- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Nov. 20 was a typical mix of the concrete and the ceremonial for President George W. Bush. Besides meeting with his Homeland Security Council, the president also found time to name a building. In so doing, he answered the call to protect Americans in wartime and still attended to the more ornamental duties of office. While details of the war effort draw all eyes today, it is the building that is more likely to be noticed by posterity. In naming the Justice Department Building after Robert F. Kennedy, Mr. Bush bestowed upon the late attorney general a legacy that renders the man synonymous with justice itself a monument that might actually outlast even the political careers of Kennedys still unelected.

Was it a fitting tribute? Certainly, the Kennedy family would say so, having gone so far as to gather by the diehard-liberal-Democrat dozens to join and applaud a conservative Republican president for the dedication ceremony. While earlier in the day, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo played skunkette at the garden party by publicly disputing the links between her father's war on organized crime and the current administration's legal war on terrorism, other Kennedys held their fire for at least several moments after the ceremony's conclusion. (That was about how long it took for Sen. Ted Kennedy to express his concerns over Mr. Bush's order to allow for military tribunals to try foreigners accused of terrorism.) In between, however, Joseph P. Kennedy II, Robert F. Kennedy's oldest son, warmly praised Mr. Bush, who, along with Attorney General John Ashcroft, even more warmly praised Robert F. Kennedy.

As The Washington Post reported, "Hard-bitten politicians were awed." They were also careful to hide the character of their awe. "It was very different," was all Sen. Orrin Hatch told the newspaper. "It certainly was interesting," said RFK nephew Mark Shriver. These were not exactly unequivocal reviews. If anything, the men sound nonplused. You might say Mr. Bush surpassed himself this time, "raising the tone" in Washington to the point where only dogs can hear it. Frankly, the act of naming the Justice Department for RFK has left many bemused. Why did the president take it upon himself, by executive order, to do this?

Some reports say his decision figured into a public relations campaign to gain political cover by linking the administration's current war on terrorists with the Kennedy administration's war on mobsters. Reporters even wondered aloud whether the honor might be a way to win Mr. Kennedy's Senate vote for an education bill. (Mr. Bush said no.) Or maybe the president was just extending that bipartisan hand of his.

Such motives, of course, are largely political, which is regrettable given the ideal of apolitical justice. For that reason more than any other, this was an unfortunate decision. But there are other reasons. Why does the Justice Department, of all institutions, need a political sponsor? There may be no name non-controversial and great enough to be chiseled into the building's stone facade, but certainly the Kennedy name, for all its glories, is too closely associated with the more, shall we say, colorful aspects of hard-knuckle politicking fixing, squelching and winning at any cost for the role.

'Tis done. Justice may still be blind, but no longer is she anonymous. An interesting historical footnote to all of this comes from "Robert Kennedy: His Life" by Evan Thomas. Along with busts of Lincoln and Churchill, Mr. Thomas writes that RFK also kept in his office at the Justice Department an ivory carving of a blind monkey inscribed, "See No Evil." Now, there's a new symbol of justice for you.


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