On Monday, one day before the historic swearing in of Barack Obama, News Hits sat in deep contemplation. That alone could be a first. But the usually self-righteous and self-assured keyboard tappers around here are also experiencing something else we're not accustomed to: trepidation.
For the past eight years, we could fire away at the occupant of the White House without fear of being terribly overmatched in terms of brainpower. Say what you want about Bush the Inferior, but our voluminous research has found no instance of anyone ever accusing him of possessing an intimidating intellect. As at least one observer noted of GB II upon his arrival in Washington, "Somewhere a village has lost its idiot."
On the other hand, even those who vehemently oppose Obama's policies don't dare question the loftiness of his IQ. Which leaves us pondering the question: "Who are we to second-guess this guy?"
Take, for instance, all the reaching-out that seems to be an intrinsic part of Obama's political nature. We look at his proposed cabinet appointees and see too many middle-of-the-road types that Republicans are completely comfortable with. As the International Herald Tribune recently reported, no less than John McCain himself has told colleagues that "many of these appointees he would have made himself."
What kind of change is that?
After eight years in the political wilderness, there's a part of us — a big part — that would like to see Obama do to the Republicans exactly what Bush did to the left: Jam programs and policies down the throats of your less-powerful opponents, because they might squirm and gag but they can't stop you. Just as we had to eat Bush's obscene tax cuts for the wealthiest as the national debt soared and the middle class and poor struggled more and more, we now want to see Obama use the strength of his victory and a Democratic majority in Congress to push through a left-wing agenda that doesn't bother with the niceties of bipartisan politics.
Our inner radical wants to scream, "Fuck compromise." Appoint Ralph Nader attorney general or secretary of labor and watch the criminals that occupy corporate boardrooms really sweat for once in their avaricious lives. That's a show we'd love watch. And then make Bobby Kennedy Jr. secretary of the interior or head of the EPA, so that the environmental rape that's been Bush policy will be reversed so fast the heads of those running coal companies and big lumber and Dow Chemical never stop spinning.
That's News Hits' version of a wet dream.
But, as we said, a rare case of self-doubt is boring its way through our gray matter. Maybe all the "Kumbaya" singing we're hearing is the surest way to get us to a better place, not just right now, but for a long time to come. After all, look at all the venom Bush's unrelenting "my way or the highway" approach engendered in people like us. And look at how long the talk of a permanent Republican majority actually lasted.
Perhaps Obama's eagerness to build bridges will help overcome the raw rancor of hard-line left vs. right, and create an atmosphere where progress won't be washed away in a retaliatory torrent of pent-up frustration.
There is, however, one area in which we believe that there is no room for compromise, and that involves the investigation and prosecution of criminal acts that have occurred at the highest levels of government over the past eight years.
We're talking about the officials who authorized the use of torture. Making them pay for their crimes is not about retribution — it's about demanding justice. For one thing, as another writer pointed out, there's no guarantee some of these same malevolent creeps won't be recycled through another administration at some point in the future if they're allowed to skate this time around. And then there's the way the rest of the world will judge us now that control of our government has finally been put into what are hoped to be more enlightened hands.
As New York Times columnist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman recently made clear:
"... if we don't have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama's remarks that we won't — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don't face any consequences if they abuse their power."
In a blog for Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald hammers the point home:
"While many Americans, especially American political elites, may be eager to overlook the implications of immunizing Bush officials for these crimes (as citizens typically are eager to avoid having their leaders branded as torturers and war criminals), it's rather difficult to understand how people think we're going to 'send a message to the world' about the restoration of American values as we deliberately protect the people who have systematically tortured ..."
Political compromise and moderation in an attempt to move us all forward together may be all well and good — to a point. We'll have to wait and see how much progress the Obama administration is able to make.
But when consensus building comes at the expense of commitment to core principles, then that point has been passed. And you don't need to be a genius to realize that.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]