Monday, November 15, 2010

Trial Tribulations

On Friday, I linked to an article chronicling Eric Holder's struggles as Attorney General, particularly as it relates to the planned trial of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, which was intended for civil jurisprudence before political and security concerns shunted it back to a potential military tribunal.  Now it looks like even that won't be happening anytime soon, as folks within the administration have -- yet again -- demonstrated their lack of political courage by privately conceding the most likely outcome for the so-called "9/11 mastermind" is continued indefinite detention without trial.  As The Washington Post states:
Obama came into office with a strong preference to prosecute Mohammed and other detainees in federal court as part of a larger plan to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. Almost from the start, however, he ran into fierce political opposition.
And, in the face of that opposition, he folded like a lawn chair. Are you surprised? That's been the story of this administration, after all.  Whether the KSM trial, closing Guantanamo (remember when that was at the top of the Obama agenda?), the aftermath of the Shirley Sherrod fiasco from last summer, the sterling defense of the Park51 Islamic Center followed immediately by a hasty walk-back, or the current tax cut brouhaha that I'm reasonably certain will end with the president buckling just like he always has, the narrative is remarkably consistent: the minute a tough political fight looks like it's in the offing, run in the opposite direction.

Now, that's not to imply that there hasn't been a substantial amount of positive change made under the Obama Administration (as this site shows), however, there's also just as much that's been business as usual (as this site shows).  What becomes apparent when examining his presidency thus far is that the Obama position seems to hinge on the misbegotten notion that, by avoiding polarizing political fights, he'll preserve political capital for a rainy day.  Someone should really explain to him that political capital is sort of like milk: it'll go bad whether you keep it in the fridge or not, so you'd best drink it quickly.

And two years in, with the House's Republican takeover in January all but assuring that the current frustrating stasis in Washington will become a longed-for memory, new political capital is something he's going to find harder and harder to come by, especially if he keeps dancing through some of the most important fights of this or any other presidency by playing to the mythical middle instead of scoring a knockdown blow.  I've said it before, but it seems like it needs repeating: the people who hate Obama will hate him whether he meets them partway, halfway or all the way.  And while there's definite wisdom in picking your battles, that still implies that you'll eventually, y'know, pick a battle.

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