Obama courts GOP, as the Left throws shoes, demands prosecutions

By John Burke | Related entries in Conservatives, Democrats, Left, Obama, Republicans

mccain_obama

President-elect Obama and McCain meet in Chicago

Wth his Inauguration three days away, Barack Obama continues to talk, plan and act as if he’s every one’s President and intends to govern from the center — with respect to both domestic and foreign affairs.  He has been aggressively courting Republicans and conservatives, inviting their input and working hard to gain their support.  As Politico sums it up, Obama is not only “trying to seduce Republicans these days,” but also courting conservatives in an effort that “runs much deeper and wider than is publicly known:”

Obama has had meetings with his former opponent John McCain, GOP congressional leaders and some of the country’s leading conservative commentators. He’s also honoring McCain and Colin Powell in high-profile pre-inaugural dinners, where Obama is expected to toast the Republicans.

Behind the scenes, Obama and his team are working just as hard, courting prominent Republicans and conservatives through frequent phone calls, e-mails and private sit-downs.

The selection of evangelical pastor Rick Warren for the inaugural invocation and Obama’s dinner with right-of-center writers at George F. Will’s home drew significant buzz. But the transition also has quietly reached out to other prominent figures atop the Southern Baptist Church, Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministry and the Jewish Orthodox Union.

What’s more, Obama and Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel have been reaching out to and meeting with House Minority Whip Eric Cantor and other key Republicans, including the Senate GOP leaders, Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl, McCain pal Lindsey Graham, key committee ranking members Charles Grassley and Judd Gregg, and such moderates as Olympia Snowe.

Obama knows the country faces huge problems that can only be addressed, much less solved, if we genuinely “turn the page” on the often vicious and paralyzing partisan battles of the past 30 years. Most Democratic leaders — and surely most Democratic voters — understand this and are on board with it.

Unfortunately, though, there are still those in the left wing of the party who would rather score points with their narrow constituencies, throw a few more shoes at Bush, or even try to criminalize politics and policy differences than join with Obama to govern the nation effectively. And it’s not just DailyKos and a few other lefty bloggers.

Leading the way down this bitter path, veteran Michigan Representative John Conyers, Jr., Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, released a 486-page report entitled “Reining in the Imperial Presidency” and wrote an op-ed about it in the Washington Post in which he took issue with the inclination of many (including Obama) to “move on” and called for various investigations and possible prosecutions, not only about the Bush Administration’s war policies but the supposed “politicization of the Justice Department,” “the ravaging of our regulatory system and the use of signing statements to override the laws of the land,” among other things.

Conspicuously, however, Conyers did not call for an inquiry into how or why the most sweeping act of financial deregulation in recent history and a powerful contributor to the present financial crisis, repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, passed the House by huge bi-partisan majorities of 343-86 and 362-57 and was signed into law by President Clinton in November 1999.

Over at The New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman urged Obama not to “forgive and forget” and to “reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime.” What crime? Going beyond even Conyers, Krugman wants probes into “abuses [that] extended from environmental policy to voting rights” and “involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies.” Krugman cites, among other things, the alleged “political” hiring at Justice and the award of “no-bid contracts to politically connected companies” in connection with reconstruction in Iraq.

I’m equally offended by purely political hiring and hanky panky in government contracting, and there are ways to control or eliminate perennial abuses of this kind. Still, I’ll be surprised if the Obama Justice Department hires many lawyers who belong to the Federalist Society. And we’ll see whether government contracting — in Iraq or Afghanistan, all those “shovel ready” public works to be funded by the stimulus plan, or anywhere else suddenly becomes above board because a Democrat is in the White House.

Beginning in three days, President Obama will need to focus all of his, the Congress’s and the nation’s energies on surmounting tough challenges at home and abroad. He’ll need the help and support of Republicans, as well as Democrats, and the sustained good will of moderate and conservative voters, as well as liberals, to get anything much done. A renewed descent into constant quarrel and division could be a disaster. He knows that. It’s a pity that people like Conyers and Krugman remain oblivious to it.

