Friday, December 12, 2008


Barack Obama forgave Joe Lieberman, who campaigned against him – even after Obama campaigned for Lieberman when he ran against the anti-war candidate Ned Lamont in 2006. Of far greater moment, Obama will forgive George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their minions – all of them manifestly culpable for war crimes, crimes against the peace and crimes against humanity. They ran a torture state for which they are totally unrepentant. Even so, there’s no chance they’ll be brought to justice; Obama will take that “off the table,” Pelosi style. There probably won’t even be anything like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That’s why we can expect that, under Obama, the Bush wars will continue – the one in Afghanistan will even intensify – and that nothing salutary will be learned from the experience. Obama’s forgiveness will be “preemptive” and total – no matter how stupendous the crimes or how loathsome the criminals. [Even now, with less than six weeks until we see the backs of them, Bush and Company are adding to their “legacy” with crimes against the environment – gutting the Endangered Species Act, for example -- while superintending the demise of American manufacturing.] Corporate criminals, the more egregious ones anyway, may not fare quite so well in the years to come. But don’t expect many of them to be brought to justice either.

Rod Blagojevich is another matter. He hasn’t killed anybody; he hasn’t even destroyed the livelihoods of large numbers of people – like Wall Street speculators or inept CEOs or, for that matter, the Republican Senators hell bent on union busting (and taking what’s left of America’s manufacturing down with them). To be sure, Blagojevich did join the long line of Illinois governors who have brought disgrace upon their office and shame to their state. He deserves to be removed from the governorship and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But what about the others! It offends even the most jaded sense of proportionality that they should get off scot-free, while even Obama, the Forgiver-in-Chief, cannot find it in his heart to feel anything more than unmitigated outrage to level against this one contemptible man.

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Even so, the Blagojevich affair may turn out to be Obama’s first misstep. In several news conferences, Obama has parsed his words carefully – Clinton-style. Given what he has said about the matter and the dangers of being caught in a lie, it is safe to assume that he really didn’t meet with Blagojevich to discuss his Senate seat, and that none of his “emissaries” did either. But it’s hard to believe that everyone associated with his campaign remained similarly aloof. Why would they? For that matter, why would Obama? Unless Obama and his team knew that Blagojevich was auctioning off the seat, in which case they would be at fault for not turning him in, why wouldn’t they discuss the successor issue with the one person with the authority to make the selection? There would be no impropriety in that. If there’s anything suspicious in the news coming out of Patrick Fitzgerald’s office, it’s Obama’s abstinence in the selection process. Would it not be odd if the Clintons are not discussing the future of the seat Hillary was parachuted into in New York with Governor Patterson? Wouldn’t it be appropriate for them to volunteer their views or for Patterson to seek them out? Why would it be different in Illinois? That’s the interesting question.

The answer could well be benign. It might be, for example, that Team Obama had Blagojevich on their “untouchables” list -- because they knew him to be generally corrupt. Or, unlikely as it seems, maybe they were just too busy doing other things – like finding unreconstructed Clintonites and Wall Street free-marketeers to appoint to take over “the commanding heights.” In any case, Obama would do well not to follow the Bill Clinton model so closely, especially if his hands are clean. Instead of speaking with lawyerly caution and protesting too much, he would be better off finding out what actually did happen between Blagojevich and Obama’s associates, including those with whom he’s only tenuously linked, if he doesn’t already know – and then telling all. As Obama surely knows, what gets politicians in trouble is not the crime (or, in this case, the appearance of impropriety); it’s the cover-up.

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