Sunday, February 06, 2011

Why Prosecuting Bush Was a Bad Idea

I had a comment from a new reader regarding my previous post suggesting that it was the right decision for Obama to not prosecute Bush, Cheney, and Co. after they left office. And basically, the commenter was speculating that had we prosecuted them, Republicans would have had a shitfit and behaved exactly as they have for the past two years, regular people would have behaved as they did while understanding that America prosecutes crimes against important people, and Obama still could have done what Obama did because we can do more than one thing at a time.

And first off, I’m going to dispute the “more than one thing at a time” argument, as I think the Obama Admin did a terrible job at selling their healthcare ideas while writing the bill; which technically is only one thing at one time. Yet they kind of bungled it. Admittedly, it was a very hard thing they were trying to do at one time, but that’s the whole point. In fact, they did a lousy job at selling any of their agenda at the same time as passing that agenda; and again, that counts as not being able to do one thing at one time.

But of course, that’s a lie, as Obama wasn't doing just one thing at that time. Because he’s got a fricking executive branch to run, which is a hugely complicated thing that should be more than enough for anyone to handle. So him writing legislation is just icing on the cake, while selling the legislation is the work-out you have to do after having eaten cake. And all this is fucking tough.

Yet all the same, Obama did an awesome job in the grand scheme of things, and got us lots of good legislation that made America better.  Could he have done more?  Maybe.  But the standard isn't perfection, but rather, what we would have gotten without him.  And comparing Obama's first two years with eight years of Bush, or even eight years of Clinton; Obama looks like a total badass.

Some Serious Shit

Now imagine, if you will, Bush and Cheney being arrested. Yes, a fun scene, to be sure. But honestly, we’re talking pandemonium. Seriously. Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Condie and all the rest of those jerk-offs being taken away by the FBI and put in jail. This would be some serious shit.

To suggest that the media would be covering this 25 hours a day, eight days a week is an understatement. It’s all the media would be talking about for months and months. And if the Bushies got out on bail, they’d be on the news constantly talking about how this is a miscarriage of justice and how Obama had shat on the Constitution and how this was all a political farce and whatever. And the media would eat every fucking word of this. Every fucking word.

And as I said before, the Washington Post and NY Times editors would be shaking their heads in disgust at the horrible injustice of it all, and how Obama had betrayed his post-partisan rhetoric by doing this; and exposed him as being the next Pol Pot. And as much as these lightweights can mean anything, they’d mean it. They’d think they had some real point to make, when in fact, they themselves helped aid and abet these criminals in their actions. 

And the liberal blogosphere would be in ectasty as we pointed out how the media is wrong, while attacking conservatives for lying about it all.  And every discussion would be about whether Bush and Cheney deserved the Gitmo treatment; with progressives insisting upon an eye for an eye, while moderate-liberals like myself would say that Gitmo was too much and everyone deserves fairness.  And every news story and pseudo-news story that came out would be used to add more fuel to this fire and we'd all be having a great time discussing it.

Sucking the Oxygen from Washington

And in all this, where’s healthcare reform? Where’s the stimulus? Where are the jobs bills and Wall Street reform and all this? The media had a hard enough time covering these issues when Bush and Cheney weren't in shackles and jumpsuits. All the air and energy in Washington would have been solely focused on these trials, and nothing else would seem important by comparison. Sure, we could have gotten things done, but the focus would remain on the Bush trials.

How do I know?  I remember the Clinton impeachment.  For a whole fucking year, the only thing that mattered were the stains on Monica's dress and whether BJ's were sex.  And the same thing happened during the Watergate hearings.  Most people would much rather discuss rumors and political wars than they do policy issues, and that includes myself.  Policy is boring.  Everyone loves politics.

And then we'd have the rest of the country.  They don't know that Bush and Cheney broke the law.  They're not going to see this as the rule of law. They're going to see this as "What the fuck?  Can you believe this is happening?"  And they're just not going to do the research required for them to understand that Obama was doing the right thing.  They'd hear Obama's side and they'd hear Republicans and the media shouting about it, and they'd be like "What the fuck?  Where's my fucking job?"


