Shouldn’t we at least ask the question?

January 23, 2009 at 9:16 am (Politics) (, , )

I started a post last week that I never actually finished.  I won’t post it as is, because there’s more I want to say, but here’s what I wrote last week:

If I am completely and totally honest with myself, I will admit that I would absolutely love to be vindictive towards the Bush administration.  I never supported anything that Bush did, and I think he and his party have done immeasurable damage to the United States.  It could take us decades to fully undo what he managed in just eight years.

But is it truly vindictive to expect that Obama will uphold the law?  Is it vindictive to say that I don’t want Bush et. al. to be pardoned for the sake of some mythical sense of harmony?  Is it vindictive that I think the only way we can prevent all of the Bush administration atrocities from happening again is by punishing everyone involved to the fullest extent of the law?

I hope to God that Obama listens to the people telling him that he can’t just sweep this one aside.  I really do think that the only way we, as a country, can repair the damage done is to acknowledge it, fully.  And to prosecute those who thought they were above the law.

This is the most important issue that Obama will face.  It encompasses everything from the war in Iraq to the plumetting economy.

Since writing that, I have been incredibly surprised to discover that I actually feel a small amount of pity towards George Bush.  I still think he deserves all the censure he’s getting now (and more), but let’s face it, his life sucks right now.  Just because it’s his own damn fault that it sucks doesn’t make me feel any less sorry for him.

One of the people I feel absolutely no pity for, however, is Karl Rove.  He apparently wrote something in the Wall Street Journal the other day, chastising President Obama for saying bad things about the Bush Administration’s policies.  He said it was poor form, after George Bush was so nice to him during the transition period.

We Americans have a pretty common problem these days, when it comes to social interaction.  We very often conflate morality with etiquette.  To give a simple definition, morality is about what is right, but etiquette is about what is acceptable to society.

Now, often, etiquette and morality overlap.  Many people consider it morally wrong to cheat on a significant other.  It is also generally considered impolite to force people to recognize your “bit on the side” while you’re still married to or dating someone else.  So the two sets of rules overlap for the public sphere, but not in the private one.  It is not rude to cheat on your significant other unless you make it public.  But that doesn’t stop it from being wrong.

So yes, George Bush was awfully polite to the Obama family as they made their transition into the White House.  But that hardly erases eight years of conduct that was, at the very best, misguided.  Anyone who thinks that three months of playing nice makes up for eight years of horrible policy decisions is seriously delusional.

And really, I think my ability to feel a little sorry for George Bush and some of the other people caught up in that administration is what makes me (and everyone else like me) so different from people like Karl Rove.  Rove didn’t have any empathy for the lives he was helping to destroy as he ushered in an era with some of the most divisive politics we’ve ever seen.  He had no regret for the fact that he caused a serious rift in this country for his own (and others) personal gain.  To go by one definition of it, he is evil because he is so purely selfish.  He doesn’t give a flip about the rest of the world.

To be completely frank, unless people like Karl Rove are actually punished, they will never regret what they’ve done, and they will take any opportunity they find to do it again.  Social disapproval means nothing to them, because they just don’t care about what other people think.

And this is why we must investigate the Bush Administration’s activities.  If we don’t want them to reemerge the next time we see a Republican president, we have to examine them and declare them wrong.  We didn’t do that after Reagan, and we paid the price for that oversight with Bush.  Otherwise, in 8 or 12 or 16 or however many years from now, will we truly be able to recognize what’s going on before it’s too late?

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