Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The People's Job is to Hold Government Accountable

I just want to respond briefly to some attitudes I have been seeing a lot lately among fellow Democrats. I'm talking about "don't criticize Obama, especially before he gets into office," and "we need to move forward, not punish the Bush administration." I believe both these attitudes are wrong.

I haven't been blogging a lot, but whenever I do, I keep seeing people expressing one or both of these sentiments. Most recently, I saw it in some of the comments on a piece written by actor John Cusack on Huffington Post. Mr. Cusack proposes two questions to be asked of AG nominee Eric Holder during his confirmation process: 1. Is waterboarding torture? 2. (Paraphrasing here) Given that the correct response to question number 1 is Yes, what is Mr. Holder going to do to see that the parties responsible for condoning torture in the Bush administration are prosecuted? I heartily agree with his essay. We do need to stop torture, and the war criminals in the Bush administration need to be punished.

Now, many of the commenters on that piece gave variations of the two attitudes I described: "don't criticize Obama" or "we need to move forward." Here's why I think they're wrong:

Punishing members of the Bush administration for their crimes isn't really about looking backwards or being punitive. There are elements of that, but it's really about upholding justice and the rule of law. If Bush and Cheney get away with their crimes, what will prevent the next leader who thinks he or she is above the law from doing the same or worse? The founding fathers of the United States envisioned a government that was accountable to the people. What's more, they envisioned the people taking an active role in holding the government accountable. It's the only way our system works. Without that, a crucial piece of our system of government is missing. The people are supposed to be the ultimate check on abuse of power.

Here's where the second attitude that I'm objecting to comes in: "Fellow Democrats shouldn't criticize Obama." Say what? This is the same attitude Republicans tried to enforce about Bush. Don't criticize the President. Baloney. Democrats that have this "party loyalty uber alles" attitude have been objecting to progressives trying to push Obama to the left, or basically anyone who expects him to do anything that might inconvenience him. Again, I say baloney. Being President isn't supposed to be easy or convenient. He is supposed to be answerable to the people. We the people are supposed to be telling him what we expect of him and holding him accountable.

If he's not doing enough to investigate and prosecute Bush administration crimes, we need to let him know. If he's not doing enough to fight off economic depression by working from the bottom up, we need to let him know that too --- as some members of the Senate, such as Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, did recently (and were criticized for it by Obama loyalists). Democrats, progressives, liberals, our job to hold government accountable doesn't stop when people we elected are in power. Kudos to those who know this. To those who don't: get used to it.

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