Looking Forward By Looking Back, Part 2

When I wrote this post, I was not aware of this speech by Sen Sheldon Whitehouse (h/t Marc Ambinder):

Whitehouse: As We Look Forward We Must Also Look Back

I rise as we celebrate a new President, a new administration, a new mode of governing, and a new future for America. . . . President Obama looks to that future. Given the depth and severity of those predicaments, we need all his energy to look forward to lead us to that brighter day; forward to what Winston Churchill in Britain's dark days called those "broad and sunlit uplands."

[MORE . . .]

But, as we steer toward this broad and sunlit future, what about the past? As the President looks forward and charts a new course, must someone not also look back, to take an accounting of where we are, what was done, and what must now be repaired.

Our new President has said, "America needs to look forward." I agree. Our new Attorney-General designate has said, we should not criminalize policy differences. I agree. And I hope we can all agree that summoning young sacrificial lambs to prosecute, as we did after the Abu Ghraib disaster, would be reprehensible.

But consider the pervasive, deliberate, and systematic damage the Bush Administration did to America, to her finest traditions and institutions, to her reputation and integrity.

I evaluate that damage in history's light.

. . . But for the duration of our Republic, even though our Republic is admittedly imperfect, that light has shone more brightly and more steadily here in this Republic than in any place on earth: as we adopted the Constitution, the greatest achievement yet in human freedom; as boys and men bled out of shattered bodies into sodden fields at Antietam and Chicamagua, Shiloh and Gettysburg to expiate the sin of slavery; as we rebuilt shattered enemies, now friends, overseas and came home after winning world wars; and as we threw off bit by bit ancient shackles of race and gender to make this a more perfect union for all of us.

What made this bright and steady glow possible? What made it possible is not that we are better people, I believe, but that our system of government is government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Why else does our President take his oath to defend a Constitution of the United States of America? Our unique form of self-government is a blessing, and we hold it in trust; not just for us, but for our children and grandchildren down through history; not just for us, but as an example out through the world.

. . . We hold this unique gift in trust for the future and the world. Each generation assumes responsibility for this Republic and its government, and each generation takes on a special obligation when they do. Our new President closed his Inaugural Address by setting forth the challenge against which future generations will test us: whether "with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generation." There are no guarantees that we will - this is a continuing experiment we are embarked upon - and a lot is at stake; indeed, the most precious thing of man's creation on the face of the Earth is at stake. That is what I believe.

So from that perspective, what about the past? No one can deny that in the last eight years America's bright light has dimmed and flickered, darkening our country and darkening the world.

The price of that is incalculable. There are nearly 7 billion human souls on this world. Every morning, the sun rises anew over their villages and hamlets and barrios, and every day they can choose where to invest their hopes, their confidence, and their dreams.

I submit that when America's light shines brightly, when honesty, freedom, justice and compassion glow from our institutions, it attracts those hopes, those dreams; and the force of those 7 billion hopes and dreams, the confidence of those 7 billion souls in our lively experiment, is, I believe, the strongest power in our national arsenal - stronger than atom bombs. We risk it at our peril.

And of course when our own faith is diminished at home, this vital light only dims further, again at incalculable cost.

So when an administration rigs the intelligence process and produces false evidence to send our country to war;

When an administration descends to interrogation techniques of the Inquisition, of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge - descends to techniques that we have prosecuted as crimes in military tribunals and federal courts;

When institutions as noble as the Department of Justice and as vital as the Environmental Protection Agency are systematically and deliberately twisted from their missions by odious means of institutional sabotage;

When the integrity of our markets and the fiscal security of our budget are opened wide to the frenzied greed of corporations, speculators and contractors;

When the integrity of public officials; the warnings of science; the honesty of government procedures; and the careful historic balance of our separated powers of government, are all seen as obstacles to be overcome and not attributes to be celebrated;

When taxpayers are cheated, and the forces of government ride to the rescue of the cheaters and punish the whistleblowers;

When a government turns the guns of official secrecy against its own people to mislead, confuse and propagandize them;

When government ceases to even try to understand the complex topography of the difficult problems it is our very purpose and duty to solve, and instead cares only for these points where it intersects with the party ideology, so that the purpose of government becomes no longer to solve problems, but only to work them for political advantage;

In short, when you have pervasive infiltration into all the halls of government - judicial, legislative, and executive - of the most ignoble forms of influence; when you see systematic dismantling of historic processes and traditions of government that are the safeguards of our democracy; and when you have a bodyguard of lies, jargon, and propaganda emitted to fool and beguile the American people...

