As news cycles give way to hurricanes, both meteorological and political, it’s easy to lose sight of other significant stories. This week, Michael Chertoff, a charter member of the “vast-right wing conspiracy” that hounded Hillary and Bill Clinton throughout the 1990s, announced that he was endorsing Hillary Clinton for president. Chertoff, who has a long résumé working for Republican administrations as a prosecutor and security expert, served as the lead counsel for the Republican-led Senate investigation of Whitewater, one of the original obsessions of Clinton critics.
The endorsement itself isn’t big news; several other prominent officials from previous administrations have already endorsed Clinton. What’s interesting is what Chertoff said in making it. Instead of simply saying, as many of his former colleagues have, that the country must avoid the potential disaster of a Donald Trump presidency, Chertoff issued an apology of sorts for the years of Javert-like prosecution of the Clintons. Asked how he reconciles his current support of Clinton with his past legal pursuit of her, Chertoff responded: “In looking back on that, I realized that in the ’90s we spent an enormous amount of time pursuing issues involving the Clintons’ associations back in Arkansas in the ’80s, Whitewater and other things, and we didn’t spend nearly the same amount of time on what bin Laden was up to and others were up to in the region. And it reminded me that — you know — the ability to spend an inordinate amount of time chasing small peccadilloes is a luxury we only have in a world at peace.”
Cynics will dismiss Chertoff’s endorsement as self-interested, as his private-sector business interests as a security consultant might be advantaged by avoiding a hostile reception from the likeliest new administration. But I believe it to be sincere, because I believe people, even in politics, can learn and grow and should be praised when they do. Chertoff’s statement is a reminder of what we’ve lost in our bitter partisanship: a proper sense of focus and proportion. Chertoff is telling us we need to find it again.