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Michael Winship: Inauguration Day Is Time to Move On

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

Inauguration Day Is Time to Move On
By Michael Winship

As Barack Obama prepares to be sworn in, I recall an old National Lampoon record album – record albums, remember those? – from the final weeks of the Watergate scandal that comically suggested that President Richard Nixon be given a “swearing OUT” ceremony. There followed a series of blistering curses and calumnies directed at the soon-to-be departed and disgraced chief executive, delivered by someone impersonating the Reverend Billy Graham.

You have to wonder if amidst all the fanfare and hoopla Barack Obama isn’t quietly swearing a bit beneath his breath as he beholds what his about-to-be-predecessor has left for him. Hercules mucking out the Augean stables is as nothing to the heaps of bungle and botch confronting the next commander-in-chief.

Not that there’s anything new about freshly inaugurated presidents inheriting a mess. George Washington, who took the oath of office on the balcony of Federal Hall here in New York, at the corner of Broad and Wall Streets, was taking over a newly independent, penniless collection of squabbling states that couldn’t even pay the soldiers who had won the Revolution. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton had to negotiate a bailout from the Banks of New York and North America just to cover the salaries of the President and Congress.

When Abraham Lincoln was sworn in on March 4, 1861, his hand on the same Bible Barack Obama will be using, the union was dissolving into Civil War. Jefferson Davis already had been inaugurated as president of the Confederacy just two weeks earlier. Lincoln’s predecessor, James Buchanan, whose inert and inept presidency had done nothing to prevent the union’s imminent collapse, told him, “If you are as happy on entering the White House as I am on leaving, you are a very happy man indeed,” then skipped town to his country estate near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. (A little more than four years later, he would drive his carriage to the Lancaster depot and stand in silent tribute as Lincoln’s funeral train passed.)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, of course, became president as the country was shivering and starving through the fourth winter of the Great Depression. Twenty-five percent of us were unemployed, stocks had plunged seventy-five percent after the Crash of ’29 and new investment and industrial production were non-existent.

So it has been throughout America’s stormy past: two steps back for every three forward, periods of boundless optimism countered by times of fear and desperation, a government alternately depended upon or despised.

The crises Barack Obama faces may not seem as overpowering as those confronted by Lincoln or FDR, but perhaps no other president has taken over a government in such total and complete disrepair. For the last eight years, George Bush has ruled over a government the very concept of which he and his cronies loathed.

As right-winger Grover Norquist – once described by the Wall Street Journal as the Grand Central Station of conservatism – infamously opined in 2001, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” This, apparently, was the Bush team’s fantasy, although rather than reduction, they seemed to have favored a strategy of malign neglect and abuse to get the job done.

It’s not just the financial meltdown and Katrina and Iraq and Afghanistan and alleged violations of civil liberties and the Constitution – although especially chilling was this week ‘s Bob Woodward interview in the Washington Post with retired judge Susan J. Crawford, convening authority of military commissions – the woman in charge of determining which Guantanamo detainees should be brought to trial.

She told Woodward the military tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who allegedly was planning to be the 20th hijacker on 9/11. "I sympathize with the intelligence gatherers in those days after 9/11, not knowing what was coming next and trying to gain information to keep us safe," she said. "But there still has to be a line that we should not cross. And unfortunately what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.”

A few weeks ago, the nonpartisan, investigative Center for Public Integrity, released an in-depth report titled “Broken Government,” a chronicling of more than 125 of what the center calls “systematic failures across the breadth of federal government,” from the Securities and Exchange Commission to the Federal Labor Relations Authority to NASA. You can read it at: http://www.publicintegrity.org/investigations/broken_government/.

“Many of the failures are rooted in recurring themes,” the Center reports. “Agency appointees selected primarily for ideology and loyalty, rather than competence; agency heads who overruled staff experts and suppressed reports that did not coincide with administration philosophy; agency-industry collusion; a bedrock belief in the wisdom of deregulation; extensive private outsourcing of public functions; a general failure to exercise government’s oversight responsibilities; and severely slashed budgets at understaffed agencies that often left them unable to execute basic administrative functions.” Whew.

In its defense, the White House has turned out three tomes of its own, all of which may be read at http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/bushrecord/index.html.

One of them is titled, “100 Things Americans May Not Know about the Bush Administration Record.” The 100th thing is, “Directed Unprecedented Preparations for a Smooth Presidential Transition.” Not a moment too soon, some would say. Time to move on.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


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Comments

Richard:
Were you shocked when Dub limited his pardons to two back-shooting border patrolmen? No law license for Scooter Libby. How can a person so oblivious be punished? Cheney sat in his gurney with a heart assist pump. Reconciliation and openness might be more useful than punishment, though goofballs like Rumsfeld, Gonzolez and Wolfewitz might be later nabbed by international tribunals. Our business criminals should be at the top of the roster right now. How can Obama point at war crimes since he has volunteered to continue many of them? (I supported him as a lesser evil,and intend to criticize his mistakes. Our political choices are extremely narrowed.) You're correct when you assume important structural injustices remain in place, Richard.