Well, something very serious in the history of our republic has gone wrong, something that dims the light of progress for all humanity.

As we look forward, as we begin the task of rebuilding this nation, we have an abiding duty to determine how great the damage is. I say this in no spirit of vindictiveness or revenge. I say it because the thing that was sullied is so, so precious; and I say it because the past bears upon the future. If people have been planted in government in violation of our civil service laws to serve their party and their ideology instead of serving the public, the past will bear upon the future. If procedures and institutions of government have been corrupted and are not put right, that past will assuredly bear on the future. In an ongoing enterprise like government, the door cannot be so conveniently closed on the closets of the past. The past always bears on the future.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Is that man a pol? (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Alien Abductee on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 05:51:24 PM EST
    I think I detect a principle or two in that speech...

    He's Senator for life (none / 0) (#2)
    by andgarden on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 05:54:32 PM EST
    which is almost as good.

    If there have to be (none / 0) (#3)
    by Alien Abductee on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 06:10:18 PM EST
    senators for life we might as well have one like that.

    BTW, I'm reading The Secret Lives of Citizens by Thomas Geoghegan, who's running for Rahm's seat. Now there's someone with an interesting take on the senate - basically, it's the root of all evil.


    The Senate sucks (none / 0) (#4)
    by andgarden on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 06:14:47 PM EST
    If the seats could be fairly apportioned, it might be an interesting institution. As it stands, it's an atrocity of Democracy.

    Pretty much Geoghegan's take too (none / 0) (#5)
    by Alien Abductee on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 06:35:12 PM EST
    He points out for instance how 10% of the population can block legislation supported by 90% if senators from the smallest states all happen to line up together on the same side of an issue. Without weighting it's utterly undemocratic.

    The south used it (none / 0) (#6)
    by andgarden on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 06:43:40 PM EST
    to keep a lock on America for ages.

    Wimps (5.00 / 1) (#26)
    by mmc9431 on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 09:23:56 AM EST
    But I'm still wondering why this only seems to work against Democrats! Look at the damage Bush was able to do. We couldn't muster enough support to derail any of this mess?

    Except (none / 0) (#25)
    by jbindc on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 08:04:15 AM EST
    That's exactly why the Founding Fathers set the Senate up that way - so each state has equal representation, and if that means 10% gets to block things, then that's the way it goes.

    Same principal as in our voting - why can POTUS get elected by winning a few major cities and losing entire states?


    Because elected officials should represent people, (none / 0) (#27)
    by andgarden on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 09:42:40 AM EST
    not trees. It's a fundamental principle of democratic government. We should not have rotten boroughs in 21st century American.  

    That's what the House is for (none / 0) (#28)
    by blogtopus on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 12:33:12 PM EST
    It's a balancing act. The House is representative, the Senate is something else altogether, but apparently it was something the founders found necessary, no?

    The Senate is probably there as a check against tyranny of the majority. The fact that it isn't representative and yet has the same amount of say as the House speaks volumes towards this possibility.


    None of the decisions made by the framers (none / 0) (#31)
    by andgarden on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 03:10:50 PM EST
    should be unreviewable. Just because you can come up with a justification for why they created the Senate doesn't mean that it's a sufficient reason to keep it. You say that the Senate preserves minority power, and it does. But only certain kinds of minorities (mostly rural white people in small states).

    The reason we won't get rid of the Senate today has nothing to do with whether it's a good idea or not.


    I've come to appreciate the dynamic (none / 0) (#32)
    by Alien Abductee on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 03:30:02 PM EST
    of the unelected Canadian senate and why it's conservatives who are pushing to make it elected. As it stands it isn't taken seriously as a democratic institution because members are appointed and therefore it functions simply as a rubber stamp for the proportionally elected House. But it is there to save the day with "sober second sight" in times of crisis, and has done so.

