Profiles In Courage, Tweety Edition

Only three years ago, Chris Matthews announced that the only Americans who didn't like the President were "real whack-jobs, maybe on the left."

But finally, on the eve of Bush's departure, Matthews finally summons the gumption to criticize our commander-in-chief.

The bravery!

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Guantanamo to Sing Fat Lady Song

Watching 24 definitely makes you think about the morality of torture in a fictional world. But as a liberal in the real world, is it possible to enjoy 24 despite its implicit support for terrorism? This week's season 7 premier proves the answer to be yes, but AmericaBlog asks this difficult question.

Wherever you land on that important issue, it is difficult to deny that by far the most horrendous legacy of President Bush's two terms is the torture at Guantanamo Bay that was not only approved by the President, but became de-facto law. AmericaBlog reports that Obama will announce his plans to close Guantanamo after he is inaugurated on January 20. This does not mean that the detention facility will close immediately. President-elect Obama has already said that it could take a year to finalize the end of Guantanamo Bay because of the deeply complicated nature of international law and the difficulty of placing the 250 terrorist suspects, many of whom have not been charged with any crime, in an appropriate setting.

Although it is not soon enough, this is an extremely encouraging development that says a lot about the Obama administration. First, the United States no longer supports torture. Throughout the campaign I was surprised by how few times Obama, Biden or other democratic surrogates mentioned torture. Under the leadership of George W. Bush, this country that has stood as a beacon and freedom for so many across the world for hundreds of years, embraced torture as national policy. The reality of that is both terrifying and deeply sad. Though closing Guantanamo Bay does not make up for that, it shows that we are at least willing to admit this error and attempt to rebrand our moral image.

It will be interesting to see how Obama closes the detention facility. Back in November, the newly elected Obama unveiled plans to pursue out-of-the-box methods of prosecuting terrorists. They endorsed a "hybrid approach" which would combine necessary aspects of military courts with the liberties associated with civilian courts. As I wrote back in November, Republicans oppose this approach because it could bring terrorist suspects to US soil, and Democrats are weary about it because these suspects would not receive all the rights guaranteed for American citizens. For that reason, the plan is constitutionally unstable and, if implemented, would probably require the Supreme Court's attention.

The closing of Guantanamo Bay also indicates, as AmericaBlog writes, "that Team Obama is starting to realize that it needs to reach out to the left, and not just the right." This is the third issue that surfaced in the past few days on which Obama has made statements that satisfied the liberal base of the Democratic party.

But the meaning of closing Guantanamo Bay seriously transcends politics. It shows that Obama might make good on the hope that he inspired during his campaign to begin a process that re instills pride in our country.

In an interview with The Atlantic this week, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the internationally acclaimed peace activist, spoke of his disappointment that the United States now uses torture.

He must close Guantanamo Bay immediately. That must be one of the first things he does. You know, for someone who comes from South Africa, it is one of the greatest letdowns I've ever experienced that America, Britain, whom we had regarded as--I mean, they were our starlode. Or is it lodestar?

Hoo hoo! Yes, our lodestar. These countries were so insistent in the days of apartheid. When we had detention without trial in South Africa, they condemned it out of hand. I mean, it is one of the greatest letdowns that these countries should, without batting an eyelid, be using the same arguments that were used by the apartheid government. You feel so, so despondent.

Three Steps Foward

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Historian Dr. Laura Bush: "My husband did NOT suck!"

Filed under "stand by your man."

According to an AP report this morning, Laura Bush was a guest on FOX News Sunday, where she responded to criticism that George's reign was an abysmal failure as follows:

In an interview aired Sunday on Fox News Sunday, Mrs. Bush says she knows her husband's eight years in office was not a failure, and says she doesn't feel as if she needs to respond to people who view it that way.

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What Democrats should learn from this year's Congressional voting patterns

Thanks to Iowa blogger John Deeth, I learned that Iowa's own Senator Tom Harkin

voted against George Bush's declared position more than any other senator in 2008, according to Congressional Quarterly vote scores. Harkin opposed Bush's position 75 percent of the time.

