Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 3, 2009

BRODER'S CONCEPT OF CONSEQUENCES.... In his latest column, David Broder argues that he had "no problem" with Nixon's impeachment, and he was on board with removing Bill Clinton from office in 1998, but he regrets the fact that the Justice Department is looking into interrogation officials who allegedly broke the law and tortured detainees during the Bush/Cheney era.

[I]t is the first step on a legal trail that could lead to trials -- and that is what gives me pause.

Cheney is not wrong when he asserts that it is a dangerous precedent when a change in power in Washington leads a successor government not just to change the policies of its predecessors but to invoke the criminal justice system against them.

Actually, Cheney is wrong. The Justice Department has evidence of alleged criminal activity. Broder and Cheney may find that politically inconvenient, but unless the statute of limitations has run out, "acting within the confines of a Republican administration" is not yet a legitimate excuse for breaking the law.

Looming beyond the publicized cases of these relatively low-level operatives is the fundamental accountability question: What about those who approved of their actions? If accountability is the standard, then it should apply to the policymakers and not just to the underlings. Ultimately, do we want to see Cheney, who backed these actions and still does, standing in the dock?

So, let me see if I understand the point here. The Justice Department shouldn't pursue evidence of criminal activities because it might implicate someone else who may have also been involved in criminal activities. And that would be bad, because ... well, it just would.

In times like these, the understandable desire to enforce individual accountability must be weighed against the consequences. This country is facing so many huge challenges at home and abroad that the president cannot afford to be drawn into what would undoubtedly be a major, bitter partisan battle over prosecution of Bush-era officials. The cost to the country would simply be too great.

'Tis better, then, to ignore criminal wrongdoing, torture, and human rights abuses. Let's instead tell all executive branch employees that if they do something illegal, just wait until there's a change in administrations. It's not as if that might set a dangerous precedent.

Postscript: Broder argues in his column, "I had no problem with the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon." Actually, as J. Bradford DeLong noted a while back, Broder wrote a piece on July 10, 1974 -- just 30 days before Nixon quit in disgrace -- that not only suggested Broder had a problem with impeachment, but also raised the specter of a Republican resurgence in the 1974 midterm elections.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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"Ultimately, do we want to see Cheney, who backed these actions and still does, standing in the dock?"

Works for me.

Posted by: Jeff In Ohio on September 3, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

"Broder argues in his column, 'I had no problem with the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon.'
Actually... Broder wrote a piece on July 10, 1974 ... that... suggested Broder had a problem with impeachment
"

Broder being disingenuous about something?
That's unpossible!

Posted by: smartalek on September 3, 2009 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

I'm as sick and tired of David Broder as I am of Dick Cheney. I wish they'd just go away and feel pleased with and sorry for themselves together.

Posted by: K in VA on September 3, 2009 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Ultimately, do we want to see Cheney, who backed these actions and still does, standing in the dock?

This is what's known as "a good start."

Posted by: Jennifer on September 3, 2009 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

that dipshit, broder, ought to read whitehouse's opinion:

http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202433420756&Official_torture=&src=EMC-Email&et=editorial&bu=National%2520Law%2520Journal&pt&slreturn=1&hbxlogin=1


(and god damn dick cheney's shit-filled soul to hell.)

Posted by: neill on September 3, 2009 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

Jeff nailed it out of the box.

"Ultimately, do we want to see Cheney, who backed these actions and still does, standing in the dock?"

Uh, Yes? Yes, we do. Yes, we can.

Duh.

Posted by: Cal Gal on September 3, 2009 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

Laws are only for Democrats and little people.

Posted by: greg on September 3, 2009 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

bill clinton provides dishonest testimony regarding an irrelevant side issue in a phony civil suit and thuggish republicans turn that into the basis for an impeachment - this, david broder is fine with.

the bush administration illegally orders wiretapping and torture, and this, too, david broder is fine with.

what a jerk.

Posted by: howard on September 3, 2009 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

greg nailed it.

And I'm really glad that Steve reads David Broder so I don't have to. Because I wouldn't ever waste my time on his crappy opinions.

How has he kept his job for the last 75 years?

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on September 3, 2009 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

I am so glad to learn that, like Bush, Cheney and the rest of the Bush administration, corporate executives, operators of the financial industry, et al, I will not be made to suffer the consequences of anything I have done, whether deliberate or inadvertent.

Oh, what's that you say? That rule doesn't apply to me?

Why am I not surprised.

Posted by: karen marie on September 3, 2009 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe they should tie health reform to Cheney trials: if health reform doesn't pass and require implementation, Obama will have plenty of time on his hands to deal with trials of Cheney and co.

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on September 3, 2009 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Mr. Broder, we'll speak very slowly so you can understand.

