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Rockefeller and Feinstein: Preserving the Bush Legacy

danps's picture

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

On Monday it was reported that Barack Obama would nominate Leon Panetta to be the next CIA director, and there was an immediate, sharp reaction from some fellow Democrats. The LA Times quoted incoming head of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein saying "I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA director. My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time", while a senior aide to Jay Rockefeller said the Senator "thinks very highly of Panetta. But he's puzzled by the selection. He has concerns because he has always believed that the director of CIA needs to be someone with significant operational intelligence experience and someone outside the political realm."

There has since been some inside baseball - literally describing it as a "brush-back pitch" - about why it happened. At first blush Feinstein's snippy reaction brings to mind Glenn Greenwald's memorable formulation about politicians "acting far more out of resentment over the procedural treatment to which they [are] subjected...than out of any principled objection." Her first reaction to it had to do with her not having been informed, not on his fitness for the position (and heaven knows members of that club have majestic sensibilities that they expect to be catered to). Some groveling ensued, and everyone was happy. But there may be more to it. It also emerged that some key (via) lower level figures would stay in the system. Was that an unspoken assurance of maintaining the status quo?

I have written before about the compromised nature of this generation of leaders, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that much of the Democratic leadership during the Bush years is irretrievably tainted. In addition to Feinstein and Rockefeller, Jane Hamsher includes Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Jane Harmon; Matt Stoller mentions Hillary Clinton's AUMF vote as significantly damaging her in the caucus states. The fact is, almost all major Democrats during the current presidency had some opportunity to at least make some noise and try to slow the momentum towards lawlessness, but chose to not push back.

(Obama famously opposed the AUMF, but remember he did not have to vote on it. Given his consensus-building style he almost certainly wouldn't have been a lonely holdout had he been in Congress at the time. Such are the vagaries of life. He was able to take the position popular with his base at no political cost and it ended up being to his great benefit. And sometimes another team's star player suffers a season ending injury the day before playing yours. You deal with circumstances as you find them and not as they ought to be.)

Now that the president is about to leave town for good it sets up a revealing dynamic. It is probably safe to say a lot of Democratic leaders will miss him terribly because he was such an effective foil. His fearmongering and inflexible approach gave them room to claim helplessness in the face of insurmountable opposition. Whatever their motivation - whether they truly opposed the president but decided if you can't beat 'em join 'em, or if they just wanted cover for what they wanted to do anyway - the end result was the same. They decided to get read in to the programs and not object, stuff their pockets with telecom money, blandly endorse an Attorney General who clearly signaled his support of torture, and generally go along with the program.

Now that their favorite excuse for inaction is about to leave there seems to be some uneasiness descending. Speculation is swirling not just about what Panetta's nomination foreshadows; other nominees to sensitive positions are being chewed over as well. What may be shaping up is a battle not between parties but interests. The Washington leadership of both parties has a strong incentive to prevent any kind of shaking up. Leaks, revelations, investigations and lawsuits concerning this era can only end up badly for them. Getting everyone off the subject is by far the best solution for them. But the president-elect ran on a platform of change, and the Incredible Shrinking GOP is desperate for any glimmer of hope to turn around its fortunes. While I don't doubt the potential for Obama to move to a more establishment-friendly position or D.C. Republicans' ability to continue to act with no sense of self-preservation, it is possible that the two might - even inadvertently - put some powerful forces into play. Expect the likely targets to resist mightily.

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Submitted by Paul_Lukasiak on

Obama famously opposed the AUMF

um no. Obama opposed unilateral "war in Iraq" -- that's what his speech was about.

While plans were not officially rolled out until September, All that summer of 2002, Bushco had been telegraphing an interest in a unilateral invasion of Iraq -- and there was considerable opposition to THAT war in Congress. The AUMF was a "compromise", and only authorized war should Saddam not permit unrestricted access to UN inspectors and destruction of his (presumed) WMD arsenal, and only under the auspices of the UN except if UN authorization was not forthcoming because of obstruction by one of the veto wielding security council members.

When asked subsequently (and while it looked like things were going well in Iraq) how he would have voted on the AUMF, he said he "didn't know".

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

But I will say that the AUMF was generally regarded as a vote in favor of the war. Nobody seemed to think the Bush administration was going to spend a whole lot of time on diplomacy.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Doesn't sound like we disagree much about it at all...

One thing about which I do see things a little differently:

While I don't doubt the potential for Obama to move to a more establishment-friendly position

His pre-presidency positions have been nothing if not establishment friendly.

My guarded optimism about Obama is the hopeTM that, due to the extreme present circumstances, he may move to more establishment-unfriendly positions.

herb the verb's picture
Submitted by herb the verb on

No offense, but this tea-leafing is losing it's charm and amounts to who is standing next to Brezhnev?

Since last June, when it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Obama would be president, we have been speculating what he would do and just like in the old Kremlin Watch days, observers have been spinning the most amazing tales to determine who is in and who is out and what that means. Just like then, it means nothing, it is entertainment. If you want to know what Obama will do, the answers are FISA and Bailout. Just like with the Kremlin Watch, it doesn't matter whose faces are plugged in or names are used: the same establishment policies will be followed, just with different exterior decorating.

So, Rockefeller and Feinstein? Yes, them, but no need to single them out, it is all the rest too. Or is that what you are saying? If so, just read Silber, because he is ON the MF-er.

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Submitted by danps on

It is all the rest too. Or is that what you are saying?

Yes. I included some others as well, but didn't mean for it to be an exhaustive list.