Sunday, November 30, 2008

Could Obama Repeat Bill Clinton's Mistakes?

Two veteran journalists are warning that President-Elect Barack Obama might be about to repeat mistakes made by our previous Democratic president, Bill Clinton, when he took office in 1993.

Robert Parry and Joseph L. Galloway write that Obama is sending signals that he has no intention of supporting investigations of the George W. Bush administration.

Both journalists say such a stance could jeopardize Obama's ability to govern effectively.

Parry, writing at Consortium News, says Obama's desire to promote bipartisanship could lead to a free pass for Bush officials who might have committed crimes.

Parry broke numerous Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s while working for Associated Press and Newsweek. He says Obama's position is reminiscent of the one Bill Clinton took in 1993. And Clinton's decision proved to cost him dearly:

Barack Obama seeks a new era of bipartisanship, but he should take heed of what happened to the last Democrat in the White House – Bill Clinton – in 1993 when he sought to appease Republicans by shelving pending investigations into Reagan-Bush-I-era wrongdoing and hoped for some reciprocity.

Instead the Republicans pocketed the Democratic concessions and pressed ahead with possibly the most partisan assault ever directed against a sitting President. The war on Clinton included attacks on his past life in Arkansas, on his wife Hillary, on personnel decisions at the White House, and on key members of his administration.

The Republicans also took the offensive against Clinton’s reformist agenda, denying him even one GOP vote for his first budget and then sabotaging Hillary Clinton’s plan for universal health insurance.

The desperately-seeking-bipartisanship Clinton allowed Republican loyalists to stay burrowed inside the government, and he bowed to the appointment of right-wing special prosecutors (appointed by a Republican-dominated judicial panel) to investigate him and his administration.

Parry had a front-row seat for Clinton's mistakes, and he came away with this lesson: Try to play nice with Republicans, and you are likely to get burned:

In November 1994, a resurgent Republican Party – energized by its hatred of the Clintons – wrested control of Congress from the Democrats. But rather than sating the Right’s anti-Clinton obsession, the success only fed a desire for more.

Behind a relentless investigation by right-wing special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, the Republicans pressed ahead with what became a multi-year drive to impeach President Clinton, exploiting suspicions over Clinton’s old Whitewater real-estate investment as payback for Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

How were Clinton's efforts at bipartisanship rewarded? With an investigation of events that began before he even was governor of Arkansas.

Some observers are saying Obama should ignore the past and look only to the future. But did Republicans look to the past with Bill Clinton? You're darn right they did. And if Republicans take back control of Congress in 2010, will they come after Obama regarding William Ayers or Jeremiah Wright or the heartbreak of psoriasis? You're darn right they will:

Now, after eight years of Bush’s catastrophic presidency, another Democrat has been elected to the nation’s highest office and – like Clinton 16 years ago – Barack Obama is being advised by Washington insiders to reach out to the Republicans with an open hand of bipartisanship.

Most significantly, Obama is being urged to forget about holding Bush and other top officials accountable for torture, war crimes, violations of the Constitution and other serious offenses. Obama’s even getting advice that he should leave some senior Bush officials in place as a bipartisan gesture.

Ironically, some of this advice is coming from the same people who were part of Clinton’s decisions in early 1993 to set aside investigations into Reagan-Bush-I wrongdoing and thus to allow a false history of that era to become cemented as a faux reality.

When Clinton took office, four investigations were pending about wrongdoing in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations:

All told, the four sets of allegations, if true, would paint an unflattering portrait of the 12-year Republican rule: two illegal dirty tricks (October Surprise and Passportgate) book-ending ill-conceived national security schemes in the Middle East (Iran-Contra and Iraqgate).

Had the full stories been told the American people might have perceived the legacies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush quite differently than they do today.

But the Clinton administration and congressional Democrats dropped all four investigations beginning in early 1993, either through benign neglect – by failing to hold hearings and keeping the issues alive in the news media – or by actively closing the door on investigative leads.

In other words, a free pass given to Republicans in 1993 paved the way for the disastrous George W. Bush presidency:

It allowed an incomplete, even false history to be written about the Reagan-Bush-I era, glossing over many of the worst mistakes.

The bogus history denied the American people the knowledge needed to assess how relationships had evolved between the United States and Middle East leaders, including Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Saudi royal family and the Iranian mullahs.

Though the Middle East crises had receded by the time Clinton took office in 1993, the troubles had not gone away and were sure to worsen again. When that time came, the American people would have a sanitized version of how the country got where it was.

Galloway, who writes about military affairs for McClatchy Newspapers, has similar concerns. He writes, in "Moderation in the Pursuit of Justice is No Virtue," that members of Obama's transition team are indicating that they do not intend to investigate anyone in the Bush administration for possible war crimes:

Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue, and its no way to begin an administration that was elected on promises of change. What it says is that if you're one of the elite and powerful, your violations of the law will be overlooked, no matter how much damage you did to our country’s standing in the world.

What message would this send to future Karl Rove's? It's not a good one, Galloway writes:

What signal does it send to Mr. Bush's gang of unindicted co-conspirators, who've unwrapped a Pandora’s boxful of other offenses — from perverting the administration of justice, to illegally eavesdropping on the phone conversations and e-mails of ordinary Americans, to salting the stream of intelligence with bogus material, to inviting their cronies to loot the Treasury with no-bid military contracts, to lying under oath to congressional oversight committees, to applying political litmus tests to the hiring of civil service employees to the wholesale destruction of White House e-mails and records? Etcetera. Etcetera.

This nation was founded on the principle of equal justice under the law. No one — no one — ought to be able to skate or hold a get-out-of-jail-free card by virtue of having been the most powerful felon in the land, or of working for him.

Galloway uses a classic analogy to drive home a critical point about the direction Obama needs to take:

Out in West Texas, crusty old ranchers plagued by coyotes killing their calves and baby sheep shoot the offending beasts and hang their carcasses on the nearest barbed wire fence as an object lesson to the rest of the pack.

Unless the newly empowered Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill hang a few coyotes on some fences in Washington, D.C., they're making a huge mistake that will come back to haunt them, and all the rest of us, too.

In Alabama, where the roots of Bush sleaze are planted, at least one editorial voice says an investigation of the Don Siegelman prosecution could rip the lid off the Bush Justice Department.

The Tuscaloosa News notes that oral arguments in the Siegelman case are December 9 in Atlanta, before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and says the case could spark interest in getting to the bottom of the Bush DOJ swamp:

And while there seems to be some let-bygones-be-bygones sentiment in Washington as Democrats take over the White House and expand their numbers in Congress, the Siegelman case, where two people actually went to jail after a trial that an appeal court has already said raised 'substantial questions,' the arguments at the Dec. 9 hearing in Atlanta could rekindle interest in getting to the bottom of things at the Departament of Justice.

The newspaper could have gone even further. In the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, the South's companion piece to the Siegelman fiasco, three people still are in federal prison on charges that would have to improve greatly to reach the level of bogus.

Here is a Schnauzer prediction: I recently posted a diary at Daily Kos about the Siegelman case, and it attracted far more attention than anything else I've written there. Kos is an influential and widely read labyrinth of progressive ideas, and my post was No. 3 that day on the site's list of high-impact diaries.

What does that tell us? I think it tells us that there is deep and passionate interest among progressives in seeing that justice is done regarding the Bush Justice Department. A large swath of Obama supporters are rightly angry about the trashing of our justice department in general--and the handling of the Siegelman case in particular.

If Obama obstructs a full and intense inquiry into the Bush DOJ, my guess is that he will alienate a major chunk of his base--and that will have profoundly negative consequences for his presidency and our country.

My prediction is this: If Obama leads an effort to paper over the gross wrongdoing of the Bush DOJ, there's a good chance he will be a one-term president. And if that's not the case, my guess is that Republicans will take back Congress at some point and promptly investigate Obama into oblivion, ruining his second term and leaving his presidency in tatters.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's possible, I mean take a look at previous presidents. Most of them were "winners" during the election season to the public, but once they got into office they became notorious losers. Hwoever, so far so good with Obama! Obama is making it better for us already! Most people don't realize how much money there is out there. During economic times like this, there is more money to be had than ever. Because of the bailouts and economy, lenders are bending over backwards to bail you out too. Believe it or not, there is people getting tons of cheap money nowdays to start businesses, buy homes, pay off debt, and more. Bailout is for YOU