a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Contra Reich

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 14th, 2006

Robert Reich lays out a case for caution in the American Prospect:

The 2008 Presidential campaign began yesterday. Whatever the Democrats do with their new-found congressional power over the next two years, it will be with the big 2008 prize in mind.

Some Democrats want to expose the malfeasance and nonfeasance of the Bush Administration — find out who really knew what and when with regard to weapons of mass destruction, Abu Graahb, Katrina, payoffs to Abramoff, and all the other rot. That’s understandable, but it would be far better if Democrats used their new-found power to lay out a new agenda for America.

Reich is ordinarily smarter than this, I think. First off, the 2008 Presidential campaign is not the be-all and end-all of Democratic aspirations. There is some work to be done and some respect to be re-earned right now by a party that has not acquitted itself very well as an opposition party in the Bush era — even when it had a Senate majority.

I’m all for concrete achievements first and foremost; raise the minimum wage, fix Medicare, fix the alternative minimum tax, render aid to the Gulf Coast, force an Iraq withdrawal plan on Bush, and (in my opinion) roll back corporate and upper income tax cuts. That way Democrats earn the mantle of a “can do” party to contrast with GOP fecklessness and incompetence.

But I’m not for setting up false dichotomies between “new agenda” and “investigations” as we do so, because if we don’t know exactly what went wrong, we can’t hope to fix it, either. That goes for Katrina and the New Orleans levees, that goes for the misuse and politicization of intelligence, that goes for the conduct of the war in Iraq, that goes for warrantless domestic surveillance and other abuses of executive power, that goes for torture and death in American custody.

There’s an even deeper reason to investigate and, when appropriate, apportion blame without fear or favor. It’s because we owe it not just to this electorate but to future electorates to draw a line in the sand wherever we can and say “this must not ever happen again”: torture, lawlessness, cronyism that costs lives. That’s not some kind of frivolous waste of time, that’s the solemn duty of newly elected and re-elected Representatives and Senators. We can’t afford to let cries and lies of “partisanship” get in the way of that, and Reich has not rendered his party, his country, or his ideals a service by arguing otherwise. He concludes,

That’s what the election of 2008, which started yesterday, ought to be about.

Possibly so — but this business of always looking to the next election overlooks our responsibility to this one. We ought to live up to the election of 2006 first, and then worry about 2008. That’s certainly what we owe the voters of 2006 — and I think it’s actually better politics as well.

NOTE: Reich via “Crooks and Liars.”
UPDATE, 11/14: I’m somewhat surprised to see I’m more in agreement with Peter Beinart on this than I am with Robert Reich.

3 Responses to “Contra Reich”

  1. anonymousgf Says:

    I too am opposed to false dichotomies. But I think Reich is closer to being right on this than you are.
    Normal oversight will expose some of the failures that were encouraged by having no oversight at all. It seems to me that there is no need for partisan emphasis on this. External reality exists. There is no need to be like Inspector Jarvet in Les Miserables.
    Or, somewhat more to the point, to be like that sleazy pornographer Kenneth Starr. I hope everyone who wants to see the President be impeached will remember how that whole Ken Starr thang worked out.
    Also, they have Hannity, Ingraham and–oh, what’s his name, the druggie who admitted he was a liar last week. We don’t have anything like that. We need to overcome that noise, stupid though it is. So we need to do things–or at least propose things–that are responsive to actual American needs. We need, in short, to use our “new-found power to lay out a new agenda for America,” as Reich says.
    So I agree with you when you say, “It’s because we owe it not just to this electorate but to future electorates to draw a line in the sand wherever we can and say ‘this must not ever happen again’: torture, lawlessness, cronyism that costs lives. That’s not some kind of frivolous waste of time, that’s the solemn duty of newly elected and re-elected Representatives and Senators.” I even added some emphasis to the part I really liked.
    But we can’t just lay blame for all these problems, we have to start fixing them.
    And we have to do it “without fear or favor”. So if a guy like Murtha has ethical problems in his past–well, we don’t have to dump him. He is a very credible spokesman for his point of view on the war (which I agree with!!!).
    But we don’t have to make him the majority leader either.

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    I guess we’d have to agree what constitutes “normal” oversight and what doesn’t. For example, Carl Levin once called for a commission to investigate torture and abuse of detainees, presumably because he figured the Armed Services Committee would never do it.
    In my view, Levin ought to now be willing to run a fair-minded inquiry into abuses at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Baghram, and elsewhere himself, and it’s perfectly appropriate and germane to the war in Iraq and the war (“war,” whatever) on terrorists in general to do so. That will involve uncovering just who ordered these things, and how they slipped the leash of international and US law to do so.
    Re Kenneth Starr: what didn’t work about that impeachment was that the charges were so patently trivial and/or entrapped. Bush’s transgressions are of a whole different order of magnitude, involving fundamental issues of rule of law, abuse of war power, and adherence to fundamental treaties like the Geneva Conventions. I continue to disagree with Pelosi and you (see comments at link) about “taking impeachment off the table.”
    I note also that arguing against impeachment seems to slide into arguing against (“abnormal”) oversight and investigations and vice versa; they are different things. Investigations could lay the groundwork for impeachment, but they don’t necessarily lead to it.
    Re Murtha: I don’t care that much. He deserves credit for putting himself out there about Iraq, he deserves discredit for his skating on thin ice in the Abscam business. I guess right now, if it were me, I’d support Hoyer for the optics and the (slightly) more liberal positions he takes, but I’d defend Murtha.
    [EDIT 11/15: link and related comments added, “I guess with” (you) deleted.]

  3. anonymousgf Says:

    I think Levin should investigate the conduct of the war. That’s appropriate.
    But I think if the goal is to impeach, the evidence will be found. I’ll go even further and say it wouldn’t surprise me if the evidence is easy to come by.
    But it’s a waste of our polical and intellectual capital to worry about impeachment. Do you think things are going to get better in Iraq? Do you think something will happen to vindicte their knuckleheadedness in any way?
    They were just a bunch of sloppy wishful thinkers. Let them stand exposed.
    Then, let’s hold an election.
    And at least you don’t have to defend…Trent Lott!

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