We believe that laws were broken. You may not like the laws. But the executive (eggs-ECK-yoo-tiv) branch of the federal government (guv-ER-mint, if you find the quasi-silent N troubling) must enforce those laws, not break them.

There's no grey area here, nothing to negotiate, nothing political. If laws were broken, a crime was committed and it must be prosecuted. That's so simple that even David Broder should be able to understand it.

Posted by: Chocolate Thunder on September 3, 2009 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, Broder you contemptible git, it's bad for the country if we don't investigate and (perhaps)prosecute, because it sends the message that as long as an administration asserts an act to be legal (regardless of its actual legality), they won't face any future accountability for that act because it makes the Villagers sad and uncomfortable.

I thought guys like Border loved "rule of law."

Posted by: Doctor Whom on September 3, 2009 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Ultimately, do we want to see Cheney, who backed these actions and still does, standing in the dock?

I don't want to see him standing in the dock, I want to see him dangling from the noose, twisting slowly in the wind.

Posted by: TCinLA on September 3, 2009 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Broder writes:"-cannot afford to be drawn into what would undoubtedly be a major, bitter partisan battle over prosecution of Bush-era officials. The cost to the country would simply be too great."

And the Blowjob that Ate the Planet wasn't?

Posted by: DAY on September 3, 2009 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Broder sez:

In times like these, the understandable desire to enforce individual accountability must be weighed against the consequences. This country is facing so many huge challenges at home and abroad that the president cannot afford to be drawn into what would undoubtedly be a major, bitter partisan battle over prosecution of Bush-era officials. The cost to the country would simply be too great.

I think he has that backwards. Our desire to have some modicum of civility in civil discourse must be weighed against the consequences of doing nothing. Our silence now will only embolden the extreme right who have already taken over and probably destroyed one of our national parties. To not pursue those who violated the law under the highly partisan protection of the Cheney Administration would cost too much.

Posted by: majun on September 3, 2009 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

...when a change in power in Washington leads a successor government not just to change the policies of its predecessors but to invoke the criminal justice system against them.

No legitimate commentator would simply bring up the bare fact of invoking the CJ system, and not raise and even try to answer the question: well, did they break the law and so is it *right* for the CJ system to be "invoked." There may be extenuating circumstances, arguments this way and that, but it is legally and ethically correct to at least look into it and take some action as fair practice suggests. (Sorry TCinLA, I can't buy into going so far.)

Broder is not legitimate, as we have known for years.

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on September 3, 2009 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Yanno, people who talk professionally about politics are supposed to actually KNOW something about the subject.

That is, the idea is that their opinions are founded on deeper knowledge and broader experience than the rest of us, so that they describe what is happening now more deeply, and can predict what will happen, even as a set of contingent possibilities, more accurately than kibitzers.

So consider this: " Suppose there are few Republican defections and that enough Democrats cross the line to exonerate Mr. Nixon of every charge leveled against him by the Judiciary Committee in its expected bill of impeachment..." (Broder's column a few weeks before Nixon's resignation, which came BEFORE the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach Nixon.)

There are a couple ways to interpret Broder's point:

First, he said "suppose", so the whole thing might have been intended as a hypothetical, along the lines of 'hit a king, kill a king.' IF Democrats tried, but failed to impeach Nixon and remove him from office, Broder sorta kinda argued, then there might be a huge backlog against Democrats. (In fact, Nixon quit before he was thrown out, and Democrats gained 47 seats in the House in 1974, and the White House in 1976.)

Second, he might have been a mouthpiece for the last ditch effort of Republicans to protect Nixon (and themselves) from Nixon's crimes: Nixon hadn't yet been impeached, and they were struggling to force him to resign. So showing him, through Broder, that nobody (except, um, maybe Broder) believed in the "suppose the impeachment fails..." scenario, might have been the last nail in the lid.

Third, Broder might have really thought he was offering political insight -- that the case against Nixon really WAS "weak", that too few Republicans and not all the Democrats would have voted to impeach and send it to the Senate for a trial.

If it's the first, a hypothetical, than at a moment of national crisis the dean of American political writers was indulging in an extremely odd flight of fancy, on the order of magnitude of 'supposing a Republican administration committed crimes and lost an election, then a Democratic administration prosecuted those crimes, wouldn't that mean the crimes didn't happen...'

If it's the second, then it begs the question who is Broder serving as a mouthpiece for, now? After all, when Barry Goldwater went to Nixon at about the time Broder's column appeared, his message was blunt: the House will impeach you, then the Senate will convict you, and remove you from office: I'M going to vote to throw you out, Dick, so you'd better resign.

Which leaves the third -- that Broder really thought this was an insight that the public was ready, hell, needed to hear.

