No one expects Democratic lawmakers to like or agree with Thursday's vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. But is it too much to ask them to show some dignity while the Congress upholds its status as a branch of government coequal with the president?
In the run-up to the vote, many House Democrats greeted the effort to hold Holder accountable with withering scorn and mendacious spin.
"This is about politics," thundered Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., called it "disgraceful and demeaning" that House members would drag the "good name of the attorney general" through the mud. Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., saw it as doing "violence to the Constitution" to pursue a contempt action. Their leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had earlier descended into the conspiracy theory that this probe was really about punishing Holder for his efforts to end "voter suppression" -- that is, his completely unrelated efforts to crack down on state voter ID laws.
From their rhetoric and tone, one might almost forget that people died because of Operation Fast and Furious, by which the U.S. government helped put thousands of guns in the hands of Mexican cartels in hopes of tracking them. One might forget that Holder misled Congress, perhaps knowingly, about the very existence of such an operation for the better part of a year before finally setting the record straight.
The 255-67 contempt vote, in which 17 House Democrats wisely concurred, was justified. Holder has stonewalled House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa's, R-Calif., efforts to reach some sort of agreement on the documents long enough. This has been compounded by the White House's last-minute assertion of executive privilege. To question the administration's actions in this regard is an affirmation of the balance of power, not a transgression against it.
Nor is this an abstract legal issue. Federal border control agent Brian Terry -- whose name Pelosi mangled during House debate Thursday -- was killed. Hundreds of Mexican civilians are dead. And the people's right to oversee the executive branch is being disrespected.
"There isn't a single person in this House who does not honor the memory of Agent Terry," said McGovern. He and his colleagues have a funny way of showing it.