Truth and Reconciliation

If a Democrat gets elected next year, he or she is going to have a terrible hand to play. The economy is likely to be in a slowdown, with the bad-housing-debt problem still looming. The foreign policy situation certainly isn’t going to get any better. And worst of all, the new President will be inheriting an office discredited, and a set of executive agencies ruined, by GWB and his fellow vandals.

Precisely because the Bushites have abused every conceivable executive-branch power, a new President’s every action will be subject to close scrutiny. (Digby makes this argument in detail.)

* Rove, Ashcroft, and Gonzales used the prosecution as a weapon against political adversaries; in the feeble minds of the Beltway chattering class (as prompted by the right-wing noise machine) that will make any attempt to prosecute the multiple crimes of the previous eight years look like political persecution.

* The Bushoids have shamelessly abused the merit system to purge honest civil servants and “burrow in” their crooked and incompetent allies, including all those Regent University Law School grads now in civil-service jobs at the Justice Department. Any attempt to undo that damage will be greeted with howls of protest about how the new President is abusing the merit system.

* All of the scientific advisory committees have been stacked with reactionaries and industry shills; any attempt to unstack them will bring charges that science is being further politicized.

It seems to me that the right first step is obvious. (It was obvious to Mark Schmitt before it became so to me). The new President should ask Congess to create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, empowered to subpoena records and witnesses, hold public hearings, and dismiss officials guilty of misconduct in office or appointed by improper means. And the Commission should have power to inquire into Congressional as well as Executive behavior, and to refer Congressional misconduct back to the Houses for appropriate disciplinary action. (That avoids the “speech and debate” problem.)

The key is using the criminal law only as a backstop: the Commission should be able to offer complete immunity from criminal prosecution for anyone who testifies fully and frankly, but impose complete liability for perjury or obstruction on anyone who fails to do so.

We don’t really want to see Dick Cheney’s ass in prison (well, part of me does, but not the better part of me); we want the wrongdoing of this crowd exposed and the civil servants they have “burrowed in” purged. We want a “lustration,” a de-Ba’athification. Appointing T&RC does that. If the Republicans in Congress want to vote against “an end to the politics of personal destruction,” they can be my guest.

If this gets raised in the campaign, the Republicans will get themselves dug in against it. I’d like to see at mentioned in President Obama’s Inaugural Address and proposed in detail in his first State of the Union message. And the fact that he would be more credible in proposing it than HRC is part of the reason I prefer him to her, both as a candidate and as a President.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: