17 January 2009

Obama's Politics of "the past"

Here is our president-elect-as-talking-head last weekend:

STEPHANOPOULOS: The most popular question on your own website is related to this. On change.gov it comes from Bob Fertik of New York City and he asks, "Will you appoint a special prosecutor ideally Patrick Fitzgerald to independently investigate the greatest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping."

OBAMA: We're still evaluating how we're going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we're going to be looking at past practices and I don't believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you've got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering (ph).

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, no 9/11 commission with Independence subpoena power?

OBAMA: We have not made final decisions, but my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing. That doesn't mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation's going to be to move forward.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, let me just press that one more time. You're not ruling out prosecution, but will you tell your Justice Department to investigate these cases and follow the evidence wherever it leads?

OBAMA: What I -- I think my general view when it comes to my attorney general is he is the people's lawyer. Eric Holder's been nominated. His job is to uphold the Constitution and look after the interests of the American people, not to be swayed by my day-to-day politics. So, ultimately, he's going to be making some calls, but my general belief is that when it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed looking at what we got wrong in the past.*

The Obama Administration talking points are clear here. Glance at "the past," concentrate instead on how to "move forward," and be concerned with "getting things right in the future." And most of the moderates and conservatives in the press trumpet those goals, painting those who are pressing Obama to do something to hold BushCo accountable for their actions as obsessed with the past, intent on criminalizing policy differences, and so forth. So, let's look at what those unreasonable souls actually say:
Paul Krugman: "If we whitewash the abuses of the past eight years, we’ll guarantee that they will happen again."

Elizabeth Holtzman
: "We cannot simply shrug off the constitutional and criminal misbehavior of the administration, treat it as an aberration and hope it won't happen again. . . . To fully restore the rule of law and prevent any repetition of Bush's misconduct, the abuses of his administration must be directly confronted."

Bruce Fein & Ralph Nader (!?!?): "If left unrebuked, the Bush-Cheney usurpations of power will become part of the constitutional firmament and risk creating a safe harbor for future presidential abuses."
Each and every one of these writers are preoccupied not with the past, but with - gasp! - the future. They are concerned with the consequences for the future operations of the U.S. government if we fail to at least inquire into various BushCo policies, ask whether they were legal and constitutional, and determine who was responsible for authorizing them. All of these writers - from right to center to left to crackpot - quite reasonably believe that there is probable cause for a special inquiry or some sort of investigatory commission to look into the way BushCo conducted themselves. I agree. What then might happen is anyone's guess. but the decision to conduct such an inquiry or not is a matter of consequences and those bear on the future.
* I've lifted this passage from the transcript published here at The Huffington Post.

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Blogger Public Squalor said...

I'd be shocked to see the Obama administration pursue the crimes of Bush & co. First, Bush did him a great favor by illegally extending the powers of the executive branch. Also members of that exclusive U.S. president's club are loath to undermine it's royal status by applying accountability to the office. Finally, an important part of Obama's public image is that of a visionary statesman - certainly above the partisan firestorm any substantive investigation or truth commission might bring on.

Change? Yea right.

Besides I think most Americans are so indoctrinated with the ethos of American Exceptionalism that alarmingly few have much interest in history or the truth.

- peace

17 January, 2009 22:48  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

I actually think the prospects are zero because (1) the Democrats are up to their elbows in this whole mess too (not just in the transgressions of BushCo, but on their own in earlier administrations) and (2) the intelligence agencies will revolt. Obama complains that he doesn't want agents always looking over their shoulders; in fact, it would be a big improvement if they were looking there occasionally instead of operating outside the law with impunity.

the only change we are getting is change in the veneer of partisan conflict; B.O. wants everyone to play nice. The policies will remain more or less the same.

17 January, 2009 23:04  

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