    It would be more democratic (none / 0) (#33)
    by Alien Abductee on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 03:31:34 PM EST
    if population were evenly spread among the states, which was more the case at the founding. It's supposed to keep regions from being exploited by the rest of the country, not to let them hold up the rest of the country completely undemocratically.

    It was a compromise (none / 0) (#34)
    by andgarden on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 03:42:16 PM EST
    between the small states and the large states. However, the distortions have grown over the years, and the ill-effects have long been apparent.

    He's the junior senator (none / 0) (#22)
    by weltec2 on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 10:52:05 PM EST
    from Rhode Island.

    What a great speech. (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by Maryb2004 on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 06:52:11 PM EST
    Especially the reminder that this is all a great experiment and there is no assurance of success.

    I especially liked the Declaration of Independence-like list of grievances.  Let's hope someone listens to him.

    It's an experiment alright (5.00 / 3) (#10)
    by SOS on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 07:00:03 PM EST
    And we've been the crash test dummies.

    From Reagan on, (5.00 / 6) (#9)
    by SOS on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 06:55:20 PM EST
    the Republicans who have run our country have lectured the rest of us about taking responsibility for our own lives and actions, their code for cutting social programs, while they have been the slipperiest, sleaziest, most clandestine, least accountable bunch to come down the pike and the most successful, through war and corruption, at feeding at the public trough. We will be stuck with the bill for their anti-American malfeasance for generations

    That's a lot of truth (none / 0) (#30)
    by sj on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 02:26:57 PM EST
    in a few short lines.

    Obama took a look back (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by lentinel on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 07:01:32 PM EST
    at Bush's foreign policy and didn't think it was all that bad.

    Today, he continued Bush's illegal and pointless policy of sending drones into Pakistan to drop bombs on "suspected" terrorists. Three children were killed in the process.

    Is this the future we have to look forward to?
    More years of not being able to look in the mirror?

    What about Obama's inaugural speech wherein he addressed, "...those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents..."?

    As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

    Doesn't help that (5.00 / 3) (#12)
    by SOS on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 07:06:15 PM EST
    the people in the media have internalized the process so thoroughly they do not even know they are mere mindless cogs in a larger and ominous corporate/state machine either.

    Maybe (none / 0) (#13)
    by SOS on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 07:09:11 PM EST
    this is what he meant when he said "shovel ready jobs".

    Bush only (none / 0) (#23)
    by JThomas on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 11:25:08 PM EST
    recently started strikes into Pakistan.
    Obama said he would do this during the campaign and Bush mocked him for it.
    Obama is following thru on his promise to go after AQ where they live.
    Bhutto's husband is on board with these strikes.
    This is a message to Bin Laden...Obama meant what he said when he talked during the campaign of having actionable intel and then striking. He has the thumbs up from Pakistan.

    Hopefully, it took out Bin Laden.


    Bottom line (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by lentinel on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 05:37:51 AM EST
    I don't believe in sending unmanned drone planes into Pakistan or anywhere, dropping bombs on areas where we think there may be a terrorist. This continuously results in the killing of civilians. When I read of the children being killed, I feel infuriated.

    Bush believed in this kind of exercise.
    This kind of killing didn't bother him.

    Now, the same can be said of Obama.

    My hope for a new administration had as its focus a change in our behavior towards other people.

    To give credence to "actionable intel" is laughable. Haven't we learned that? It is a rationalization for this criminal behavior.

    Your sentence about "sending a message to Bin Laden" is chilling.
    You don't kill some innocent soul's child in order to send a message to someone. This is the mentality of a terrorist.
    A terrorist rationalizes the killing of civilians by saying that it is sending a message.

    The fact is that in the eyes of those who wish us harm, it is we that are the ones seekng  "to advance (our) aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents..."

    You would probably accuse me of being a leftist out to "blame America". But the truth is that our behavior has consequences.

    And even if they didn't, I had higher hopes for the standard of morality that would be expressed by the incoming administration. But it is just another one where I have to hold my nose and avert my eyes because I am powerless to change their soul-deadening behavior.


    Video of speech (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by lobary on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 07:12:08 PM EST
    I watched this speech earlier today (h/t to lambert) and was so moved by Whitehouse's eloquence that I did something I rarely do--I emailed friends and family the text and the video link.

    If anyone here cares to watch it, here ya go...


