Politics & Policy

Democrats Dream of Vengeance

So now we have Barack Obama’s plan for bringing the nation together after the election: If he gets his hands on the Department of Justice, Obama will use that power to prosecute his political opponents.

Democrats have howled for three years about the purported politicization of the Justice Department, claiming — in the absence of much evidence — that partisan considerations have affected decisions about whether to file charges in certain cases. This was the rationale behind the witch-hunts spearheaded by John Conyers, Henry Waxman, and Patrick Leahy over the Bush administration’s firing of seven district U.S. attorneys.

The Democrats’ vice-presidential nominee, Joe Biden, was caught the other day assuring the party faithful that an Obama administration “will not be stopped from pursuing any criminal offence” committed by Bush administration officials. He was simply echoing the party’s standard-bearer. Back in April, Obama told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he intended to have “my Justice Department and my attorney general immediately review” any information that might be used to justify an investigation of the president or his aides. Like Biden, Obama averred that “if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated.” The Little Green Footballs blog has even turned up an Obama campaign flier about Iraq, promising to “hold accountable any perpetrators of war crimes.”

The Democrats have an intractable problem: Their hard-Left base is at odds with a majority of Americans. Feelings vary widely and passionately about the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, about eavesdropping on our enemies, about interrogation tactics, and the like. Many citizens are uneasy about some or all of these measures; many others — more, we suspect — see increased vigilance as the necessary price of preventing new attacks on our nation. But across the political divide, there is a broad understanding among Americans that these disputes are political differences, not legal ones. They are the stuff of elections, not indictments. It is tyrannies and banana republics, not mature democracies, that criminalize policy disputes.

Asked about instances of law-breaking, Biden tried to backtrack. He told Fox News that, as for any violations of law, he had “no evidence of any of that,” and that “no one’s talking about pursuing President Bush criminally.” Only a day earlier, Biden had told supporters in West Palm Beach, “In an Obama-Biden administration, we will not have an attorney general who blatantly breaks the law.” And with his hallmark opacity, Obama promises both to shun partisan witch-hunts and to pursue “high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws.” To rally one’s supporters with baseless threats of criminal prosecution of their opponents is irresponsible.

We expect our executive officials to engage in vigorous debate and, when we are threatened by ruthless enemies, to make the difficult judgments they believe necessary for national security. Presidents are not above the law, but neither is Congress — which is why, for example, the Clinton Justice Department issued guidance explaining that it is the obligation of the president to ignore statutes that unconstitutionally encroach on executive powers necessary to protect the nation.

The ballot box is where we resolve the inevitable tension between Capitol Hill and the White House, between liberty and security. In large measure, that is what the upcoming election is about. If Obama is not content to fight the battle on those terms, if he intends to wield the president’s enormous police power against his political opponents, then he is not suited to be vested with that power.

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