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The Bush Defense

Last night at a Cambridge dinner party, someone posited that the country would soon witness what she called “a Bush revival.” Another person at the table suggested that it had already begun. Now, 02138 would be just about the last zip code where such a phenomenon might be noticed. So I take this postulate seriously, very seriously.

But, frankly, I haven’t seen a single poll confirming this--although there may have been some. Moreover, anybody who is already dancing on the current administration’s burial ground should better reckon first with the fact that the president still has majority or plurality approval in most polls.


The Obami themselves have actually been defending themselves with what has to be called “the Bush defense.” Ever since the inauguration--and especially in military matters, where American strength is strained--they have made George W. Bush take the heat. And the truth is that he has taken it, and (in contrast to the former vice president) he has just kept quiet. It is probably his sense of honor that keeps him silent. Forgive me, dear reader, it is his sense of honor.

Now, however, the Obama folk have turned “the Bush defense” into a normative category. More or less like “we were only doing what the Bush administration was doing.”

Yesterday, the New York Times printed an editorial, “The Politics of Fear,” in which it takes Sen. Mitch McConnell to task for criticizing the Justice Department’s handling of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab after his arrest at the Detroit airport shortly after noon on Christmas Day. For this defense of the administration, it relies virtually entirely on the attorney general’s argument that the same procedures were used by Bush’s Department of Justice. These may have been exemplars of unvarnished justice. But the case of the shoe bomber or of Zacarias Moussaoui and many other such instances did not deter anyone, and deterrence is (or should be) one of the aims of true justice.

Holder’s use of the shabbily routine practices of the Bush administration is not what is required these days. We know that the reach of terrorism deepened over those eight years and that it has continued to deepen. On this matter, the Bushies are exemplars for nothing and no one. In any case, the prison on Guantanamo negates no one’s constitutional rights. In fact, no one on Guantanamo has constitutional rights. And, since Holder or Obama or whoever has decided that some terrorist suspects can be tried by military tribunals, why make a special case for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his cohorts? And, if a special case for civilian justice is made for them, why does it have to be in the lower bowels of Manhattan where no one wants it, where it poses a unique peril to civil and business life, and where it reawakens the tremors of 9/11 exactly at point zero?

Joe Klein, who has not been unkind to the peculiarities of the Obama administration, finally threw up his hands in what I have to say was nothing less than disgust at how it has manhandled and mishandled the intersect between terrorism and justice. I actually printed out this column, which I saw on Investor’s Business Daily. But I can’t for the life of me find it, neither in my own hard copy or on the Web. If anyone can locate it, I’d be indebted.

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