Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Somebody Else's Problem

Glenn Greenwald is right. Anyone who supported a Democratic takeover of Congress in hopes that they would end the war in Iraq, pass legislation to reign in an out-of-control executive, or impeach is living a day dream. Democrats do not have enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate, let alone the two-thirds needed to override a Presidential veto (or to impeach). What Democrats can do with even the slimmest majority is investigate what the Bush Administration has been up to, and either shame it into mending its ways or else rally irresistible public opinion in favor of restraining measures.

So, what has our Democratic Congress investigated so far? Conditions at Walter Reed military hospital and the firing of US Attorneys for insufficient partisanship in their prosecutions. Congress's approach to scandals is apparently LIFO -- Last In, First Out.

In all fairness to Congressional Democrats, immediate investigation of the Walter Reed hospital and other military hospitals is fully justified. Although conditions at Walter Reed were only recently publicized, the problem has clearly been ongoing for a long time. Our military hospitals will not improve overnight, but publicity and more publicity, shining the light on the full extent of the scandal is a good first step toward positive change. Only exposure of the full extent of the problem will keep administrators from making a few cosmetic changes and sweeping everything else under the rug. And certainly moral outrage is appropriate here. For four years now we have been called upon to support the troops by putting them in harm's way. It is long past time to show some concern for soldiers who come to actual harm. And, more cynically speaking, beginning investigations by looking into the care provided to wounded soldiers is smart politically. I myself recommended that Congressional Democrats begin their investigations with non-controversial matters to bolster their claims to patriotism and undermine the Bush Administration's claim to a monopoly.

Investigation of the firings of eight US attorneys is a different matter. True, this one was also triggered by some explosive revelations. If the Bush Administration believes that the Justice Department should be a partisan tool -- should investigate Democratic vote fraud when Republicans narrowly lose an election and should refrain from prosecuting corrupt Republicans but speed up indictments of corrupt Democrats in order to tip close elections -- then this is a serious matter. But then again, manipulation of intelligence to justify a war, warrantless wiretapping, "black sites," torture, "extraordinary rendition," and indefinite detention without charges are also serious matters. The stakes in the firing scandal are a good deal higher than the careers of a few non-exempt appointees; what is being revealed here is a deeply corrupt approach to law enforcement. But the Administration has long since shown corruption of an entirely different order of magnitude in its penchant for secrecy and unlimited executive power. Why is Congress so interested in these political firings, while neglecting other, grave abuses that cry out for investigation? Unlike the Walter Reed scandal, Congress is not being driven by the need to halt an ongoing outrage, nor does public indignation play much of a part here.

What is driving Congressional Democrats in their investigations of attorney firings is something, from their perspective, far graver than anything else. At stake are not the rights of a few Arabs suspected of terrorist ties, but the political careers of Democrats facing close elections. When the President abuses power in torture, eavesdropping, detention without charges and the like, well, yes, it is serious, but it is somebody else's problem. But when those abuses threaten Democratic seats in Congress, well, now, that's different.



Blogger Roger Moore said...

The Democrats face a real PR problem in trying to bring up old wrongdoing precisely because it is old. Speaker Pelosi has made a point about wanting to move forward rather than engaging in endless investigations; backtracking on that would make the Democrats look like they were just out for short-term political gain. You can be sure that the Republicans will argue that all of the old topics- pre-war intel, WMB, Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, etc. have been worked over, and the decision to focus on them shows the Democrats' lack of original ideas. It's specious argument- none of those topics has received even a fraction of the investigation they deserve- but you know it will play well in the press.
Focusing on contemporary scandals has the advantage that those arguments don't apply. They can't be ignored away as tired old ground. Even better, they're serious enough that the Republicans have to at least pretend to cooperate or look like craven appologists for anything the administration does. With Bush a lame duck, some of the Republicans might even develop enough backbone to take the investigations seriously.
And there's always the chance that investigations like these can be hooked onto the older problems. There's a serious editorial in today's (Sunday, 11 March) LA Times that argues the Walter Reed scandal ties directly to "Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and secret sites elsewhere." And obviously the complaints about political firing of US Attorneys and the new one about FBI abuses can be tied into all of the gross abuses in the Justice department. Besides, with the rate that scandals are breaking out, the Democrats may have trouble investigating just the current ones, much less going back to the start of the war.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Enlightened Layperson said...

Thanks, Roger. These are all valid points. But many of the "old" scandals, such as warrantless wiretapping and GTMO are still ongoing. And manipulation of intelligence may be old news, but it is also relevant to some very current concerns. But you may be right that I am being unduly cynical.

9:10 PM  

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