And the thing is, what difference would it make?  I don't believe in punishment for punishment's sake.  If a murderer is never going to murder again, and we can somehow know that he'll never murder again, I might be cool with that murderer getting off.  For me, justice is about rehabilitation and prevention; not vengeance, and the only thing vengeance makes better are the feelings of the person who's giving it.  But it doesn't fix anything.

And without a doubt, Bush and Cheney will never do these things again.  Not ever.  When they're lucky, they can get invited on to TV or have someone buy them lunch.  But besides that, they're toast.  Nothing important will ever come out of either of these incompetents, because they've burned their bridges with their horrible behavior.  So this isn't about preventing future crimes.  If you want to see Cheney do a perp walk, it's only for your personal enjoyment; not the rule of law. 

And maybe I'm wrong and none of this would have happened. and we could have gotten Bush in prison while also passing healthcare reform.  But why take the risk?  Why roll the dice when it's easy to conceive of lots of lousy outcomes, with very little pay-off?  And that's a cornerstone of Obama's success is that he doesn't take unnecessary risks or wage battles he doesn't already believe he can win.  And that's a super-smart policy.  Because every battle isn't an isolated event, and losing one battle can lead to many more losses in the future.

And of course, the biggest point: It's over.  It's done with.  We won the election, Bush and his cronies are utterly powerless, and Obama let them off the hook.  It's time to move on.  And if anyone's still angry at Obama because he didn't disgrace Bush even more than he already disgraced himself, then it's strong evidence that the person cares much more about hurting Republicans than they do about getting shit done. And that's someone we probably shouldn't be listening to; assuming we actually care about getting shit done.

While it can be important to look back and see what we did wrong, it shouldn't be at the expense of looking forward and seeing what we need to do right.  Anyone who suggests otherwise is probably not doing things right.  The past is only as good as it helps us in the future.


mahakal said...

Your most delusional post yet. Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are fated to repeat them. We do not punish people only to protect ourselves from the actions of those who have misbehaved, but to discourage others from engaging in similar behavior. We now have a blank check absolute executive, and the rule of law does not apply to this or the next occupant of that office or anyone they authorize to violate established law. We become a nation not of laws at all.

Having said that there is a timing to this, and a proper way to proceed, but starting out with a politicized DOJ there are fundamental issues to be addressed to make prosecution possible.

More fundamentally there needs to be a criminal grand jury investigation of 9/11, and charges filed for murder against the responsible parties.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Delusional? Dude, delusional is your middle name. You're the guy who comes up with theories that you'll defend to the end, right up until the time that I introduce reality and then you move the goalposts and pretend things are even worse than you thought. You pick your theories to fit your other theories, and have no use for reality because you think you already have the answers. Yet you can't have the answers because you don't even know the right questions to ask.

And once again, I can understand why someone might disagree with what I wrote. But calilng my theory "delusional" doesn't even make sense. Once again, you're trying to make this personal because you can't handle an honest debate with anyone who doesn't already accept your theories as fact, because your theories have little basis in reality and tumble when anyone questions them.

And to address the point, we don't have an absolute executive and even under Bush, we didn't have an absolute executive. Did Bush expand certain powers? Yes. Do we have a dictatorship? Not even close. He still had to use Congress to get things, and even with Congress, he barely got anything at all. And he still had to submit decisions to the judicial system, which often overruled him. Once again, you're overstating your case, because you have so little to stand on.

And what makes you so convinced we could have gotten convictions? Or that they wouldn't have appealed to SCOTUS to throw those convictions out? After all, the Supreme Court violated the Rule of Law to save Bush's butt once and I don't see why they wouldn't have done it again.

And if we didn't get convictions, it really WOULD have solidified the precedent of what they did. And on the other hand, there is NOTHING to suggest that convictions would have prevented future wrongdoing by others. People who want to be dictators have little concern for the repercussions of their actions, as they already believe themselves to be above the law.

And as for your 9/11 nonsense, save it. It makes absolutely zero sense on a fundamental level and you're only disgracing yourself with this nonsense. You really need to make a real attempt to tether your theories to reality, rather than believing in the stuff you pull from your butt. And I say that as someone who's only trying to help you out.

If anyone in the government had planned 9/11, they would have been ready for it. They would have had a Patriot Act pre-written, as well as the battle plans for Iraq ready to go; and they would have been warning us about it for months, in order to prove that they were wiser than the rest of us. But instead, they had been DOWNPLAYING the threat of Bin Laden, and when warned about it, Bush thought of it as a CYA moment and dismissed the threat. These weren't the actions of people who knew an attack was coming.