    Plus we're stuck with Pelosi, Reid, (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by SOS on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 07:12:25 PM EST
    etc etc.

    He was consistently a great questioner (5.00 / 2) (#18)
    by ruffian on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 07:58:42 PM EST
    in the justice department hearings. He knew exactly what was being uncovered, and he refuses to forget it ever happened. How could anyone with a conscience do so? I hope he gets the support and cooperation he needs to investigate all of the hirings of career justice department employees - the ones Monica Goodling gave her 'loyal Bushie' blessing. If there is any legal way to make sure they are not politicizing their jobs, we have to do so.

    If there is a reluctance to look back at (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by Anne on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 09:16:36 PM EST
    what the Bush administration did wrong, if there is a reluctance to engage in fact-finding with an eye toward prosecutions, if there is a reluctance to point fingers, then the answer is that "steps" need to be taken, in the form of legislation and executive orders, that will light the path ahead - what is permissible, what is not - where the lines are and what the consequences are for crossing them.

    Sure, I would love to see Bush and Cheney and Addington and Yoo and Libby and Mukasey and Gonzales and the rest of them pay a price for what they have done, but...I also would like it to be proclaimed, in crisp, black-and-white, concise and unambiguous language, what the rules are - since the creativity of evil minds took every possible liberty with what I used to think was clear language.

    Draw the line.  Establish who we are from this point forward.  Accept no excuses for the actions of the past.  Reject the precedents of the last eight years.  Understand that the appointment of federal judges - and Supreme Court justices - may never be as important as it is now.

    In a perfect world, with all the time in the world, I would put Bush and his minions on trial; but since the world is far from perfect, I could live with a legislated commitment to a higher standard from this point forward.

    They shouldn't be allowed to walk (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by mmc9431 on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 09:35:07 PM EST
    Didn't we try that approach after Nixon? It didn't last. I think the only way of stopping the abuse of power is to go after them full force. Looking at the list of grievances in the speech, I can't see how we can let them walk away from accountability.

    I don't want them to walk, either. (5.00 / 2) (#21)
    by Anne on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 09:59:30 PM EST
    I was as strong a proponent of impeachment as anyone, not just to hold these people accountable, but to draw an indelible line that separated what is permissible from what is not.  I thought it would check the extent of executive power, power that has grown exponentially - and dangerously - under Bush.

    No one who could have started impeachment proceedings had the stomach or the courage for it, so it was allowed to die.

    And what does that leave?  Criminal prosecution, I guess.  Which would be just fine with me.

    My hope is that in establishing where we are headed, it will be impossible to ignore where we have been, but I still am not sure that there is the spine or the stomach in the Demcoratic caucus for the kind of accountability we really need.  I think the GOP argues - probably successfully - that the more we get bogged down in what will be framed as "revenge" on the Bush administration, the less time and energy we have to spend on the kitchen table issues that are keeping Americans up at night - the economy, jobs, health care, education, security.

    At an absolute minimum, I think it is imperative that we re-establish the rules; we will be lucky to get even that; look at the spate of media reports on the "dangers" of closing Gitmo - there is already a meme developing that the Bush administration will have to be excused for the liberties they took because all they were trying to do was keep us safe.

    I'd like to see them all on the witness stand, tried and convicted and sentenced to years of confinement - and that might be too good for them.


    It was bad enough (none / 0) (#7)
    by SOS on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 06:48:58 PM EST
    driving pedal to the metal while looking in the rear view mirror this past 8 years not sure looking back is going to help.

    The key is can he get us (none / 0) (#16)
    by SOS on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 07:15:20 PM EST
    all off our lazy butts with our exaggerated sense of self-entitlement.

    Heck we've living green since the (none / 0) (#17)
    by SOS on Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 07:23:29 PM EST
    70's and now we're being told it's new?


    Letting those crooks off the hook (none / 0) (#29)
    by blogtopus on Sat Jan 24, 2009 at 12:37:14 PM EST
    should be as serious a crime as having done the crime yourself. I mean, isn't it considered a crime to know where an escaped serial murderer is hiding and not tell the authorities? Aiding and Abetting?

    Not out of revenge, but of prevention. It isn't considered revenge to get a malignant tumor removed is it?