(Visit me at The Purple Center)


This entry was posted on Saturday, January 17th, 2009 and is filed under Conservatives, Democrats, Left, Obama, Republicans. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “Obama courts GOP, as the Left throws shoes, demands prosecutions”

  1. Nick Benjamin Says:

    The amount of leftist carping about Obama is greatly exaggerated. Conyers is not a major figure outside the City of Detroit. Within Detroit he’s an institution, but it hasn’t been a great few years for him. He got his wife elected to City Council in ’05, and she’s been a spectacular failure. Note to future politicians:
    Do not call the chair of your meeting “Shrek.” Even if he’s big, bald, and currently a bit grumpy. Bad idea. Also, try not to be a total bitch.

    Krugman is prominent, but this is only one issue. The left is trying to avoid two extremes. One is the Circular Firing Squad, where we rip eachother to shreds over silly things. But we don’t wanna be yes-men either.

    Right now the Obama administration isn’t doing anything. He’s talking to people, courting various groups, sending signals, etc. But nobody will care about any of that shit two months from now. Until he gets something through Congress he’ll keep the benefit of the doubt. Some media folk will go after him on issues the rest of us don’t particularly care about, or issues where most of us think he can’t do any actual good — f. e. Bush may have committed crimes, but he’s got fancy lawyers, sophisticated legal BS, and he appointed most of the Judges so he charging him would be a huge waste of time — to prove that they won’t b yes-men. The rest of us will seriously consider their arguments, and then give Obama the benefit of the doubt until he actually does something that matters.

  2. Togakangaroo Says:

    I am neither anyone’s constituency nor am I a far left liberal but I’ve got to say that I consider persecutions to be highly important.

    I mean for god’s sake, torture? You really think we can be better served by not going after those who sanctioned torture? The other stuff I was and am still enraged by and think is certainly worthy of prosecution but that was mostly based in incompetence. Government sanctioning of torture however is downright malicious ignorant and criminal, I think it’s down-right immoral to turn a blind eye.

    Pragmatism is important, but there either is a limit to it or there isn’t and it either has been exceeded or it hasn’t. I suggest that you really ponder where you fall on those two questions.

    Oh, and as far as bringing the country together. I think most people (congress included) feel the same way. It’s a good thing too, because most of congress is 100% innocent in this affair. As long as you make it absolutely clear that this prosecutions will be on this issue only most will be more than happy to throw Bush and Co under the bus.

  3. Jim S Says:

    As I’ve said in another thread where this came up, the question is not whether we will investigate but what do we do if we are approached a few years down the road by a legitimate government from Afghanistan or Iraq that wants to prosecute some people.

  4. John Burke Says:

    Togakangaroo and everyone else needs to understand that any prosecution of “torture” in interrogations conducted by CIA or military personnel woould be wading into a thicket of legal ambiguities where the outcome is virtually pre-ordained, namely, dismissal of such charges by courts or acquittals.

    It’s easy for prosecutors bearing the awesome power of the US Government to bring charges, even to secure grand jury indictments (in the famous words of a former NY State Chief Judge, “any prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich”).

    Channeling what are, in their essence, disagreements about policies, however profound or emotionally held, into criminal prosecutions can only super-charge political animosities and stir even more sharp divisions among citizens and voters, as well as destroy morale withing the affected agencies.

    There is a point here of overriding consequence: we can easily survive and recover from periods of intense and destructive policy disputes. Whenever in our history such disputes have arisen, one or both sides invariably have called the other side’s policies either illegal or unconstitutional or both. Once in a while, these disputes between the two “political” branches are resolved by the courts, and less often, they lead to impeachment charges or threats of impeachment. However, using the criminal justice system to satisfy one side or the other is bound to lead to nothing but another round of bitter disputes.

