In today's New York Post, conservative columnist John Podhoretz offered some free advice to Democrats:
In pursuit of a short-term political benefit, Democrats are in danger of establishing a ruinous new standard in American politics - one they'll come to regret and rue when they take the White House again. . . .
By inflating the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys into a major political scandal with the suggestion that the act of dismissing them is a scandal demanding congressional oversight, they're creating a new political reality. . . .
The longer this goes on, the easier it will be for pseudoscandals to be ginned up in the future whenever a certain type of official working in the executive branch is removed from his job.
Ah yes, Democrats will surely rue the day they created this "new political reality" where "pseudoscandals" can be "ginned up" by their political opponents. Was Podhoretz in a coma during the entire Clinton administration? The "political reality" during the 1990s was that just about anything the Clinton administration did, no matter how routine or unremarkable, was considered scandalous by Republicans in Congress, who would immediately convene hearings, issue subpoenas, and demand the appointment of an independent counsel.
In fact, that's exactly what happened in 1993 when Clinton made the routine decision to replace all the Republican U.S. Attorneys appointed by his predecessors. That decision triggered nearly universal Republican condemnation and calls for hearings (and it didn't stop Bush from doing the same thing when he took office).
So it is almost comically absurd for Podhoretz to suggest that what the Democrats are doing now will somehow come back to bite them during a future Democratic administration. Even if they were to drop this issue entirely, it would not stop Republicans from attacking future Democratic administrations for conduct that is far less scandalous. As was made perfectly clear during the 1990s, most Republicans are simply impervious to charges of hypocrisy. They will attack Democratic administrations for doing things that Republican administrations routinely do. In other words, when a Democrat sits in the White House, the threshold for what constitutes a "scandal" will invariably be set ridiculously low and will have absolutely nothing to do with past precedent. If the Democrats in Congress right now were to back off this scandal in the hope that Republicans might extend them the same courtesy in some future Democratic administration, that would be the height of foolishness. Republicans don't calibrate their scandal antennae based on what they've said or done in the past.
Moreover, this supposed presidential prerogative to fire prosecutors for any and all reasons, no matter how petty or crassly political, is something that every other president in modern times has managed to serve out their terms without exercising. So even if the Democrats were to set a "new standard" here, it is one they should have little trouble living up to. It's really not that hard to refrain from firing your own hand-picked prosecutors for blatantly partisan reasons.
Finally, and perhaps most obviously, people like John Podhoretz don't have the best interests of the Democratic party in mind. He's the quintessential "concern troll," feigning concern over the precedent being set here in an effort to obscure what actually happened and avoid defending the Bush administration's conduct on the merits. If the Democrats were genuinely in danger of overreaching on this issue, Podhoretz would be silently cheering them on.
Though Podhoretz and his right-wing pundit brethren will never admit it, this is a genuine scandal, and it is very unlikely that the Democrats will pay any political price, either in the present or future, for demanding that the Bush administration answer some very basic questions about how the Justice Department operates.