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Forward looking

In commenting on Obama’s recent statement about wanting to look forward, rather than investigate the Bush administration’s crimes, one of the guest bloggers at Dispatches says

Unfortunately, Obama doesn’t get it. If prosecuting people for their crimes was “looking backward,” there’d be no need to do it. Why did we prosecute poor Slobodan Miloscevic? He was out of power after all, so why didn’t we just “look forward?”

Looking forward, I see the prospect of future presidents thinking they can commit any crimes they want without fearing retribution. That’s a pretty good argument for prosecuting high-level Bush officials (I’m looking at you, Don R.), if not Bush himself.

Right, except for that first sentence. It seems rather unlikely that Obama doesn’t get it. It’s just that there are inescapable political issues involved. Investigations and prosecutions would probably consume our political debate for years. They would be very controversial and require political capital that could be spent in other areas. Obama has an agenda and investigating the previous administration to any significant degree means giving up on some of it. For Obama to make the right call here would require quite a bit of political courage and taking a big risk. I don’t think Obama is that kind of politician.

I would really, really like to be wrong, though.

Categories: Bush, Obama
  1. Jay Stevens
    January 12, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    I think there’s something else here, too. By not prosecuting, in effect, Obama is tacitly accepting the Bush administration arguments for the unitary executive. He may not use them like Bush did, he may scale them back, but until there’s legal precedent and real punishment for the law-breaking under Bush, that power transferred to the executive will remain there.

    That said, prosecution of the Bush administration belongs with Congress. And there’s a gutless, craven bunch.

  2. January 13, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Those are good points. The only reason we’re even talking about Obama doing something about the Bush administration’s crimes is because Congress is filled with useless assholes.

  3. January 13, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    I don’t think he’s tacitly accepting anything. I think it’s the right choice for the good of the country. Bush and his administration deserve to pay for what they’ve done – but the rest of the country does not deserve the ramifications of that choice.

    Unfortunately, I think this is the mindset that drives the right a lot of the time – that punishing evildoers should be priority number one, no matter who suffers. It’s simply not the right choice. There’s too much at stake and that’s the surest way to drive a stake into the heart of the brand new progressive revolution.

    If Democrats had made the choice to impeach 2 years ago, Obama would not be President today. But making that consideration back then would have been considered cowardly. Just like taking politics into consideration now is considered cowardly. Go figure.

  4. January 14, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    I’m not saying Obama is cowardly, I’m saying he’s normal. It would take a politician willing to take major risks to even consider doing what some are asking.

    I’m sympathetic to what you’re saying, but isn’t there a larger issue at stake? If we allow our elected officials get away with not just breaking the law, but not even thinking the law applies to them, what happens next? They’re just going to keep pushing and pushing. Pushing back is more important that progressive politics, isn’t it? We need our institutions to be effective, otherwise any progressive revolution is going to be pretty short-lived.

    It’s not just vindictiveness. No doubt a lot of progressives are driven by that, but I wonder what’s next. I am unsurprisingly inclined to believe Obama won’t do anything crazy, but what about the next Republican president? What about the next terrorist attack? Allowing our leaders to consider themselves above the law leads nowhere good.

  1. January 16, 2009 at 8:10 am

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