Obama's answer is similar, but not identical, to the response posted on Change.gov, the Dec. 21 quotation from Joe Biden, which leaves the door open a tiny little bit for an investigation of crimes committed by the Bush administration.
The notion of avoiding this question by looking "forward as opposed to looking backwards" is patently ludicrous. As Biden said in the vice-presidential debates, "past is prologue." We cannot go forward effectively, in the direction we want to go, without paying close attention to what has gone before.
You can't possibly go from point A to point B unless you know where both points are. Knowing the location of point B won't do you any good at all unless you know where you're starting from, the location of point A.
And the concern about CIA operatives "looking over their shoulders"? All government employees should be looking over their shoulders to some extent. They're working for us, aren't they? They must always pursue their work in ways that uphold the Constitution and the Rule of Law. If that means "looking over their shoulders," then fine. Let them look.
A vindictive witch-hunt designed to satisfy partisan bloodlust could very well engender paranoia, not to mention doing more harm than good. But that is not at all what we're advocating. We're advocating a nonpartisan, measured, thorough investigation to find clear breaches of the law on the part of policy makers, especially those at the highest levels.
We're not looking for "a few bad apples"; we're looking for a few big kahunas. Given their bigness, they shouldn't be too hard to find, especially since a couple of them have already gone on national television and essentially boasted about having condoned torture.
Here's what Obama said on Sunday that I find most encouraging:
[The] attorney general ... is the people's lawyer. Eric Holder's been nominated. His job is to uphold the Constitution and look after the interests of the American people, not to be swayed by my day-to-day politics.I think what Obama is saying here is that he's going to leave this question up to Eric Holder, who will not be as constrained by politics as Obama himself is. But he's also saying that, given that the attorney general is "the people's lawyer," it's up to the people to make their demands known to their lawyer.
He's talking about us, folks. "We the people" and all that. If we don't push for this, and push hard, it just isn't going to happen. But if we do push, it may very well happen. What Barack Obama did in that interview was to leave the door open—for us.
In the January issue of the Progressive, John Nichols tells an apt story about Franklin Roosevelt.
After his election in 1932, FDR met with Sidney Hillman and other labor leaders, many of them active Socialists with whom he had worked over the past decade or more. Hillman and his allies arrived with plans they wanted the new President to implement. Roosevelt told them: "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."As then, so now. We have to make Obama do what I believe he wants to do. He's facing enormous political pressure from those who just want to let it all go, to let bygones be bygones and other such claptrap. But if he can point to the pressure coming from us, it will give him the political impetus he needs to do exactly what he wants to do. This is the nature of politics. The noisier the clamor, the more likely it is to have the desired effect.
In October of last year, Robert Borosage wrote, "If Obama is elected, he will have the moment, mandate, momentum, and moral armament to launch a new era of bold progressive reform." And I wrote in response that the mandate, momentum, and moral armament were not only for Obama, but for us. Obama cannot possibly effect bold progressive reform without noisy, clamorous, bold progressives pushing for that reform. Here's what I said in October:
The work that needs to be done to recover from the devastation wrought by the neocons is much too much for just one guy. ... To restore the Constitution, the balance of power, our civil liberties, a just and fair immigration system, a tortured economy, our standing in the world -- just to name a few -- we need to continue to be as engaged after the election as we are now.I would add that actually we have to be more engaged now than we were during the election. We must not give in to the temptation to rest on our laurels. It's not enough to have elected Obama. We have to push now for what we know is right. We have to make use of the many avenues available to us to make our demands known. And after we've pushed, we need to push some more. This isn't going to be easy. That doesn't mean that it's not worth doing.
The support Obama needs from us is not our silent admiration but our noisy clamor for what is needed to move forward, from point A to point B. He's counting on our noisy goading. Some may say that we should just wait and see what he does before we voice our "criticisms." Don't think for a minute, though, that Obama isn't already experiencing plenty of pressure to maintain the status quo. To accomplish all that he wants to accomplish, he needs us to rouse the rabble and push like hell.
He cannot possibly accomplish all that needs doing on his own or with a bunch of half-baked politicians in Washington. Politicians are indeed constrained by politics. How could they be otherwise? But we are constrained only by the number of hours in the day and our convictions and passion for peace and justice and equity and the Rule of Law.
We are the ones who will make it happen. We really are the ones we've been waiting for. It would be a terrible mistake for us to underestimate our power at this critical juncture.
* * *With that in mind, I want to encourage you, please, if you haven't already done so, vote for your top ten ideas for change in America at Change.org. I am especially urging you to vote for these two: (1) Appoint a Special Prosecutor for the Crimes of the Bush Administration, which is currently in 18th place and needs another 2,689 votes to make it to the top ten. (2) Get FISA right, repeal the PATRIOT act, and restore our civil liberties, which is currently in 8th place. Voting ends at 5 pm Eastern Time on Thursday, January 15. After you've voted, please encourage your friends and family to do the same.