But there was one problem: Obama was talking about political prosecutions in Russia, not back home in the United States.
According to The New York Times, one of the first topics Obama raised upon his departure for Moscow last night was the integrity of the Russian justice system. Specifically, Obama mentioned the politically charged prosecution of a prominent Russian businessman:
Mr. Obama raised concerns about the treatment of the businessman, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, who along with his partner has been put back on trial six years after they were first arrested. Critics say the new trial seems aimed at keeping Mr. Khodorkovsky, an opponent to the government who was once Russia’s richest man, in prison.
Obama apparently had looked backward long enough to be quite familiar with the Khodorkovsky case:
“Without knowing the details, it does seem odd to me that these new charges, which appear to be a repackaging of the old charges, should be surfacing now, years after these two individuals have been in prison and as they become eligible for parole,” Mr. Obama said in written answers to questions posed by a Russian opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, over the weekend. “Nonetheless, I think it is improper for outsiders to interfere in the legal processes of Russia.”
That, however, did not keep Obama from making Russian justice a prominent issue:
But Mr. Obama called on President Dmitri A. Medvedev to follow through on his promise “to strengthen the rule of law in Russia, which of course includes making sure that all those accused of crimes have the right to a fair trial and that the courts are not used for political purposes.”
Obama clearly is a bright guy, so we have little doubt that he is capable of seeing the irony in these words. But just in case, let's spell it out.
As he heads for Russia, Obama says it is important for that country to ensure that those accused of crimes "have the right to a fair trial" and that "the courts are not used for political purposes."
Back home, when asked about the Bush Justice Department and its abuse of such fundamental democratic concepts, Obama has said it is more important to look forward than to look backward.
In other words, Obama seems to be concerned about Mikhail Khodorkosvsky's civil rights. But in his first five-plus months in office, Obama has shown almost no interest in the civil rights of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, Mississippi attorney Paul Minor, and others who have been the victims of political prosecutions in the United States.
Many of us who supported Obama, did so because of his intellect, his sense of justice, and his background in constitutional law. So how to explain his utter tone deafness on the issue of political prosecution?
Perhaps Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev can do a huge favor for all Americans who care about justice issues. When Obama demands that Russia "strengthen the rule of law," maybe Medvedev will fire back with something like this:
"Mr. President, I appreciate your concern about the rule of law in Russia. But I'm also familiar with the cases of Mr. Siegelman, Mr. Minor, Mr. Wecht, Ms. Thompson, and others in your own country. To borrow a phrase from the New Testament, shouldn't you 'remove the log from your own eye before noticing the speck in mine.'
"Mr. President, I respectfully suggest that you address the problems of political prisoners and other injustices in your own system. When you've shown the backbone needed to tackle those problems in your country, we would be glad to look at those problems in Russia.
"After eight years under George W. Bush, America has lost its moral standing on matters of justice. Until you make a serious effort to restore that moral standing, your words will fall on deaf ears here."