Friday, January 16, 2009

Reading: Krugman: Defending the Constitution is not an oath to be honored only when it's convenient

Paul Krugman takes time off from trying to head off global economic collapse to talk about something even more important: The consequences--if any--of abuse of power at the highest levels of our government.

The two are connected, after all.

[I]f we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.

Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. It’s not just torture and illegal wiretapping, whose perpetrators claim, however implausibly, that they were patriots acting to defend the nation’s security. The fact is that the Bush administration’s abuses extended from environmental policy to voting rights. And most of the abuses involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies. […]

By my count, at least six important government agencies experienced major scandals over the past eight years — in most cases, scandals that were never properly investigated. And then there was the biggest scandal of all: Does anyone seriously doubt that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into invading Iraq?

Why, then, shouldn’t we have an official inquiry into abuses during the Bush years?

One answer you hear is that pursuing the truth would be divisive, that it would exacerbate partisanship. But if partisanship is so terrible, shouldn’t there be some penalty for the Bush administration’s politicization of every aspect of government?

Alternatively, we’re told that we don’t have to dwell on past abuses, because we won’t repeat them. But no important figure in the Bush administration, or among that administration’s political allies, has expressed remorse for breaking the law. What makes anyone think that they or their political heirs won’t do it all over again, given the chance?

Indeed. And it's an old rule of logic that the simplest proof that something is possible is to show that it's already happened:

In fact, we’ve already seen this movie. During the Reagan years, the Iran-contra conspirators violated the Constitution in the name of national security. But the first President Bush pardoned the major malefactors, and when the White House finally changed hands the political and media establishment gave Bill Clinton the same advice it’s giving Mr. Obama: let sleeping scandals lie. Sure enough, the second Bush administration picked up right where the Iran-contra conspirators left off — which isn’t too surprising when you bear in mind that Mr. Bush actually hired some of those conspirators.

(Emphasis added.)

If "post-partisan" means forging consensus not only with one's political adversaries but with criminals and their abettors, as much for the sake of social delicacy as for political progress, you can count me out.

"Next week," writes Krugman, "[Obama's] going to swear to 'preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.' That’s not a conditional oath to be honored only when it’s convenient. And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable."

Ironically, after eight years of watching as one president picks and chooses when the Constitution will be honored is precisely, will we watch as the new president does the same, albeit with loftier motives?

Krugman's piece is going on the Readings list in the sidebar.

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