One of the greatest political advantages enjoyed by the modern Republican Party is the comprehensive lack of shame evinced by its leaders, elected officials and most devout supporters. This was axiomatic even before the administration of Richard Nixon. “Extremism in defense of virtue is no vice!” bellowed Barry Goldwater at the ’64 GOP convention, permanently swapping the definitions of “virtue” and “vice” in the Republican lexicon. The party, immediately debased by the sentiment and the violent cheers it inspired, has never recovered.
Tactical shamelessness became bog standard when Reagan and his band of trickle-down hucksters elevated the practice to a sort of gruesome art form, and the stain of it has only grown in the intervening years. Nixon and George W. Bush tussled over the title of Most Shameless until Donald Trump came along, ran the table, and broke the pool cue over the bartender’s head before howling off into the night. Because of Trump, all prior metrics for the phenomenon are now dust.
One can see it everywhere in government today, from a network broadcast out of the Oval Office to the meanest backwater congressional confab. On Tuesday, a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing ostensibly on the topic of the Justice Department’s budget became a binary tussle over the Mueller report, because Attorney General William Barr was the star witness. The hearing started poorly and ended ugly.
Committee Democrats pressed Barr to explain the thinking behind his infamous four-page “summary” of the 300+ page report, but Barr locked his jaw like a tetanus victim and refused to answer. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York) specifically asked Barr if the White House had seen the report either before or after the release of his letter. “I’m not going to say anything more about it,” he replied.
Beyond confirming that his office is investigating the investigation at…