prosecuting" side of an investigation benefits from public interest. This may be why Whitewater --- which almost nobody ever understood and therefore which almost nobody cared about --- lacked legs as a scandal, while the Lewinsky Affair, with its prurient appeal, played well for a Republican Congress. Conversely here, absent some salacioius revelation, apathy favors the administration.

In any event, even if we judge the public yawn as a wash, Bush's own commitment to executive privilege as a matter of ideology may be enough to ensure a genuine stalemate. My fellow FindLaw columnist John Dean has an interesting analysis of that aspect of the issue here.

9 comments:

egarber said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
egarber said...

A few items from this morning's Meet the Press:
1. When Iglesias was asked whether he thinks he was fired for "political" (Russert should have read Mike's post about proper framing :) ) reasons, he said: "absolutely, yes".

2. Iglesias won't be happy until the JD issues a retraction saying he was NOT fired for performance.

3. Iglesias said he asked for recommendations from JD officials partly to sniff out the reason he was fired. If they agreed to give him a recommendation -- which they did -- that would tell Iglesias that it was NOT for "performance"- related concerns.

4. Specter and Russert implied that it doesn't really matter whether Rove, et al, testify under oath, because it's already illegal to give false statements to Congress -- Specter said that under any arrangement, perjury could be pursued, and the penalty would be the same. Is that right? Testifying under oath has to mean more, no?

Garth said...

the stalemate will come about because the Bush Whitehouse is in up to their elbows here and, despite the apparently public apathy, the Democrats are pissed. We are seeing a coequal branch of government begin to defend itself from Executive encroachment. Congress will insist. Bush will refuse.

furthermore, as the hearing drag out and "revelations" of WH partisanship come to dominate the news along with the inevitable gonzalez resignation and/or incessant drumbeat for his resignation guarantee the public will begin to take notice that again Bush affronts to the rule of law are interrupting their evening news.

dsc25 said...

I've always thought the key to a scandal, from the scandal-doer's perspective, is to do something complicated. The more complicated it is, the less likely the public will understand it, in which case they'll just ignore it. Whitewater is a perfect example. Lewinsky is the perfect example of the opposite. This one? Not impossible to understand, but it's still pretty difficult for most who don't know about removal power, assistant U.S. attorneys, executive privilege, etc.

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