And most importantly, they would have pinned it on Saddam; not Bin Laden. To believe that anyone in the government planned it requires us to imagine that they're the most brilliant tacticians in the world, but compltely screwed up the strategy in every conceivable way.

I could go on and on, but I really shouldn't need to. The reality is that the Bushies were caught completely flat-footed when we got attacked and had to scramble in order to lie our way into Iraq. And if they could have planned 9/11, they certainly could have pinned it on Iraq and snuck WMD's into the country. And then the Bush presidency wouldn't have seemed as much of a disgrace as it was.

I know you want to see the Bushies as evil geniuses, yet the facts show that they were incompetent boobs who had trouble executing any plans whatsoever. They were bullshit artists, not evil geniuses.

mahakal said...

See how you debate with your imaginary debating partner again, who articulates whatever position you want to debate against regardless of whether I ever said that. You deny the value of the rule of law. It is not enough to say that it takes time, and that Obama could not act swiftly in this matter, or to say that there would be a better time to address want to let it go completely. And that is why you are delusional.

Doctor Biobrain said...

How is that delusional? I never denied the value of the Rule of Law. But just as the police don't ticket every jaywalker and speeder, Obama decided that the cost-benefit of prosecuting the Bushies wasn't worth it, and I agree. Believe it or not, but not every criminal is prosecuted. That's just life.

And seriously, why can't you disagree with someone without insulting them? Don't you find that the least bit worrisome?

And what imaginary debating partner are you talking about. Bin Laden did it! Bin Laden did it! Bin Laden did it! Nothing else even remotely makes sense.

Look, anyone who believes we need to find who really killed Nicole Simpson is a nutcase, because we know who did it. Sames goes for 9/11. Again, I don't know what you think happened, but the fact that you think we still need to investigate shows that you're a nutcase.

We had investigations. We know what happened. Case closed.

mahakal said...

You are a nutcase, sir. Good day.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Yes. You're the one who believes that some giant conspiracy invalidates all the investigations we had of 9/11, and *I'm* the nutcase. Right.

Personally, I'd be terrified if my brain was as willing to accept baseless theories as fact the way yours does. Who needs evidence when we can create our own reality out of whole cloth?

Anonymous said...

From David D.G., Part I

I never said anything about seeing Bush and Cheney led away in cuffs and jumpsuits; I referred to an official investigation, followed by a prosecution if warranted. That's the way things are supposed to be done in this country: with due process for all, but with no one above the law. Sure, not all crimes are prosecuted, but that hangs on whether there is a decent case to be made for conviction, whether a plea bargain is reached, etc. In cases where there is copious documentary evidence of a criminal enterprise and what amounts to repeated, public, voluntary confessions of such activities, it is a breach of the public trust to NOT prosecute or at least mount an official investigation.

However, I will concede your point about political theatre "sucking all the air out of Washington," whether it's Watergate or BlueDressGate. I just barely remember Watergate, but I do recall being incensed at having my Saturday morning cartoons preempted by breaking news about it (as if kids watching Superfriends would care!), so I can imagine that it must have satured most of the rest of the media coverage at the time, too.

BlueDressGate, of course, was pursued by the GOP with all the pointless zeal of a fox hunt, just to get Clinton on SOMETHING; but you're right that as pointless as it was, it tied up not just the media, but a lot of the political machinery for a long time. So as bad as things already are for Obama and other Democrats in the popular media, I concede that the gridlock resulting from such proceedings would only make the situation even worse. Part of me still wants to insist that this is just an artifact of our ratings-happy media, but that doesn't change the fact that it's how things work.

That said, I still find it abhorrent that (alleged) criminal activity by our former chief executive and his staff will go not just unpunished, but unprosecuted and uninvestigated. This is not about "sticking it to the Republicans"; it's about punishing crime. (Speaking of which, my strongest complaint about Obama isn't his failure to prosecute Bush; it's his failure to overturn Bush’s criminal policies, and even expanding some of them! I'm close to asking for action against Obama, too, so this isn't a partisan complaint.)

~David D.G.

