I hope that people get the celebration out of their systems today, because the Obama administration isn't going to be one long party.
There's a lot of pressure coming from various parts of the Democratic Party telling us to be quiet and enjoy the fact that our president is not longer the douchey, idiotic son of a country club conservative, but is instead one of the most respectable prominent Americans in recent memory. That's great, but we can't stop there.
One of the reasons there was such a groundswell of support behind Obama's campaign was the hope that he would end the lawlessness of the Bush Administration. And while he's given strong indications that torture, politicizing the judiciary and the Justice Department, domestic spying, and indefinite detention are going to stop, that's simply not going to be enough.
He's going to have to prosecute the lawlessness of the Bush Administration or we're not going to be able to honestly say that everything's changed, especially since Constitutional and international law couldn't be clearer on the fact that the mission isn't accomplished until the lawbreaking has been fully investigated and until those people found to have violated international law are put in prison.
It's shocking how much the mainstream punditocracy has turned against the idea of any prosecutions after Bush leaves office. While the US wouldn't be saying the same thing if another country's president, prime minister, chancellor, or leader left office and was not prosecuted for war crimes, the US has decided that, once again, it's the exception to the rules.
But there was an interesting development Sunday from Nancy "Impeachment is off the table" Pelosi:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is receptive to the idea of prosecuting some Bush administration officials, while letting others who are accused of misdeeds leave office without prosecution, she told Chris Wallace in an interview on "FOX News Sunday."
"I think you look at each item and see what is a violation of the law and do we even have a right to ignore it," the California Democrat said. "And other things that are maybe time that is spent better looking to the future rather than to the past."
Indeed, that's a good question. The US pushed for the UN Convention Against Torture which specifically requires that leaders who authorize torture be prosecuted. Glenn Greenwald lays out the case for why this is, in fact, binding US law, and that every single excuse that's being floated as to why Bush Administration officials are off the hook - that it's unpleasant and uncivil to prosecute law-breaking, that we need to "move on," that it would be seen as about grudges and partisanship to prosecute clear and confessed violations of US law - is specifically mentioned as invalid exceptions to the Convention.
Legally, there's no way out of investigations. These abuses of power have to be investigated and prosecuted where appropriate. I'd suggest reading Glenn Greenwald's entire post, it lays out the case pretty cogently.
The idea, though, seems to be moving over to the fact that these sorts of prosecutions will make the US look bad, which is laughable on face. I remember when the story first broke about the black sites set up by the US in Eastern Europe to torture people - I was in the teachers' lounge in Lorient, France, and the conversation focused entirely on how the US tortures. There was a few "I know that not all Americans support Bush"s thrown in every now and then with a look towards me. But you could tell what they really meant.
The point is that this isn't a secret to anyone except for a large part of the US population. You can't blame some people - our journalists have done an exceptionally poor job at informing US citizens about actually material issues instead of who's giving whom a blow job.
As was pointed out over at Harper's this morning, Europe is expecting prosecutions. If Barack Obama is serious about changing the policies of the Bush Administration, this is an issue that needs to be taken seriously. Indeed, ignoring the abuses of the Bush Administration would be, in and of itself, an act of law-breaking, and a strong signal to countries we want to influence that American exceptionalism is still in tact, that the old paradigm of arrogance and cowardice (that is, fear of submitting to the same rules that bind everyone else because we would have to, intrinsically, give up some power) is still king in the US.
Ultimately, though, prosecutions should be about making sure that these crimes never happen again. With every president pardoning the sins of the previous administration going all the way back to Gerald Ford pardoning Nixon, it's no surprise that Dick Cheney's been going on the teevee and admitting to having broken the law. The thought of being prosecuted isn't even on his radar.
We say that punishing wrong-doers with jail time is about reducing crime, and while that doesn't work for every type of crime, premeditated crime that is devised by committees that pushes the limits of law enforcement over several decades is the exact kind of law-breaking that will be deterred with jail time.
This isn't a criticism of Obama, but a call that he take these issues seriously, and a call to all the rest of us to avoid thinking that, on the most fundamental problems that face this country, any problem that faces this country, the mission is accomplished. Our participation in democracy doesn't stop on election day, and it doesn't stop on inauguration day if the person going into office is amenable to us.
As I wrote yesterday, the effects of the Bush on politics aren't over. We'll be seeing his direct influence for years to come, perhaps decades (if we don't play our cards right). And the last thing we'd want is for Obama to be complicit in the continuation of these policies. It's a lot of responsibility for one person, but I think he's up to the job.
But what the transfer of power does do is change the landscape upon which the game is played, but if we think that we can stop now and leave the promise of change up to Obama, and Obama alone, then we're seriously mistaken. We have a responsibility (to Obama, if we want to think about it in those terms) to apply pressure to move him to the left for the next eight years.
Indeed, it's the only way anything's going to get done.