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The Past Continues to Haunt Obama

In his speech (video and remarks prepared for delivery) on anti-terrorism policy this morning, President Obama once again insisted that he has no interest in “re-litigating” the policies of the Bush administration. That’s some questionable word choice, especially since many of his allies on the left -- to whom the speech was aimed -- would say that lots of people who deserve to be haven’t been litigated a first time yet. And Obama’s desire to avoid “re-litigating” also appears to include skepticism of a non-criminal though nonetheless distracting “truth commission,” which is confusing on lexical if not policy grounds.

But Obama’s argument against such wider investigations came with a notable -- and, as far as I can tell, off-the-cuff -- caveat: “I’ll leave that to others.” I suppose he could mean he will let future presidents reconsider his stance. Or that he will let the lawyers at Justice to their work without his interference. But it might also indicate a subtle softening of his position against a truth commission. He might have no interest in delving into the Bush years, but Democrats in Congress -- and, it seems, some Republicans now -- certainly do. And he might not be willing to stop them.

Near the end of his speech, Obama returned to the issue: “I recognize that many still have a strong desire to focus on the past,” he said. Some have called “for a fuller accounting, perhaps through an independent commission.” The president insisted that existing institutions in Congress, the courts and the Justice Department could take care of any accounting that needed to be performed. And he argued that a truth commission would divert the country’s attention away from forward-looking policymaking to political point scoring.

But the tone was that of a leader swimming against pretty strong political currents. Perhaps the president is recognizing he might have to put up with some kind of congressionally-sponsored inquiry. Or perhaps E.J. Dionne swayed him a little this morning.

By Stephen Stromberg  | May 21, 2009; 1:20 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Next: The Contradiction in Obama's Speech


I'm an American with no power or fame. What I see is a former administration (Cheney) still talking. Half the people I know are unemployed and losing their homes. (we were the middle class) As I take my Mother to Walter Reed Army Medical, I see our children without hands, legs,feet and other body parts
missing. Cheney & Bush did this. This country seems to forget who put us here. And you are still listening to this hate fill man. He's wealthy,KBR and Halliburton made sure of that. (All their contracts are military) Don't forget when Cheney's company was charging the military a $120 for a case of soda in Iraq while he was Vice President.And you are still listening to this wicked-evil person.

Posted by: lindarc | May 21, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Another really - really bad day for Baracky Hussein Obama and the DEMOCRUDS.

Posted by: hclark1 | May 21, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

VP Dick had the worst approval rating for any public official... ever. He hovered around 11-13% positive approval for most of Little Bushie's second term. SO -- why does he now have the Bully Pulpit? Why is the media hanging on his every devilish word?

Every policy he was involved with turned out to be a manifest failure. He failed on 9/11 [whether or not he was complicit in the attacks is still an open question]; he failed to stop the anthrax attacks [whispers of his advance knowledge are still out there]; his secretive energy policy group resulted in record gas/oil prices which crippled our nation; he made up intel to lie about the Iraq War; he directed his underlings to "out" Valerie Plame; etc.

Dick was a Draft Dodger and is sitting on a huge deferred compensation package from Halliburton that was awarded billions of dollars in no-bid contracts in the Iraq & Afghanistan War.

This man is despicable and I've already given him too much room in these comments.

Posted by: winoohno | May 21, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

The past continues to haunt the media of today and not Obama who is trying to move forward. Most Americans are looking beyond the press to Obama and have faith in what he says and does -- the path is forward -- why has the news corps given so much relevance to Cheney -- "never let yesterday, use up today."

Posted by: paulet | May 21, 2009 6:16 PM | Report abuse

"Moving forward" is the refuge of all past, present, and future scoundrels.

Posted by: CypressTree | May 21, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Presidents don't like to give up executive power - and the general rule is - don't mess with previous administrations. If Obama indulges in the urge to let anyone go to jail, there might be repurcussions in the future against him.

One campaign promise Obama appears to be renegging on are his promises to Latinos to get elected. Without their vote he would not be in the oval office. To engage in a war against undocumented workers is unwise.

America has a fertility problem. Without immigrants we would have fertility problems in the US. Mexican women have more babies than the Anglos and Blacks, and the ones born here are citizens. For adequate replacement, families need to have at least 3 kids.

It is foolish to kick out undocumented workers, because their children will be paying your Social Security.

Posted by: alance | May 21, 2009 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Great Article! KEEP IT UP!

Posted by: SUFFER-FREEDOM | May 21, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps a 'Truth' Commission could spend a little time looking into the past of Mr. Obama. That would be a vastly more interesting journey.

Posted by: DarkMatter | May 23, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

The Problem: Obama is indecisive and lacks leadership skills.
What in the hell does he mean by “I’ll leave that to others.”????
Has he realized yet that he is the President and head of the Democratic Party?
He should put an END to this waste of time and energy.
This will never end unless HE ends it. NOW.
Obama should tell everyone - Congress, the Justice Department, the media, his supporters - that we have wasted far too much time with this already.
And he can start with HIMSELF.
Stop pointing fingers at others.
Roll up his sleeves and get to work.
That's what he was elected to do.

Posted by: parkbench | May 23, 2009 6:25 PM | Report abuse

You can put the man's Achilles heel in 3 easy points.

1. He's all for the rule of law. He said so standing in front of the Constitution the other day, and he's a constitutional lawyer.

2. The law is entirely, 100%, about the punishment of crimes committed in the past. The only thing a court of law ever does is look back to the past.

3. But he'd like to look pragmatically to the future and not vindictively to the past. What does that mean? Instead of prosecuting the crimes of the past administration he wants to punish people convicted of no crime for what he fears they may do in the future.

You can buy #1. You can buy #3. But you can't buy them both. Now, even more than during the election, the man needs our help.

Posted by: voss | May 24, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

As an a once very strong Obama supporter, it is so dis-heartning that he seemingly has so little regard for the rule of law. The bloom is certainly off the rose now. I don't know what he considers to be his main concern right now, but if he is the Constitutional scholar he is thought to be, he surely knows that the single most important job of a president is to uphold the rule of law. If he does not do that, he will make this Republic a-nothing-special nation. If civilized human beings have a history, he will be judged harshly for having not upheld the rule of law.

Posted by: anders1 | May 25, 2009 8:02 AM | Report abuse

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