Anonymous said...

From David D.G., Part II

You may not see any point in punishing someone who is unlikely to commit murder again, but I do, especially if the crime wasn't of some morally ambiguous nature (e.g., a mercy killing of someone terminally ill), but was more in the nature of a cop's rogue kidnapping of a bank's CEO, mass slaughter of its Board, and capture and torture of its tellers, all because of a gang’s armed robbery --- of a different bank. (Many would say that this is a good analogy for the whole Iraq fiasco, and it doesn't even begin to touch on Bush's anti-Constitutional practices against our own citizens.)

You may be okay with a person walking away scot-free from such a heinous crime simply because he has now retired from the police force (with honors and a full pension), but I'm not satisfied with that. Rehabilitation is a nice goal, but punishment of offenders is part of the point, too.

And, as I said before, there is also the matter of how the rest of the world views us. Spain has considered prosecuting Bush on grounds of torture (but seems to have dropped the idea), and now Switzerland is doing the same. The antitorture treaty that they signed (and that Ronald Reagan also signed on behalf of the U.S.!) demands that Bush and his group be tried by another country if necessary and, if found guilty, that they be held accountable. The longer we avoid putting our own house in order, the more we risk serious consequences abroad.

Maybe President Obama didn't have much choice, politically, but to "look forward, not back" if he wanted to get some things done. But I consider the actions of the Bush administration a bigger deal than you seem to; there are consequences to consider beyond this country's borders and beyond this election term.

Thanks for responding to my comment. Write on!

~David D.G.

Doctor Biobrain said...

But David, if you're not including an end result of Bush and Cheney being led off in cuffs and jumpsuits before doing hard time, then what's the point? Surely you're not talking about a sham trial and if we're not ready to take this all the way, there's no reason to go any way.

And of course, I seriously don't think we'd find the cut & dry case that could easily lock them away. Remember, OJ got off and that involved a black man murdering a white woman in a case with no other realistic suspect; and he was caught trying to flee the country. The Bush lawyers would be even better and their trial would surely have dragged on throughout Obama's entire first term and beyond.

And of course, there would be no smoking gun, Nixon tapes, or blue dress. There would be lawyers haggling over every word with a good chunk of the country insisting that Obama was punishing Bush for having hurt Obama's terrorist pals. And if the jury found them innocent, which is a good possiblity, then it could set the precedent that the Bush torture was legal.

One of Obama's best strategies is to never fight a battle he doesn't think he has a good chance of winning. Prosecuting the Bushies was a HUGE gamble with absolutely zero payoff for him, and I don't see how it would have helped the rest of us either. Don't fool yourself with this talk about justice. It was about revenge and watching those punkass jerks get their just dessert.

But of course, nothing of the kind would have happened. Had Bush and Cheney been convicted of crimes, they'd die "knowing" that they were martyr patriots who were wrongly imprisoned for doing the right thing. Sorry to say, but that's life. There are very few Perry Mason moments, particularly not when pathological liars like Bush and Cheney are involved.

Like it or not, the worst thing to happen to Bush is for him to be ignored and unliked. Well...unless we tortured him, as that'd surely be much worse. But we don't do that, do we.

As for your suggestion that Obama is continuing Bush's criminal ways, I'm really thinking you're reading the wrong blogs. There are a lot of people out there who want to convince you that Obama is just as bad as Bush, and they're totally full of shit and don't give a damn what lie they have to believe to say it.

I'm willing to hear what you've got to say about it, but from what I've seen so far, it involves people who cherrypick reality and misuse words in order to make it seem as if we're still torturing people and wiretapping phones.

John of the Dead said...

Might I offer a counterpoint? You say that Obama will be accused of all sorts of un-American, vindictive nastiness were he to pursue trials against the Bushies. How, exactly, is that any different from what's already going on? He's already being accused of being a secret Muslim intent on overthrowing America. You have 27% of the country that will hate him no matter what, so why try to appease the nutters?

Furthermore, it's my opinion that prosecuting the Bushies would increase our standing overseas in the areas that are currently causing us so much trouble. We started a couple of wars trying to impose Western democracies, the premise of which is rule of law. When those nations see us disregard our own laws for the powerful, it sets a poor example. Why should Iraq or Afghanistan adopt our policies if we don't even follow them?

