Friday, January 16, 2009


Today, when Paul Krugman is demanding efforts to prosecute, that's the question I find myself asking: What's worth giving up to try to put some of these sons of bitches behind bars? A fairer tax code? A better climate for labor? Insurance for all or at least most of the insured? Real economic stimulus that might genuinely help those who are suffering the most in this economy? Significant curtailment in greenhouse gas emissions? Anything else that might require the cooperation of some in the congressional minority? If Barack Obama's political capital is somewhat less than infinite, and if it would take a hell of a lot of that political capital to pursue the torture-enablers legally, with no guarantee of success, what part of the agenda are we willing to jettison?

Now, maybe you think it's not a question of political capital. Maybe you think that if Barack Obama barks loud enough, issues a forceful enough dominance challenge, the Republicans and the media will back down and let him pursue torture-enablers legally without turning against him as he pursues other matters. And, well, maybe you're right. But it's not unreasonable for Obama to think that there's a price to be paid -- and the rest of the agenda (a great deal of which, I think, is our agenda) is what it might cost.

I know, I know -- you're going to say that he just doesn't have a choice. He's required to pursue these cases. Krugman:

Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while it's probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he's going to swear to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." That's not a conditional oath to be honored only when it's convenient.

And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that’s not a decision he has the right to make.

But every DA who ever declined to pursue a valid case because it was clear that the evidence wasn't enough to get a jury to convict, or because pursuing the case would jeopardize another, more important case, made a similar judgment. Are they all in violation of their oaths?

Sorry -- I'm not with program on this one. I'd love it if Obama had the wind at his back on this issue and could pursue the Bushies without political cost. But he probably doesn't.

Injustice happens. (How many days did Nixon spend in jail?) Obama's choice in this matter may be regrettable, but I also think it's valid.

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