"Time to Move On" !

A pardon for all those in our two-tier Oligarchic system who firmly reside in the upper tier. A free pass for the wealthy power brokers who sit in control while average Americans would find themselves quickly incarcerated for lesser violations. While Timothy McVeigh was promptly dispatched by a rare televised Federal Execution for his questionable sole involvement in Oklahoma City, the Clinton Administration was generous with its parting gifts in the form of pardons to individuals with connections to the seats of power. We have yet to see which vile monsters will be turned free by the Bush Administration: prepare to be shocked !

My prediction is that Americans will quickly tire of Obama’s ‘turn the other cheek’ philosophy as they examine their needless losses of family and fortune to satisfy the private agenda of the power brokers who control our government and economy !

"The deaths Gaza happen because of Hanmas, not Israel."
I would like to correct that. The deaths in Gaza happen because of the symbiotic relationship between Hamas and Israeli government, both on the ground and in minds of the people. The main actor is, OF COURSE, the one that pulls the trigger and blocks information from coming out, while the supporting actor is the one that provides justification and fairytales. In this you are complicit, Mr. Ted Michael Morgan, together with Hamas and most of the western and middle-eastern establishment and media.

"What peace process can anyone have as long as Hamas exists?"
To ask this question you have to be either delusional, or just plain interested in asking irrelevant questions. Hamas is completely and utterly inconsequential to any "peace process", the only purpose it has is to provide some power for it’s protagonists and an excellent excuse for the other side. Hamas would be the size of my left testicle, if Palestinians were not scheduled for extermination by a number of big players. A nation in distress WILL produce it's own Hamas in a matter of seconds, a simple reaction to genocide. Same with any radical organization, it's numbers will swell the minute people have no one else to turn to. The aggressor counts on this mechanism, since unlike yourself, Mr. Ted Michael Morgan, they know their history. And the aggressor will not flinch in starting a "debate" about right and wrong and posting this pseudo-authority generated by local power-grabbing interest and shear desperation of the population, as the reason for aggression.

After over 1100 dead (over 350 children) in Gaza and 14 dead Israeli (10 of them soldiers, 4 of those due to friendly fire) in the past 20 days, let us abandon bogus discussion and look at the facts on the ground. After 30+ years of vicious occupation and generation of conflict, destabilization of the whole region and decimation of a whole nation, let us STOP assuming no major players have the instability of the region as a point of interest. Please, Mr. Ted Michael Morgan, show me that you have an ounce of independent reasoning left in that manipulated and assimilated perception of yours.

The question is not: "what would we do if Canada shot missiles over the border at us...would we not attack them and defend our families?" No, the question is: "what would we do if Canada took our land and homes, wiped out any historical evidence that they exisited and forced us to live in a ghetto cut off to the outside world...would we sit meekly by and have our destiny dictated to us by Canada?"
I think the Israeli Professor Ilan Pappe (Exeter University) offers us useful history in order to understand the conflict: Part I:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2378048083114640496&ei=LJhlSanAEJyyrQL6_ozhDg&hl=en

Part II:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1045070103971656266&hl=en

Part III:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=9069594734659501057&hl=en

Part IV:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3343805094273077232&hl=en


When you have time, the acclaimed movie (winner of many awards including
Best Documentary): Occupation 101:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2451908450811690589&ei=waxlSb7SHI6cqALgzqndBw&q=occupation+101&hl=en&dur=3

Many critics of Hamas acknowledge that Israel has not handled its situation well. We admire Israelis act in movments such as Peace Now. Some of us have advocated the interests of Palestinians most of our adult lives. I have opposed the suppresion of Arab people living in Israel since I was in my mid teens.

But what is Israel to do with Hamas? What is Israel to do when terrorists who hide among civilians?

The deaths Gaza happen because of Hanmas, not Israel. Maybe, Israel ought to go after the leaders of Hamas hiding in Syria. Certianly, Egypt has failed to keep the suppy of weagons from the Hamas terrorists. What peace process can anyone have as long as Hamas exists>

Last night I attended a prayer vigil for those suffering in Gaza. Most of the people at the vigil were Muslim students at the Catholic university where I am also a graduate student. The principal speaker was a Jesuit priest who works with Iraqi and Afghanistan War veterans who told us that a hundred and twenty of these veterans commit suicide each week. We prayed for them. I thought--Muslim students praying for American veterans struggling with suicidial depression. Maybe prayer and concern for these veterans can hell unite and heal this country. It would be terrible if we just look the other way because we simply want to forget the last eight years. What is the saying? In remembrance there is redemption. There certainly is no redemption outside of remembrance.

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