Never mind calls for probes, Frist says 'Bush saved 10 million lives'
Muriel Kane
Published: Friday January 16, 2009

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The ongoing argument about Barack Obama's apparent desire to forgive and forget past Bush administration abuses in order to get on with addressing the nation's pressing crises has tended to focus on potential prosecutions for war crimes and other blatantly unconstitutional actions.

Paul Krugman points out, however, "Itís not just torture and illegal wiretapping, whose perpetrators claim, however implausibly, that they were patriots acting to defend the nationís security. The fact is that the Bush administrationís abuses extended from environmental policy to voting rights. And most of the abuses involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies."

In a Thursday New York Times op-ed, Krugman also cites the politicization of hiring at the Justice Department, corruption among US contractors engaged in the reconstruction of Iraq, and the Bush administration's lies to lead the nation into war.

"During the Reagan years," Krugman writes, "the Iran-contra conspirators violated the Constitution in the name of national security. But the first President Bush pardoned the major malefactors, and when the White House finally changed hands the political and media establishment gave Bill Clinton the same advice itís giving Mr. Obama: let sleeping scandals lie. Sure enough, the second Bush administration picked up right where the Iran-contra conspirators left off ó which isnít too surprising when you bear in mind that Mr. Bush actually hired some of those conspirators."

"To protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself," Krugman concludes. "He must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, thatís not a decision he has the right to make."

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post on Friday, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) refers to these and similar abuses of power that have undermined the balance between the branches of government, as documented in his 486-page report, "Reining in the Imperial Presidency."

"I understand that many feel we should just move on," writes Conyers. "They worry that addressing these actions by the Bush administration will divert precious energy from the serious challenges facing our nation. I understand the power of that impulse. Indeed, I want to move on as well -- there are so many things that I would rather work on than further review of Bush's presidency. But in my view it would not be responsible to start our journey forward without first knowing exactly where we are."

Conyers recommends both the creation of a blue-ribbon panel to investigate Bush administration activities -- "including its detention, interrogation and surveillance programs" -- and a criminal probe by the new administration to determine whether laws have been violated and to hold those who approved the violations accountable.

"Some day, there is bound to be another national security crisis in America," Conyers warns. "A future president will face the same fear and uncertainty that we did after Sept. 11, 2001, and will feel the same temptation to believe that the ends justify the means -- temptation that drew our nation over to the 'dark side' under the leadership of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. If those temptations are to be resisted -- if we are to face new threats in a manner that keeps faith with our values and strengthens rather than diminishes our authority around the world -- we must fully learn the lessons of our recent past."

At the same time as critics of the Bush administration are calling for its officials to be held to account, Republicans are working hard to salvage some part of his reputation. Former Senate majority leader Bill Frist,for example, argues in a CNN op-ed on Friday that "a legacy of President George W. Bush will be that he saved 10 million lives around the world. ... The bottom line is: George Bush is a healer."

To arrive at his figure of 10 million lives, Frist points to Bush's request in his 2003 State of the Union Address for $15 billion to fight AIDS in the world's poorest nations. "Those words and the action that followed meant that instead of another 30 million people dying from HIV infections, maybe just another 20 million will," Frist writes.

Frist also touts the Medicare prescription drug plan, not only for helping "23 million seniors live healthier lives" but also as being "highly redistributive" -- a word that has apparently lost some of its sting since John McCain was campaigning last fall by accusing Barack Obama of wanting to be the "Redistributionist in Chief."

"Naturally, he will be judged in the short term for his role in waging the war on terror, keeping America safe since 9/11 and acting on his belief in promoting liberty aboard," Frist concludes. "Over time, however, it is the foundations he laid for healing. for the most part ignored by mainstream media, that I am confident will be his enduring legacy."