If ever there were a time for President Obama to trust his instincts and stick to his guns, that time is now, when he is being pressured to change his mind about closing the books on the "torture" policies of the past.
Obama is being lobbied by politicians and voters who want something more -- the humiliation and/or punishment of those responsible for the policies of the past. They are looking for individual scalps -- or, at least, careers and reputations.
Their argument is that without identifying and punishing the perpetrators, there can be no accountability -- and therefore no deterrent lesson for future administrations. It is a plausible-sounding rationale, but it cloaks an unworthy desire for vengeance.
And more David Broder:
Gaithersburg, Md.: Settling Scores: I actually don't see it so much as settling scores as a warning to the future. Perhaps if there was a deterrent in place, we would not have the situation where some politicians feel above the law. Just because Nixon said it's legal if the president does it, it must be true. I think that while the pardoning of Nixon helped in the short-run, it caused irreparable harm in the long-term.
David S. Broder: Yours is a perfectly legitimate point of view. But I have become convinced that there is not much learning that takes place from one administration to the next; otherwise, we would not have repeated scandals and coverups in Washington. So I think we're better off putting our focus on the policies (and people) a new president is putting into place.
Maybe someone could create some sort of diagram or flow chart for Broder, showing the connection between his preference that executive lawbreaking go unpunished with his complaints that administrations don't learn from the scandals of their predecessors? Here, I'll take a first stab at it:
Administrations do learn from their predecessors. They learn from the fact that Nixon was pardoned. And they learn from the fact that Reagan and Bush (and those they pardoned) got away without punishment for Iran-Contra. And if the Bush administration officials who ordered torture and illegal wiretaps don't face punishment, future administrations will certainly will learn from that.
The question is not whether administrations learn from their predecessors - it is whether the lessons they learn are the ones we want them to learn.
David Broder is teaching a pretty clear lesson - that presidential administrations can do pretty much whatever the hell they want*, and the DC Establishment will close ranks behind them. And then he's complaining that presidential administrations do pretty much whatever the hell they want.
UPDATE: It's worth keeping in mind that Broder wasn't exactly chomping at the bit for investigations of administration wrongdoing while Bush was in office, either. In 2006, Broder wrote that Bush "has proved to be lawless and reckless. He started a war he cannot finish, drove the government into debt and repeatedly defied the Constitution." But Broder didn't call for resignation or impeachment of the president he described as "lawless," or even call for investigations. So Broder didn't back investigations during Bush's presidency, and now he says we can't investigate the administration once it has left office. And he wonders why we have "repeated scandals and coverups in Washington."