Thursday, August 04, 2005

Separating the Personal from the Professional

The news that John Roberts helped with legal preparation for a seminal gay rights case in 1996 is not necessarily an indication of Roberts' personal beliefs about homosexuality or social and political rights for gays and lesbians; but it is, at the least, support for the argument that Roberts is telling the truth when he says he can separate his personal opinions from the legal merits of the cases he works on.

Roberts's role working on behalf of gay activists, whose cause is anathema to many conservatives, appears to illustrate his allegiance to the credo of the legal profession: to zealously represent the interests of the client, whoever it might be. There is no other record of Roberts being involved in gay-rights cases that would suggest his position on such issues. He has stressed, however, that a client's views are not necessarily shared by the lawyer who argues on his or her behalf.

An oddly parallel Knight-Ridder article is also in today's news, this one about George W. Bush's support for Rafael Palmeiro. Bush's extraordinary public statement that he believes Palmeiro when he says he didn't use steroids, despite test results that say he did, is blatantly inconsistent with his 2004 condemnation of the use of steroids by athletes to enhance performance; and points to an almost complete absence of the ability John Roberts has to separate personal feeling from the requirements of his profession. Given that Palmeiro is a close personal friend of Bush's, some people are starting to wonder whether Bush is loyal to a fault -- the fault being that his loyalty clouds his political and ethical judgments.

Bush's loyalty to his friends extends from the baseball diamond to the White House, where he's backed beleaguered Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who's mired in an investigation over who leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer, and to John Bolton, whom Bush appointed ambassador to the United Nations despite Senate reservations.

But the president's quick and unequivocal defense of Palmeiro - who's now the subject of a congressional investigation - has raised questions about whether Bush's loyalty undercuts his political judgment.

"It seems that President Bush is falling into the Nixon trap - his administration can do no wrong. His allies and people who support him can do no wrong," said Robert Dallek, a presidential historian. "Palmeiro is above suspicion, Rove is not to be questioned, John Bolton is a stand-up guy.

"The danger is he divorces himself from public reality, political reality, and it erodes his ability to lead the country," Dallek said.

Several analysts said the Palmeiro situation illustrates that point. Bush took a strong stand against steroids in his 2004 State of the Union address, demanding that major league sports take tougher action to eliminate steroid use by athletes.

"The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football and other sports is dangerous and it sends the wrong message - that there are shortcuts to accomplishment and that performance is more important than character," Bush said.

But when news of Palmeiro's positive drug test and 10-day suspension by Major League Baseball became public, Bush almost instantly backed the ballplayer, saying Palmeiro spoke truthfully on March 17 when he wagged his finger at the House Government Reform Committee and emphatically denied ever using steroids.

Bush's fondness for Palmeiro - who recently became only the fourth major league player to slam more than 500 home runs and 3,000 base hits - dates back to when Palmeiro played for the Rangers under Bush's ownership.

"Rafael Palmeiro is a friend. He testified in public and I believe him," Bush said Monday. "He's the kind of person that's going to stand up in front of the klieg lights and say he didn't use steroids, and I believe him. Still do."

Bush's quick defense seemed contradictory to some, in light of his previous tough talk on steroids.

"His defense in this case, so quickly, seemed like an about-face, from taking a stand to a ridiculous statement a fan might make to another fan in a bar," said Richard Lapchick, chairman of the DeVos Sports Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida. "It certainly didn't seem like he thought that one through."

Peter Robey, director of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, said Bush's defense of Palmeiro dented the president's credibility on an issue that he elevated into the national consciousness.

"He has to be very careful about being consistent," Robey said. "He should temper his support for Palmeiro by coming out with a statement that combines his loyalty to Palmeiro with a drive to rid baseball of steroids. He has to maintain his consistency."

Since politics is Bush's profession, just as the law is Roberts' profession, one could conclude that Roberts, whatever his faults, is more professional than the man who nominated him to the Supreme Court.

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