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.
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