Republicans are not Obama’s worst policy enemies. At least Obama knows that Republicans do not support Obama’s agenda. Democrats who are fixated on getting revenge on the Bush administration are Obama’s real problem, and are handing Republicans a policy gift by pushing hard for a congressional investigation and/or Justice Department prosecution of the authors of the Bush administration interrogation memos and those who relied on that legal advice.
Congressman Gerald Nadler has staked out the no-compromise position:
Nadler also dismissed the notion that the Obama Administration — which at first seemed determined to move rapidly beyond alleged Bush Administration crimes — could have controlled the torture story.
“I don’t think it is controllable. I don’t think it was ever controllable. The law is what the law is,” he said. “You’ve got to follow where the facts lead. They may very well wind up with Dick Cheney. They may wind up with Rumsfeld.”
Nadler is wrong. Obama could have controlled the story, if Obama had followed the advice of several former CIA Directors plus the advice of current CIA Director Leon Panetta (appointed by Obama) and not released the memos.
Previously, I have posted on Obama’s naive folly in releasing the memos, the baseless use of analogies to Nazi Germany by critics of the interrogation policies, and the unwillingness of such persons to identify which city they would be willing sacrifice in the name of moral absoluteness.
But with the new rush of demands to get Cheney and Rumsfeld, and to impeach Judge Jay Bybee (one of the authors), it also is becoming clear that Obama is at risk of losing control of his party. A decision among the liberal elites has been made. Getting Bush administration officials is more important than Obama’s agenda.
Obama recognizes that he cannot move closer to “one nation, one plan” nationalized health care and other holy grails if the nation is engaging in political self-flagellation in the form of hearings commanded by people, such as Nancy Pelosi, who approved of the tactics at issue. An any such hearings inevitably will turn toward Democratic complicity, fracturing the coalition Obama needs to push through controversial measures.
Obama also knows he cannot continue to open up to Cuba, Venezuela and Iran if the nation is consumed by arguments over whether Democrats are setting us up for another 9/11. National security is not, and never has been, a Democrat issue. Obama benefiting tremendously in the election from the fact that Iraq was off the political screen because of the success of the surge Obama had opposed.
Putting al–Qaeda and other threats back on the table is not what Obama wants. Obama needs large majorities in both houses of Congress, since he will lose some moderate Democrats on certain issues. Spending the next 18 months talking about national security, and 9/11, is the last thing Obama wants as a run up to the mid-term elections. Democratic plans to weaken national security through politicized hearings may be the one thing that can garner Republicans significant gains in 2010.
Obama won the Democrat nomination because he convinced enough people to put Obama ahead of the traditional party power structure in the form of the Clintons. It will be interesting to see if Obama can perform that trick a second time, by convincing Democrats, the mainstream media, and the left-wing blogosphere not to sacrifice Obama’s agenda over three al–Qaeda mass-murderers.
From a narrow, self-centered point of view, allowing Democrats to sidetrack Obama’s agenda would be an accomplishment Republicans could only hope for. But since the price will be diminished national security, Republicans cannot in good conscience acquiesce in the Democrats’ plans. As interesting as it would be to call Nancy Pelosi as a witness, the country comes first. If the hearings and investigations proceed over Republican objections, Republicans will have no choice but to expose Democratic hyperventilating hypocrisy for what it is, but Republicans should not wish too hard for the opportunity.
Will Democrats pull back and put Obama’s agenda before their desire to get even with George Bush? Don’t hold your breath.