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Up in Washington, back when Judge Mukasey stuck his head in the sand ostrich-like and declared he didn’t know anything about water-boarding, you can bet every Senator in the hearing room knew (translated from political-speak into English) what he meant was, You boys know I wouldn’t be sitting here if I disagreed with President Bush about water-boarding and you also know a little sleight of hand – from where I sit – beats sitting here debating torture with Ted Kennedy.

So he dissimilated. And it worked. Mukasey is now Attorney General.

But, maybe, the most interesting question is: Why didn’t Judge Mukasey just speak his mind? Why was he afraid?

First, of course, for selfish reasons. He thought evasion would help him get confirmed.

Second, somebody probably had a poll showing sixty or seventy percent of the American people disapprove of water boarding and no politician likes to disagree with that many people. The solution: Dodge.

And third, he got the other politicians off the hook. He spared Republicans – who support water-boarding – the political risk of saying so in public.

Here’s the point: This is a snapshot of ‘Democracy’ American style. It’s what we’ve spent six years spreading all over the world (except to Pakistan). It’s our answer to the bin Laden’s and to Ahmadinejad, but before we go getting all weepy about ourselves let’s remember it’s also about everyone from Standard Oil to the local eco-yuppies having both hands in the public treasury and politicians saying, ‘Well, I don’t have an opinion on that.’ Today, American Democracy has propensity to pay lip service to freedom and then practice greed and deception.

So, what’s the a price?

The Practical among us (who clear-sightedly measure power in F-16s and wealth in dollars) would say none. Interest rates matter. GNP matters. Iran building nuclear bombs matters. A little white lie – about water-boarding – by the Attorney General isn’t a wrinkle in the cosmic plasma.

The Hopeful (not as clear-sighted but nicer people than the Pragmatists) say we’ve just hit a spot of bad weather and the system will right itself because the engine of American government (thanks to James Madison) was built to run just fine with corruption in the gears. The Founding Fathers set the pirates in Congress to watching the pirates in the White House then set the Courts to watching both (because by 1787 they’d long since given up on eliminating corruption – they just wanted to see it didn’t get out of hand.)

And, finally, what about the ‘Faithful’? Not the Pharisees or chest-thumpers or the Holier-than-thou-types but the less emotive folks who think actions have consequences and that those little white lies matter even when (or maybe especially when) they’re only between to you and God? They’re ‘Ill-at-Ease.’ Because they’re thinking a price must be paid and they’re wondering what it is.

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