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Is Eric Holder Really a Liability for Obama?

When it comes to the attorney general, the definition of justice is in the eye of the beholder.

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He's not going anywhere anytime soon, but it's a disturbing theme in the administration, because with perpetually grimacing Press Secretary Jay Carney and a mostly camera-unready Cabinet, the president is nearly always better off just speaking for himself.

It's tricky with Holder, though, because he has been the subject of controversies -- some real and some bogus -- almost since day 1. Which doesn't mean there haven't been moments when he's been willing to stand up for himself, the president and the administration of justice in the face of political crosswinds.

For example, his candid rebuke -- impolitic as it may have been -- of members of Congress when they used the power of the purse to thwart Holder's plans to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial in civilian court, as opposed to a military tribunal, despite the fact that civilian courts "have convicted hundreds of terrorists since Sept. 11, and our prisons safely and securely hold hundreds today, many of them serving long sentences."

The Justice Department lost that round to Congress, but that's really not one you can pin on Holder.

More than four years into his rocky tenure as our top law-enforcement officer, what's hard to figure out about Holder is this: Why does he even want to be attorney general?

On one level, it makes sense that after a career that has included stints as a Superior Court judge -- appointed by Ronald Reagan; D.C.'s first black U.S. attorney; and deputy attorney general in Bill Clinton's administration, he'd naturally want to become America's top cop. But on another level, Holder confounds. He's a smart guy who could easily have made 10 times the money with one-tenth the headaches in the private sector. Yet he signed on for a second term, despite being either unwilling, or unable, to navigate the politics involved.

Predictably, on Sunday's talk shows, Democrats said there's nothing "that would prevent him from continuing to do his job," while Republicans asked if Holder is "really able to effectively serve" with clouds hovering overhead.

For now, though, Holder is either determined to outlast his critics, or he just thinks he's the best man for the job. Which makes sense, if you buy Reason editor Nick Gillespie's theory that his unwritten role is playing the bad cop so that Obama can be the good guy.

If that's the case, then he's doing a heckuva job.