Take your pick -- bizarre fantasy, willing stooge, or utterly wrong: which one is most damning?

And bear in mind, commentary like this is how Broder GOT to be the dean of American political writers.

Posted by: theAmericanist on September 3, 2009 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Broder wrote a piece on July 10, 1974 -- just 30 days before Nixon quit in disgrace -- that not only suggested Broder had a problem with impeachment, but also raised the specter of a Republican resurgence in the 1974 midterm elections.

EVERYTHING David Broder has ever written has been WRONG. Back in February 1969, he was warning Democrats not to oppose Nixon on his war policies because Nixon had his finger "on the pulse of America" and the American people wouldn't countenance the Democrats doing such a thing. That's as far back as I was able to find a Broder opinion piece on Google.

There is NOT ONE of his opinion pieces that is not counseling Democrats to cave in to Republicans or something bad will happen to the Democrats. The man is no "centrist" and never has been one. He is, however, the perfect demonstration of the meaning of the term "lying sack of shit."

Posted by: TCinLA on September 3, 2009 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

David Broder: "I've been wrong so long it seems like right to me."

Posted by: BKJ on September 3, 2009 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

I'm virtually certain I heard George Will say this exact thing on Stephanopoulous Sunday. Will was against the investigation into CIA wrongdoing because it might lead "up the chain to Senior officials...".

Damn right it might (and better), George

I wasn't able to listen to Will expound on his thesis of leaving all the Senior officials alone because as soon as I realized Liz Cheney was at the table I was forced to turn off the show.

Posted by: ckelly on September 3, 2009 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Some day (in my wildest dreams), I wish someone would rip Broder a new asshole on national television. Not, "no, David, I have to disagree with you on that one," but more like "The fact that you would impeach a president for lying about a blowjob but let Bush/Cheney get a pass for authorizing torture is the most twisted, pathetic and dishonest views of what this country stands for and how it should function."

Posted by: bdop4 on September 3, 2009 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

What did he think of Iran/Contra?

Posted by: Boronx on September 3, 2009 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Hmmm...wonder what the cost to the country would be if we were to de facto legalize torture?

Why does David Broder hate freedom?

Posted by: Chesire11 on September 3, 2009 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Every Establishment wants to be "self-policing." That's what the Titans on Wall Street wanted when our deregulated and lawless economy crashed down around us. And that is what David Broder -- the "dean" of the Washington media establishment -- is arguing for here.

"Do we really want to see Dick Cheney stand at the dock?" asks Broder. My question is: Do we really want to see Rule of Law as the organizing and governing principle for this Republic destroyed because ruling elites like Broder think its better if the nation's leaders simply policed their own when they got out of line and kept the police out of it entirely.

It took the West thousands of years and many bloody civil wars in order to put legal and constitutional restraints around the arbitrary power of absolutist kings, emperors and dictators who governed according to whim and ancient notions of "divine right."

Sure, the idea of an incoming administration holding the previous one accountable for serious breaches of law isn't a pretty one. It would be messy. But does Broder have so little faith in our democracy that he believes upholding the law against trangressors in high office would inevitably lead to endless and bitter civil war and turn America into some banana republic in which elections ended not with the traditional congratulatory phone call between vanquished and victor but armed insurrection? Is that the low opinion that Broder now holds for America? Does he really think we have fallen so far?

Broder is engaging in his own version of Saddam-has-WMD-fear-mongering here. And the alternative is to concede that we are not a democratic republic at all, that arbitrary authority and not Rule of Law prevails, that we are not all equal before the law, that there really are men and women who stand above it if they somehow have captured political power, and that all of us are at the mercy of a permanent Inside the Beltway ruling elite that makes its own rules for its own kind.

That's a more frightening prospect for me than the idea of Dick Cheney made to stand at the dock to answer for his crimes in a court of law presided over by an impartial judge committed to upholding the Rule of Law.

Posted by: Ted Frier on September 3, 2009 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

I would ask why anyone even bothers to read Broder, but I suppose that since the dingbat wing does, someone else has to keep tabs on his dopiness.

Broder - verb (French) - to embroider, as in "Anything I say is so embroidered that it has lost any resemblance to reality."

Posted by: Texas Aggie on September 3, 2009 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Frankly, I think if there were trials and investigations of torture, healthcare would have much BETTER chance of passing. The Republicans would already be known to be in lockstep against,
so the Democrats could quietly go about the business of reforming it.

Posted by: catclub on September 3, 2009 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Boronx asks what Broder wrote about Iran/Contra:

His biggest contribution was that he was the columnist that the first President Bush chose to tell: "I was out of the loop", which remained his public position until, many months later, it became clear that Bush had in fact been in on several meetings in which the arms for hostages deal was discussed.

