"Fontenelle says, "I bow before a great man, but my mind does not bow." I can add: before a humble common man in whom I perceive uprightness of character in a higher degree than I am conscious of in myself, my mind bows, whether I want it or whether I do not and hold my head ever so high that he may not overlook my superior position. Why is this? His example holds before me a law that strikes down my self-conceit when I compare it with my conduct, and I see observance of that law and hence its practicability proved before me in fact. ... Respect is a tribute that we cannot refuse to pay to merit, whether we want to or not; we may indeed withhold it outwardly, but we cannot help feeling it inwardly."
Kant, Critique of Practical Reason 5:76-7.
I watched Patrick Fitzgerald's press conference, and it was very, very impressive. For those of you who didn't see it: I am not a lawyer, but I would be very reluctant to read much of anything into what he did or didn't say. He struck me as a completely straight, decent, and principled person, who is political in the broadest and best sense (concerned with the nature and preservation of the structures that allow us to live as one society), and for that very reason recognizes that, given his role, he cannot be political in the narrower, partisan sense. He was extremely clear about what he could and could not say, according to the law, and despite the best efforts of journalists to provoke him into disclosing more than he should, he flatly refused, while being consistently gracious about it. He also explained why: because grand juries are empowered to find out information about people that it would be wrong to reveal publicly, unless that information forms the basis for an indictment. He seemed to me to be without bias: he consistently emphasized the presumption of innocence when speaking about Scooter Libby, refused to say anything at all about anyone else, and emphasized that there had been no attempt at any political interference with his investigation; but he was also eloquent about the seriousness of obstruction and perjury charges. He was not only extremely sharp and very good at explaining what was in the indictments, but also a very persuasive advocate for the rules that govern him and us.
As far as I could tell he was, in short, a completely honorable man, and a very skilled and competent one. He was given a job to do, and he did it to the best of his considerable abilities, without leaking or spinning, without any apparent concerns about going after powerful people, and also without any apparent desire to carve their notches on his gun. It has been amusing watching various pundits try to figure out what to make of someone who is simply not interested in what they say about him: it seems to leave them completely at sea. Similarly, he has left both Democrats and Republicans who might otherwise complain about the outcome of his investigation without a leg to stand on. I admire him enormously.
Think about the extraordinary temptations he must have faced: not just the obvious ones, like making whatever call he might have thought would advance his career, but the subtler ones, like self-importance, or the idea that it was important to teach a lesson or provide an example of something other than someone doing his job without fear or favor. I think it would have been incredibly hard not to allow some motive to corrupt one's work in his position: some temptation to grandiosity, or to produce an effect. It would have been easy to take yielding to that temptation to be the right thing to do: after all, how often does anyone get the sort of podium that Patrick Fitzgerald just had? And wouldn't it seem natural to try to use it for some purpose beyond doing his job? And yet, as far as I could tell, he did not. He just did his job as well as he possibly could. In the midst of endless verbiage, his silence has been stunning; and in the midst of so many egos on parade, he managed to combine complete self-possession with an equally complete absence of self-importance.
My mind bows.