My kerfuffle, your crime

Party loyalists only pretend to care about principles

Elephant Donkey
(Image credit: (Bettmann/CORBIS))

"Everybody does it." Whenever a prominent Democrat or Republican gets caught doing something shady, you can count on partisan allies to present this dubious defense. Take Hillary Clinton's use of a private email address to conduct State Department business, and her subsequent deletion of all emails she deemed private. At Salon, Eric Boehlert provides the only possible justification: Republicans did it too! In 2007, Boehlert reminds us, it was revealed that Karl Rove and 21 other White House aides used private email addresses set up by the Republican National Committee. When Rove was accused of trying to fire nine U.S. attorneys for failing to show sufficient partisan loyalty in prosecutions, the White House said 5 million emails were missing. "I mean, deleted emails, who cares?" commentator Fred Barnes said on Fox News at that time.

The roles are easily reversed. Two weeks ago, 47 Republican senators were widely criticized — and even accused of treason — for writing an open letter warning Iran's leaders not to trust any nuclear deal offered by President Obama. But the Republicans' defenders point out that in 2002, three House Democrats went to Baghdad to warn that President George W. Bush was trying to "lie" the U.S. into a war with Iraq. "Last I checked, no one had the three Democrats arrested for treason," said conservative blogger (and columnist) Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. So there! What does the profligate use of the "everybody does it" defense tell us? For true partisans, principles are completely relative. When your team gets caught, it's a meaningless kerfuffle. When the other team does the same thing, it's outrageous, disqualifying, and perhaps a crime. Intellectual integrity, anyone?

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William Falk

William Falk is editor-in-chief of The Week, and has held that role since the magazine's first issue in 2001. He has previously been a reporter, columnist, and editor at the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and at Newsday, where he was part of two reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes.