Members Only | January 11, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Actually, the GOP can slam Biden on classified documents without condemning Trump

Jennifer Rubin's heartbreaking work of staggering naivete.


Share this article

Do you feel sometimes like the punditariat is watching a different Congress from the one you’re watching? It’s like the opiniontalkers can’t let go of their sacred cows long enough to see the reality that’s goring them. We could cheer on their faith in America, I guess. Honestly, though, there’s hope, then there’s abject confabulation.

Yet some in the punditariat can’t help themselves. They have to weigh their observations of what’s happening in Washington against their idea of what should be happening, and what should be happening is rooted deeply in what they believe America is. 

Pundits can be so in love with the idea of America that they can’t see what America is. Instead of loving the idea in the thing, they love the idea only.

They won’t assess America on its own terms. They won’t see the idea of America through the lens of its reality. When Alexander Vindman said during testimony that, “Here, right matters,” that warmed the cockles of pundits’ hearts. He validated their civic-religious fantasies. Unsaid, however, is this – right usually has nothing to do with it.

If you’re like me, and read a lot of opiniontalkers, you know this cast of mind is everywhere. The Post’s Jennifer Rubin is hardly alone. But her recent column – “The GOP can’t slam Biden on classified documents without condemning Trump” – illustrates my point. 

It’s a heartbreaking work of staggering naivete.

The documents in question are the ones found recently in Joe Biden’s office in Washington’s Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. He used it sometimes when he was the vice president. His attorneys were there recently. They found about 10 documents, some classified, in a secured space. They turned them over to the National Archives and notified officials at the Department of Justice. 

The Republicans quickly compared the news to Donald Trump’s fantasia of corruption at Mar-a-Lago, where the criminal former president hid state secrets after leaving Washington. He withheld dozens of classified documents. None were secure. “When a grand jury issued a subpoena demanding that they be returned,” Rubin wrote. “Trump’s lawyers handed over 38 documents, stating that no other documents were in Trump’s possession.” There were 100 more.

According to Rubin, this isn’t bad news for Biden so much as bad news for the Republicans for two reasons. One, “if they decide to investigate the documents at Biden’s office, it’s entirely possible they will find no wrongdoing. Two, if they insist Biden’s case is super serious, they wind up conceding that Trump’s actions — willful, egregious and aggravated by his own obstruction — are, too.”

Finally, this howler (italics mine): 

If they return to the standard they once used for Hillary Clinton — that no one who mishandles classified information should be president — then Republicans would have to demand that Trump not run for president and agree that he should be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.


Standard denial
Again, I don’t know which Congress Rubin is watching but it’s not the Congress I’m watching. “They wind up conceding” – stop right there. Conceding? Remember, we just watched Kevin McCarthy enbrown his nose to become House speaker. He is, at best, a puppet poobah. At what point are we to recognize a level of integrity among the Republicans compelling them to recognize the authority of a fact?

I haven’t seen it yet.

“If they return to the standard they once used for Hillary Clinton” – no, yeah, no. They might make up a new one if it’s convenient. But otherwise, the past never happened. Again, virtuous people with integrity would try to be consistent when applying standards. The Republican anarchists don’t try to be consistent. They don’t try to be fair. They don’t try at all. They deny standards applied equally. 

They won’t tolerate any limit on their appetite for power. 

“Demand that Trump not run for president”? 

Come (TF) on.

Projecting intellectual honesty
As the Post was posting Rubin’s piece, Roll Call reported that the House GOP decided the past never happened and “are escalating their calls for swift federal action” on the Biden documents. They want an “immediate review and damage assessment,” the paper said. 

“This discovery of classified information would put President Biden in potential violation of laws protecting national security, including the Espionage Act and Presidential Records Act,” said Ohio Congressman Michael Turner of the House Intelligence Committee.

So much for “they wind up conceding.” They concede nothing. They will use “the standard they once used for Hillary Clinton,” because it was never intended for the GOP. Standards apply to the Democrats only. The Republicans are intellectually dishonest. They keep telling us as much. We shouldn’t project intellectual honesty where there’s none.

To the extent that the past did happen, the House Republicans want the Justice Department to give the current president the same treatment it’s giving to the criminal former president – though the facts at hand are so different as to be virtually unrelated cases. The Biden case appears to be one of basic human error. The Trump case appears to be one of greed, contempt, espionage and betrayal.

The goal here is to make the Biden case seem really bad while making the Trump case seem almost good by comparison. Kevin McCarthy, the ensniveler, revealed that goal when he said that the Democrats “overplayed their hands” in their handling of the Mar-a-Lago case.

They can. They will
John Dewey, the philosopher, once said western philosophy would make more sense if philosophers stopped paying so much attention to “the problems of philosophy” and more to the “problems of men.”

His point, as I see it, was about the difference between abstractions and things. Or rather, that you can’t have one without the other. Poet William Carlos Williams probably said it best: “No ideas but in things.”

Pundits can be so in love with the idea of America that they can’t see what America is. Instead of loving the idea in the thing, they love the idea only. For Rubin, it’s as if she can’t envision an America in which fairness is arbitrary. “The GOP can’t slam Biden on classified documents without condemning Trump”? They can. They will.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

Leave a Comment

Want to comment on this post?
Click here to upgrade to a premium membership.