[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/09/art.getty.leahy.jpg caption="Sen. Patrick Leahy's comments are likely to re-ignite a simmering debate about how actively to focus on past political and legal policy disputes."]
David Gewirtz | BIO
Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Publishing
Can Congress multitask... With the global financial crisis dominating all of our attention, can members of Congress deal with anything else?
Separating out the overwhelming urge to question whether Congress can even do one thing right, the question of Congressional multitasking comes up because Senator Patrick Leahy has just proposed the creation of a "truth and reconciliation" commission to investigate alleged wrongdoing by the Bush administration's Justice Department.
Talk about a political hot-potato!
Leahy, of course, is a Democrat, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. No doubt, calling for a commission to investigate the former President and his Justice Department smacks of a political witch hunt.
And, really, do we need to be tilting at windmills, digging up old skeletons, when we've got such a bigger issue facing us all?
Well, here's why we should do it:
Corporate management gurus often talk about the concept of "institutional knowledge," the facts, concepts, war stories, deals, and history of an organization. The key to institutional knowledge is it transcends the individuals currently engaged with the organization.
Access to institutional knowledge is considered critical for business success and continuity. It's no less true when it comes to running a country. Edmund Burke was one of the few British members of Parliament who supported the American colonies in our dispute with King George. When he famously said, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it," he was speaking of institutional knowledge on a national level.
Regardless of whether you're talking to a loony liberal or a crackpot conservative, one thing just about everyone will agree on is that the Bush administration kept much to itself. Even Republicans agree. Richard Nixon was certainly not one for public disclosure and yet even his special counsel, John Dean, recently called the Bush administration the most secretive, ever.
I've personally spent the last few years attempting to recover some of that knowledge, by searching out White House email messages that have seemingly disappeared. We know, for example, that thousands of email messages from 2002 and 2003, the time of the build-up to the Iraq war, are simply...gone.
The lack of public record for much of the time George Bush and Dick Cheney ran the country is itself a matter of public record. Because of their penchant for secrecy, America has fractured institutional knowledge about much of what went on inside the Bush administration that led to a major war.
Apart from any political vindictiveness, there are both practical and patriotic reasons for knowing the full details of the Bush administration's actions. An accurate record is important to history, so we, as a society, can go back years or decades later to understand our own intent and to better understand our leadership.
Perhaps more than anything else, an accurate record of the Bush administration (and, by extension, any Presidency) is important because we have a new team in power every four to eight years. The new team may need to go back through the records to see needs to be clear on what was promised, what decisions were made, the reasoning behind decisions, and the facts and observations used, so they can apply all that institutional knowledge to future decisions.
Without a doubt, the Obama administration is going to have to make some tough decisions. While many decisions may be made along party lines, we Americans can also hope decisions are made in the full light of understanding.
So, what about Leahy's investigation? Is it something we need now?
Such bad timing
Oh, Senator Leahy, if only you'd grown a pair three or four years ago, when it might have done America some real good.
Recriminations are not useful, not right now.
Now, we need to focus on what America needs most, and what it does not need is more partisan bickering. Without a doubt, we have questions about the Bush administration. But answering those questions won't get workers back to work nor help citizens keep their homes. Instead, Senator Leahy's truth squad will simply serve to ratchet up the acrimony.
It's not really, then, a question of whether Congress can multitask. It's really a question of whether members of both parties can work together for the common good.
There are honest disagreements on the fundamental philosophy about how to fix the mess we're in. Democrats seemingly want to spend it all on fru-fru hybrid cars and re-sodding the National Mall, while it looks like Republicans once again want to give it all to bankers and the super-rich - because those jokers have certainly proven they can be trusted with our money.
When faced with a threat against our national security, all Americans need to pull together. This financial crisis is a threat against our security. Nothing should be a higher priority than working together, turning the tide, and saving the American dream (or at least making sure we all have a bed to sleep in).
This is not the time for Senator Leahy's commission. This is the time for Congress to work with the President, big business and the financial industry to finally put America first, and the rest of us to hang on for dear life with the desperate hope it all won't end as badly as it looks like it might.
This is a time for us to fight for America, not fight amongst ourselves.
Later, once we've secured our economy and our populace, Leahy can go dig for skeletons.
Editor’s note: David Gewirtz is Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Magazines, including OutlookPower Magazine. He is a leading Presidential scholar specializing in White House email. He is a member of FBI InfraGard, the Cyberterrorism Advisor for the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a columnist for The Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, and has been a guest commentator for the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. He is a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley extension, a recipient of the Sigma Xi Research Award in Engineering and was a candidate for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Letters.