More important, Congressional Quarterly has released its annual rankings of members' votes. Richard Rubin's write-up is here, and there's a link on that page to the pdf file you can use to find how often each member of Congress voted with Bush and voted with his or her own party.

Rubin gives the main conclusions:

Bush's side prevailed on just 47.8 percent of roll call votes in 2008 where he took a clear position. That is the eighth-lowest score in the 56-year history of the survey, although it was higher than Bush's 38.3 percent success rate in 2007. Congress forced him to accept a farm bill and Medicare doctor-payment changes he didn't want, and lawmakers challenged him repeatedly on issues from tobacco regulation to infrastructure spending.

Moderate Republicans fled from the president as the election neared, and the average House Republican supported Bush just 64 percent of the time. That's down 8 percentage points from a year ago and the lowest for a president's party since 1990, midway through Bush's father's term in the White House. His average support score of 70 percent among GOP senators was also the lowest for a president's party since 1990.

As in 2007, Democrats voted with Bush far less often than they had when the Republicans were in charge and could set the agenda. House Democrats voted with Bush just 16 percent of the time on average -- above their 2007 support score of 7 percent but still the second lowest for any president. Democratic senators joined Bush on 34 percent of roll call votes, down from their average support score of 37 percent a year ago. [...]

At the same time, despite his political weakness, Democratic control of Congress and frequent defeats, Bush got his way on some of the biggest issues of the year.

Playing offense, the administration secured more money for his effort to fight AIDS globally and cemented a nuclear-cooperation deal with India. But Bush scored most often with blocking tactics, using threatened vetoes and the Senate filibuster to avoid significant changes to his Iraq policies, major restrictions on intelligence- gathering tactics, and removal of tax breaks for oil and gas companies. He was a resilient pinata, losing plenty of votes along the way but remaining the biggest obstacle to the Democrats' ability to turn their campaign agenda into law.

I see two lessons for Democrats here. First, Barack Obama should understand that driving a very hard bargain with Congress often pays off. You don't have to back down at the first sign of serious opposition. If even an extremely unpopular president was able to do reasonably well with a Congress controlled by the other party, a new president who is quite popular like Obama should be able to get most of what he wants from a Congress controlled by his own party.

If any of Obama's proposals fail the first year, he should consider trying again later without watering them down. Bush wasn't able to get everything he wanted out of the Republican-controlled Congress during his first year or two, but he kept at it and was able to get much of his agenda through eventually. Many tax cuts not included in the 2001 package got through in later years. He didn't get the energy bill he wanted until 2005.

The second lesson is for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It's long past time to start making the Republicans pay a price for using the filibuster. Otherwise they will continue to use it routinely to block Obama's agenda.

Nate Silver recently looked at how Republicans have used the filibuster since Democrats gained the majority in Congress. He concluded that Reid "has been exceptionally ineffective":

There are basically two mechanisms that a majority leader can employ to limit filibusters: firstly, he can threaten to block votes on certain of the opposition party's legislation (or alternatively, present carrots to them for allowing a vote to proceed), and secondly, he can publicly shame them. Reid managed to do neither, and the Senate Republicans did fairly well for themselves considering that they were in a minority and were burdened by a President with negative political capital.

Time to play hardball in the Senate, not only with Republicans but also with Evan Bayh and his merry band of Democratic "Blue Dogs" if they collude with Republicans to obstruct Obama's agenda.

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DC droppings: roving holder, WCOCTDOGW?, arlen's spectre, discheneying, corkerscrewed...

Roving Holder
Karl Rove, in his post-Bush role of smarmy pundit, has managed to inject his foul stench into the Holder nomination. Patrick Leahy--upon witnessing his GOP Senate colleagues Charles Grassley, John Kyle and Arlen Specter do an about face and withdraw their praise for Holder--noted the following:

Senator Grassley has acknowledged Mr. Holder's impeccable credentials while reserving judgment. But of course since then, Karl Rove has appeared on the Today Show and signaled that Republicans ought to go after Mr. Holder. Right-wing talk radio took up the drum beat.

On the Sunday morning Chris Mathews Show, a Washington Post Reporter backed Leahy's assertion:

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