Finally, it looks like other nations may pursue justice anyway. Bush recently had to cancel a trip to Switzerland, after the Swiss government mentioned that it was considering arresting him for war crimes. It looks like he'll wind up like Kissinger, having to consult his lawyer before being able to leave US soil. There's still shame at nor prosecuting Kissinger, and I fear Bush will be a similar black mark against the American ideal of "equal under the law."

John of the Dead said...

Oh, sorry, one thing I left out - prosecution of these crimes isn't to stop Bush/Cheney from authorizing torture in the future. It's to prevent future presidents from authorizing torture or otherwise committing war crimes, because there would have been precedent for justice. Instead, we've set a precedent for "Do pretty much whatever you want and get away with it, because we're going to look forward, not backward. (Unless you're a Democrat.)"

I think a lot of this goes back to Clinton and Whitewater. Republicans impeached Clinton on a trivial charge that amounted to nothing. The next guy in office, a Republican, pretty much has carte blanche to do whatever he wants, because he figures that impeaching *him* will look like just a reprisal. Never mind the fact that Republicans in Congress are talking about impeaching Obama...

So, yeah, anyhow, prosecuting Bush/Cheney probably wouldn't be a political winner for Obama. But what's good for Obama politically isn't necessarily what's best for the body politic, and justice for these torturers would benefit us abroad and prevent future crimes. In my very humble opinion, of course. (Sometime I wish life was like one of those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, where you could hold your place with your finger, see what one choice would bring, and if you didn't like that, go back and make the other choice. Alas.)

Doctor Biobiobrain said...

John, I'm really not seeing how the Rule of Law overseas argument is supposed to work. Are we to imagine that Karzai would be Mr. Incorruptible, if only we prosecuted Bush? Would Iraqis stop their political battles and learn to work together, if only Cheney had been frogmarched to the hoosegow? Did dangerous men not do bad things before Bush started waterboarding, or are we to imagine they'd have stopped doing bad things once they see that we're taking our laws seriously?

Not trying to be Mr. Cynical Realism here, but come on. Let's be real. These people don't give a rats turd about what we're doing here, just as we're not being influenced by them. These are intelligent and powerful men we're dealing with, not children. They're not getting their evil ideas from us.

Essentially, your argument is the equivalent of the "What about the children?" argument we hear so often from conservatives. And as with them, it's little more than a rationalization to justify the result we already wanted. It sounds good, but it doesn't actually apply to human behavior.

Beyond that, you're arguing that we need to be more concerned with the hypothetical precedent that might have been created by us not trying to prosecute him, versus the very real precedent it'd set if we prosecuted them and they were found innocent. Because let's remember, that was a real possibility.

Even worse is that you're arguing that the Clinton impeachment set a reverse precedent, as if Bush/Cheney did these bad things because Republicans had set the bar for political impeachment too low; which then raised it too high. But that's not what happened at all. Cheney and the neo-cons were power-hungry jerks with no concern for limits on their powers, but only started doing these things after 9/11 gave them the opportunity. But these guys wanted to do these things before Clinton got impeached and would have tried to do it no matter what.

And if the Swiss or anyone else wants to prosecute Bush, great. I'll support that, I suppose. But if I had to choose between getting stimulus bills, healthcare reform, the repeal of DADT, and all these other good things versus seeing Bushies in jail; I'll take the good things. Because that's what we're talking about.

And it should be noted that my original reference wasn't to re-litigate this issue, but to highlight how many progressives are still holding this against Obama. They're angry every time he avoids political pitfalls that could hurt him, Democrats, and liberals; under the idea that politics aren't real. And this was in contrast to the folks who see political pitfalls everywhere.

Obama isn't a risk-taker and I like that in a president. Might we have made the world a better place by prosecuting Bushies? Maybe. But it might have made things a whole lot worse. I'm glad we have a president who'd rather not roll the dice with the fate of our nation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the responses, Doctor Biobrain and John of the Dead. (I love these names! Dang it, why can't I ever come up with a decently creative Nom de Nette for myself?!?)