  5. Togakangaroo Says:

    John,
    It sounds like you’re making the “if it’s the government doing it then it can’t be illegal” argument. Are you?

    Ok, yeah. This is a pretty sophisticated board, I don’t think anyone here is really ever going to go for that one. Are you saying then then that even though the government can commit illegal actions it is impractical to treat them as criminal?

    You’re not an idiot and I’m sure you’re not going to fall for that trap either.

    But hopefully you see where I’m going with this. The thing that I’m trying to ask you – that I think you actually should try to answer at least to yourself – is what would have had to have happened for you to support a criminal investigation?

    I would much rather argue about the specifics of what you think merits action than I would about vague ideas of what ‘is helpful’ or who’s ‘self-serving’.

  6. John Burke Says:

    No, I’m certainly not arguing that anything the government does can’t be illegal (or that anything the President does can’t be illegal).

    But as the arguments about torture, rendition, the status of detainees at Guantanamo, “warrantless domestic wiretapping,” etc. have become ever more heated, a lot of Bush critics have come to assume that the legal case underlying their arguments is a solid one. It’s not. At best, the legal case that might be brought is fraught with ambiguity, as it is in the case of torture.

    At the center of the argument over the legality of the controversial “enhanced interrogation” is the definition of “torture” in the federal code — a government act “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” John Yoo relied on that language to contruct the now famous or infamous guideline to the effect to be torture, an act had to be the “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” When The DOJ withdrew Yoo’s memo, it substituted this standard: an act causing “intense, lasting and heinous agony.”

    The point is that even the definition of “torture” and its application to one or another CIA or military interrogation is by no means open and shut.

    Moreover, it would not be easy for a federal court to sort out the arguments that could be made derived from the President’s “war power,” as Lincoln called it. In this case, that power, whatever it may be, was reinforced by Congressional resolutions. Certainly, anyone charged with the crime of torturing an al Qaeda detainee would raise a number of strong arguments along these lines.

    Next, there is the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which authorized military tribunals, the holding of enemy combatants indefinitely without judicial review under habeus corpus, and the admission of coerced testimony in the tribunals, and effectively barred prosecution of policy makers, CIA interogators and soldiers under US law. Since its enactment, the Supreme Court has ruled that detainees are entitled to habeus protection and forced an expanded scope of due process for them. It has not tossed out the commissions or the government’s power to hold them indefinitely or dealt at all with the issue of prosecuting officials. I doubt that it would do so, if it ever reached those issues. In any case, the Act provides a heckeva good argument for anyone charged with crimes related to detainee treatment. This was not a rogue executive but an act of Congress.

    Many critics toss international law into the mix — particularly conventions related to treatment of detainees and the commission of “war crimes.” While this makes for heated sicussions, no one should assume anything about what acts would actually be regarded as “war crimes” if and when they actually were presented to any dispassionate court. The concept is murky and the application messy.

    Finally, if anyone were ever charged and went to trial on the crime of torturing al Qaeda detainees, the facts of the specific cases, not just the law, would come into play. It’s one thing to generalize about what might be a crime, it’s quite another to apply the law to one set of circumstances and level a convincing charge. If you get that far, then you must face the prospect of persuading all 12 members of a jury that the indicted parties are guilty.

    I submit that the likelihood or anyone being successfully prosecuted for torture in these matters is essentially zero. The only effect of pursuing such cases would be to close a political battle royal that would divide the nation right down the middle and undermine Obama fatally.

    With respect to some other issues that have been raised, the legal case is even less well grounded. In the matter of extraordinary rendition, it’s clear that US law does not prohibit it, and the President’s authority to order it is on solid ground (as it was when Clinton did). The fact that some foreign governments and human rights watchdogs don’t like it doesn’t alter that.

    As to “warrantless domestic wiretapping,” the recent ruling of the FISA Court strengthens the case for the actons taken in the past, and going forward, I suspect Obama is going to want to keep those particular intelligence tools.

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