He also quoted a woman whom he interviewed in Michigan, after Oliver North's testimony, that people were ready to elect North President, as soon as he got out of jail.

The only column he devoted entirely to Nicaragua was in August 1987, if I remember right, in which he praised Reagan for finally turning to diplomacy rather than maintaing the contras, and to his Broder's belated credit, he DID call them "mercenaries". He used to write in passing that he was against the contras, but if he ever said WHY (or noticed that Reagan's diplomacy was intended to undercut efforts by Central Americans to settle their problems among themselves), it escaped my notice.

The thing is, there's a theme here: when Broder got his start as a columnist, he was arguing that those who attacked LBJ for lying about the war were "degrading" our public life. Now we KNOW, beyond any reasonable doubt, that those folks were right -- so who was degrading our public life, if not the officials who were lying and the press that was protecting them?


Posted by: theAmericanist on September 3, 2009 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

"I saw my boss groping the Honduran cleaning woman again, but if I say anything, he'll get mad and I might have to testify, and I just got the corner office, and he does throw a great Christmas party.
So it would be real bad for the country if I complain."

OR

It's Psycho-Republican time, like 2000. Give into them or they'll make the country ingovernable somehow.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on September 3, 2009 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, why bother talking about Broder? Honestly, does his position surprise you? Does it edify you? He deserves neither our eyeballs on his columns or a minute of our time on your blog.

Posted by: TuiMel on September 3, 2009 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

So according to Broder, it's ok for Obama to murder Broder?

Because when the police knocks to arrest Obama, he could say, "Go away, you're distracting me from the huge challenges at home and abroad"

Posted by: Ohioan on September 3, 2009 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

One of my favorite lines is "even as he gave Holder the authority to decide the question for himself."

Uh, Mr. Broder, that's not how the Department of Justice is supposed to work. It's an independent group responsible for enforcing the law. Prior to Bush, it didn't ask for permission to enforce the law. Asking for permission, or being told by the White House what you should do, is the vert definition of "politicizing" things.

Does he even read his columns before hitting the send button?

Posted by: MikeinDC on September 3, 2009 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Republics, Roman or otherwise, don't fall just because some political thug fixes an election, commits a felony, stages a coup, or sells his office to the highest bidder. They are doomed, however, when the ruling elite comes to see this as politics as usual.

We need investigations, jail terms, and lawbreakers punished. Whatever it takes.

Posted by: Midland on September 3, 2009 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

"In times like these, the understandable desire to enforce individual accountability must be weighed against the consequences."

Indeed we must -- including the consequences of establishing a clear cut precedent of an utter LACK of accountablity for a lawless administration that started an illegal war of aggression based entirely on a hoax THAT GOT A MILLION IRAQIS KILLED and involved illegal use of torture.

Moral cretins like Broder still haven't faced up to the monstrous crimes perpetrated by Bush, Cheney and their acolytes. We either have to hold the evildoers accountable or admit that we, as a nation, accept evil actions on the part of our democratically elected rulers and, hence, are in fact an evil nation.

Posted by: The Fool on September 3, 2009 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Chuck Todd will be taking over for Broder when the latter retires. Todd says the same things about this that Broder writes--that to look into the torture would just be too darn partisan and would be a distraction. Cable catnip.

Posted by: terraformer on September 3, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

The Dock! The Dock! The Dock!

We still say stuff like that? I mean, "the dock"? Sounds kind of British-ish.

OK, yes, I'd like to see the former Veep and his 'boss' with bright orange jumpsuits standing at the dock, or whatever. I'd love to have something to back me up when I try to say that 'nobody is above the law'. For years, that phrase has kind of stuck in my throat.

Posted by: Daniel Kim on September 3, 2009 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Last I looked, the criminal justice system wasn't being invoked against the policies of the past administration. So far, all I've heard about is prosecuting cases where people violated those policies by going beyond the (to my mind heinous) procedures they had approved. They are being prosecuted for NOT following the Cheney/Bush policies, not because of them. Silly Broder.

I wish the prosecutions would be the sort of thing Broder fears, but sadly, not even close, at least not yet. But Broder is so wrapped up in his nonsense that he can't even imaging the hordes of us out here who answer "Ultimately, do we want to see Cheney, who backed these actions and still does, standing in the dock?" with a rousing "YES! The sooner the better!"

As for precedent, future administrations who follow clear, black-letter law without resorting to radical interpretive sophistry have nothing to fear. Broder doesn't seem to realize that the idea that future administrations might hesitate to break the law is a feature, not a bug, of prosecuting these crimes.

Posted by: biggerbox on September 3, 2009 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK
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