Friday, May 19, 2006


Oversight vs. Overboard

It's not often that I get to praise Nancy Pelosi, but I will happily do so today. As the New Republic noted in an editorial that came out today, the House Democratic leader wisely and definitively put her foot down to squelch the Republican rumor-mongering that her caucus will move to impeach President Bush should they take over the majority.

Nancy Pelosi, dare we say, did something smart last week. She told her Democratic colleagues, several of whom have become enamored with the idea of impeaching the president, that, if their party gains control of Congress, impeachment is verboten. "We want oversight and checks and balances," Pelosi's flack told reporters. "Impeachment was never her interest."

These are dismal times for Republicans, and now they are even worse. Pelosi has effectively banished the specter of crazed Democrats returning to power to impeach President Bush, a handy bogeyman for Republican fund-raisers. The truth is, it is not impeachment Republicans fear; it's simply oversight. Since 2001, Congress has sat idle as the executive branch gradually proclaimed new powers for itself, and it has aided and abetted Bush's every failure by refusing to operate as a check on his administration. So, while Democrats are wise to distance themselves from the I-word, they shouldn't be bullied into abandoning promises to aggressively investigate the Bush administration. In fact, they should be running on the issue, not away from it.

I could not agree more -- as long as Democrats don't go overboard with their oversight and let themselves get pigeonholed as seeking payback.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't be vigorous in demanding accountability from the most secretive and incompetent Administration in our lifetime. As the TNR editorial points out, we have six years of ground to make up -- the Republicans' abandonment of their Constitutional role as a check on executive power has been breathtaking and bordering on oath-breaking.

But we have to be careful not to cross the line into vindictiveness and vengeance and give the Bush apologists an out to deflect attention from their mismanagement, cronyism, and deceit.

That's the crucial mistake the Republicans made in their puritanical pursuit of President Clinton in the Lewinsky scandal -- they made it seem that they were out for blood, not justice, and lost the American people almost from the beginning.

This may be the defining test of a Pelosi speakership (or at least the first year of it), how she and her subordinates walk that fine line between substantive investigations and political recriminations. I would tend to take the over in the oversight sweepstakes under Pelosi. But who knows. Henry Waxman, the House Democrats' lead investigatory bulldog, is as crafty as they come, and I would not want to bet against him on anything.

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