Our Boy Scout

You can hear it on any given day, sometimes more than once: “This just doesn’t seem like America anymore.” It’s a refrain traceable to the growing sense of cynicism and despair that hums just under the surface of every waking moment. We no longer have the expectation that things will work as they should. We no longer assume the captains of American industry will behave responsibly toward their customers, their workers or their communities. We no longer have the confidence Americans once had in their nation’s “can do” spirit. We no longer feel secure in the idea that our elected officials are putting the public’s welfare ahead of their own.

More of our institutions fail us, and more of our ideals are violated with each news cycle. Places we once turned to for solace or diversion display their own scandals or corruptions. Churches become synonymous with pedophilia or political partisanship. The heroes young people once sought in the world of sports turn out to be steroidal substance abusers draped in bling. The highest court in the land determines the outcome of a presidential election in a ruling decided by a distinctly partisan vote.

A company once headed by the vice president engages in obvious war-profiteering, energy companies exploit natural disasters in acts of flagrant price gouging, leaders of the House and Senate are brought up on charges, and advisers to the president and vice-president are either indicted or still under investigation for giving up the identity of a covert CIA operative in a display of vindictive pique. Cronyism extends to even the most vital life-or-death government posts. Bad judgments and poor performance are rewarded with ever more meaningless accolades and presidential ribbons. Meanwhile, The New York Times is shown to have been entirely too cozy with administrative operatives who used the nation’s newspaper of record as a way of spiking the credibility of the stories it was fabricating to justify the war in Iraq. And in that conflict, the deaths mount each day, with no end or feasible goal in sight.

Then, just when it began to seem that things could not grow more bleak, just when it appeared that there was no such thing as integrity left in the land, the great grieving nation was given the gift of Patrick Fitzgerald, a man who stood before us to announce the indictment of Scooter Libby, the vice president’s right-hand man, and in that appearance we were reminded that there are still people who serve the nation without fear or favor, people who remember the true meaning of words like “honor” and “justice.” Fitzgerald gave the nation a civics lesson, along with the example that the big players, too, must be accountable for their actions.

The contrast between Fitzgerald and Kenneth Starr could not have been starker. Fitzgerald’s clear and direct explanation of the gravity of the issues involved in the Plame case was in notable contrast to the fog machine run by Scott McClellan, the presidential press secretary, or the occasional obfuscation fests offered by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

In Patrick Fitzgerald, Mr. Deeds has come to Washington at last, and not a moment too soon.