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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Attorney General Eric Holder (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(The Root) -- Hypocrisy abounds when it comes to differing views of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Liberals didn't seem to mind when Holder declined to prosecute New Black Panther Party members on charges that they'd menaced voters at a Philadelphia polling place in 2008 -- even though they'd surely have complained if the Justice Department had looked the other way while Tea Partiers dressed in tricorne hats had tried to do the same thing.

Conservatives, meanwhile, recently joined the chorus of civil libertarians outraged over Holder's aggressive pursuit of reporters in leak investigations -- even though they'd have howled louder if they thought the Justice Department was leaving any stone unturned in its effort to ferret out national-security leaks in President Barack Obama's administration.

When it comes to Holder, it seems, the definition of justice is in the eye of the beholder.

But with tandem controversies still festering over Holder's top deputy casting too wide a net of subpoenas over the Associated Press's phone records -- and then Holder himself signing off on an affidavit that aggressively characterized a Fox News reporter as an "aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator" in a suspected State Department leak investigation -- I'd have to agree with The Root colleague Keli Goff's assessment that the media's increasing distrust of Holder bodes ill for President Barack Obama's administration.

For instance, last week, as reported by Richard Prince in his Journal-isms column, three major organizations representing journalists of color have declined an invite to discuss the leak controversy with Holder, citing concerns that the First Amendment implications involved are too serious for an off-the-record discussion.

And while some of the blame goes to the president's GOP opponents -- who never miss a chance to attack "whoever Barack Obama puts in there" -- this time it isn't all their fault.

Holder's lack of dexterity when it comes to the politics of being a political appointee frequently seems to do his boss more harm than good. And the answer to the question of whether he's an asset or a liability in the administration -- asked with more frequency these days -- turns on what Obama, the media, the public and Holder himself see as his role.

Consider the history:

Back in Obama's first month in office, Holder immediately swerved out of his lane while giving a Black History Month speech, remarking that "in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards." He had a valid point, but one that wasn't the brand-new attorney general's job to state -- especially since it stepped all over the conciliatory racial frame that his boss was trying to set.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM