Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Obama Adjustment Syndrome and the OLC memos

I think I am suffering from Obama Adjustment Syndrome. The primary symptom of this syndrome is an inability to react to major policy initiatives from the Obama Administration in real time, because they come at you fast and furious. This was particularly acute last week, when I was sort of chilling after the Oscars. I blinked, and suddenly I missed Obama's major address to Congress, the not-quite-SOTU. So I started watching the video of that online.

Then all of a sudden there was the budget. OK, let me get a grip . . . Wham! We're pulling out of Iraq. Wow, that's great, can I get some details? . . . Bling! We're bailing out another one of the financial companies.

Plus there were a few other things that I'm sure were hugely important and that I have been waiting years for but that I can't quite recall.

Today it's the release of the OLC (Office of Legal Counsel) memos. On this issue, attentoin must be paid to mcjoan at DailyKos, and Andrew Sullivan. And I must pay attention.

We cannot be thankful enough that the Obama Administration has begun to expose the criminal wrongdoings of the Bush Administration, and we cannot be too harsh in our condemnation of the crimes that were perpetuated by the Bushies, particularly Dick Cheney, David Addington, and John Yoo.

I have heard many calls for various levels of investigation into what happened under Bush. I have to admit that I have been somewhat reluctant to join the chorus, because I think there is a real temptation to "criminalize political differences," i.e. to make prosecutorial mountains out of the molehills of differences of opinion.

But when the conduct in question is criminal, then we have not just the right, but the responsibility to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute. We have done so before, during Watergate, and our democracy survived.

We are responsible in this respect not to ourselves or our constituents, but to our system of justice. We have certain responsibilities to democracy.

Democracy gives us the freedom to experiment with our politics, but then holds us accountable when those experiments fail. We are in such a moment right now.

In this democracy, we all have equal opportunities within this system, and we are all considered equal before the law. The problem with this is that we don't know how to ensure that all are equal before the law, and we have different opinions about what that means. Those in power tend to have very different ideas about what constitutes justice than those who are not in power.

The system works as long as enough of us believe that the system itself, despite all its flaws, is still better than any other system for giving us the closest we can come to equal opportunities. Essential to that ideal is the system of checks and balances. As long as most people have at least some voice within the system, they have an incentive to try and make the system work.

I have written before that the American system of democracy was designed to withstand the maximum damage that can be inflicted on it, either from outside, or from within. The Bush Administration's misdeeds have been one of the attempts to inflict severe damage on the system of American democracy. The release of these OLC memos demonstrates that. Unlike almost every other politician in our system, Bush and his cronies did not believe in the system of checks and balances. They did not believe that all people are equal before the law. They believed that the President, and, by extension, those who worked for him, was above the law. Perhaps the hideous implication of this idea is that it grants to the president the right to decide who is outside the law, who does not deserve the protection of the law. That is the definition of a dictatorship.

Investigating the abuses of the Bush Administration does not constitute "criminalizing political differences."

Criminalizing political differences is what the Bush Administration did.

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