I know it grows old, my harping on the right wing's constant attempt to be tougher and tougher on crime, to put as many people in jail as possible, to run campaigns on anger and fear, resulting in a 25 year growth of the prison industrial complex that is unprecedented in our history. And I know that Dems now do it as well (they learned their lessons from Dukakis, after all, that being against the death penalty, for instance, wins them no elections). The question I have is whether the Libby conviction and sentence will be a watershed, or if the words we are hearing spoken from leading conservatives in this country are principled objections, or two-faced political blather designed to back up the notion that conservatives can never be guilty of a crime (if they were doing those crimes to further conservative causes).
So I have to ask, will the Libby situation change anything? Will the constant calls to pardon him right now mean anything? Will the comments that he was the victim of an overzealous prosecutor have any spillover to the overzealous prosecutions of people like John Walker Lindh (the "American Taliban"), Martha Stewart, or the numerous other attempts to criminalize what is otherwise non-criminal behavior.
Or, will this create a change in the really absurd law that it is against the law to lie to a federal agent. Think about it, they come to you, ask you questions, and the law requires (not under oath, mind you), that you have to tell them the truth? So if they come up to you and ask if you have pot on you, you have to answer yes or go to jail? Give me a break. But that is another law that pushes jail for things that really should not have people locked up.
So, as the jails fill with people like Scooter Libby (and I fully admit that if this wasn't a general in the war on America launched by the right wing, I would normally oppose his incarceration for an offense like this - but hey, you reap what you sow), will this begin to change the sentiments of the nation by changing the sentiments of the right wing?
Will the numerous briefs submitted by right wingers like Robert Bork (who has probably never seen a prison sentence - of non-conservatives - that he didn't like) challenging the conviction and sentence cause a ripple in the rest of the criminal justice system to finally begin toning things down?
Don't bet on it. This is not principle we're dealing with here, this is bare knuckled politics. There is no disagreement with the basic conservative doctrine of running on fear and vilification, and combating obstacle with as much brute force as possible. There is only the problem that it hit a high profile conservative this time. Rest assured, Bork, Gingrich, and the other cast of characters now calling this sentence unconscionable will be standing front and center vilifying "liberal, activist" judges the next time a sentence is reduced against someone who's not a card carrying member of the conservative movement. And they will do it with a straight face in the manner that only a true hypocrite can.
Bet on that.