Jan. 19th, 2010

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Follow up from Harper's on those Gitmo deaths.

I was musing on this yesterday, and -- here's the thing. Part of what made the years under Bush so very demoralizing was my conviction that institutions, given power, do not give it back; that is to say, the damage Bush did to our way of life seemed very likely to me to be permanent. A lot of people called me a cynic. At one point a good friend told me to stop channeling her anarchist husband (you know who you are). But I really couldn't see where I was wrong.

Obama was -- and I still believe this -- a best-case scenario for a follow-up to Bush. His civil liberties credentials were higher than most, certainly better than Gore's or Kerry's were, as he pushed for and got a significant victory for due process in Illinois, a corrupt state if I ever saw one; he came to power with a decently-sized mandate; his biography marks him as a man who thinks deeply, the most likely kind of man to care about the principle of a thing. And he's worked really hard to move the country in the direction that Democrats prefer... on most issues. But I can't help but notice, since January 22 of last year, the civil liberties issues have gone pretty much nowhere.

It's possible that he's just got other priorities, yes. I see why he'd want to put healthcare at the top of the agenda, especially with an ailing Kennedy at the helm, especially now that we see what happens when a Kennedy dies. "Events, my dear boy, events." I see why war is something where the slowest you can possibly be is reactive and most of the time that's too slow. I see why a collapsing economy would get your attention, and it should. I know all this.

But. But the government is big -- really goddamn big, the kind of big where I suspect any effort to map it on paper would risk creating a black hole -- and there is no reason he couldn't be paying a whole passel of brilliant young feds to work on these issues from the policy side while Congress and the military sort out healthcare, the economy, and the war. No reason, perhaps, but sheer self-interest.

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