I think that this comes down to an impasse based on values. This is NOT meant as any criticism of your values, Doctor Biobrain, especially since you make an excellent point about pursuing progressive policies with a realistic chance of success --- and achieving them, at least partially. Rather, it is merely a recognition that sometimes certain values are in conflict --- for instance, when a cop has to choose between catching escaping crooks and saving the crooks' injured victim. I guess Obama is doing the equivalent of choosing the latter. I just have trouble wrapping my head around the notion that he can't (or, rather, won't) ALSO send out an APB to have someone try to catch up to the bad guys at some point.

Speaking of me "reading the wrong blogs," that's rather a harsh choice of words without knowing what they are. One of the main ones I read, though, is Dispatches From The Culture Wars (written by Ed Brayton, on scienceblogs), and I think that you would find more to agree with than to disagree with on it. I'd link to it here, but the Blogger site doesn't seem to like it when I include links; Dispatches isn't hard to find, though. I hope you'll check it out.

Thanks again for the exchanges!

~David D.G.

Doctor Biobrain said...

David, I only think there's value in prosecuting the Bushies if we believe we've set a precedent which now condones that behavior. But there's no evidence of that at all. You're speaking of a hypothetical event that hasn't happened and might never happen. And again, if the Bushies had been found innocent, it really WOULD create precedent for their actions.

And I'm strongly of the opinion that the feelings of seeing Bushies punished is where this argument comes from, while the logic points against it. Same goes for bailing out Wall Street or the Tax Deal from December: It totally sucks that we had to do it, but we really had no other choice.

Remember, emotions are the enemy of logic and can make you do things that are to your detriment.

As for the "Obama is repeating Bush crimes" thing, I don't have to read each blogger who says that to recognize lazy thinking when I see it. Every time I've seen such a thing, it's all about glazing over huge distinctions while focusing on superficial ones. And if you allow yourself to trust the people telling you this, you don't dig deeper into the claims and realize they're entirely baseless.

And so Obama is aa bad as Bush because he didn't pull out troops from Iraq immediately, even though he promised to pull out troops and has kept to his promised timeline. And because we might still have extraordinary rendition, it's just as bad as Bush doing it; even though it's a completely different policy that happens to be called the same thing. And Obama's Gitmo policy was just as bad as Bush's, even though Bush's involved cruel treatment and Obama's doesn't.

In each of these cases, there are HUGE distinctions separating Obama from Bush, yet Obama's detractors brush aside any such details and paint things in the broadest terms possible. And not only does that unjustly villify Obama, but it cheapens Bush's villiany.

For example, there was nothing inherently wrong with sending terror suspects to Gitmo. It was the ham-fisted way we decided who went there and what happened to them once they got there that was the problem. As long as Obama isn't rounding up innocent people and abusing them, he's not repeating Bush's Gitmo policy; lest we imagine that Bush's only crime was having a prison camp in Cuba.

Thus said, I'll try to remember to read that blog later today to see what they said when I have a chance, but I don't have high hopes.

Suzanne said...

I dislike Bush and Cheney as much as the next Democrat, but I think there would have been a total meltdown if President Obama had prosecuted them.

I do believe race was part of the fuel for the emotional reactions of the far right and Tea Party to President Obama's inauguration. They called him arrogant -- in other words "uppity." They said he was Hitler. That he was trying to tell people what to do, take away their rights. They brought guns to the health care meetings. It was an angry and violent time and that was over giving people health care that didn't have any let alone prosecuting a former president/vp.

Race wasn's all of it by any means. I remember when Kennedy was elected and he was also called the AntiChrist as Obama was and many of the same arguments were used against both of them.

I'm saying I can't even imagine the chaos if the President had gone after Bush and Cheney.

As far as passing legislation, the Senate was dysfunctional enough, but we didn't even have 60 in the Democratic caucus for a long time. Coleman was farting around trying to keep Al Franken from taking his seat. That beautiful soul, Senator Kennedy was terminally ill. We had to get Republicans on board to pass the stimulus and it was watered down to please them. The Blue Dogs and Lieberman were being obstructionists. The economy was tanking and we needed jobs and help and President Obama was the one that focused on that and on the good of this country.

I don't think morals are something we pick and choose. Is it moral to let people die of diseases or accidents because they don't have health insurance? To not be able to feed their children? Go live in misery and fear?

I could care less about Bush and even less than that about Cheney. I care about this country and thankfully, we have a man in the White House who cares about us, too.