Forgive and Forget? By PAUL KRUGMAN Last Sunday President-elect Barack Obama was asked whether he would seek an investigation of possible crimes by the Bush administration. I dont believe that anybody is above the law, he responded, but we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. Im sorry, but if we dont have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obamas remarks to mean that we wont this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they dont face any consequences if they abuse their power. Lets be clear what were talking about here. Its not just torture and illegal wiretapping, whose perpetrators claim, however implausibly, that they were patriots acting to defend the nations security. The fact is that the Bush administrations 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. At the Justice Department, for example, political appointees illegally reserved nonpolitical positions for right-thinking Americans their term, not mine and theres strong evidence that officials used their positions both to undermine the protection of minority voting rights and to persecute Democratic politicians. The hiring process at Justice echoed the hiring process during the occupation of Iraq an occupation whose success was supposedly essential to national security in which applicants were judged by their politics, their personal loyalty to President Bush and, according to some reports, by their views on Roe v. Wade, rather than by their ability to do the job. Speaking of Iraq, lets also not forget that countrys failed reconstruction: the Bush administration handed billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to politically connected companies, companies that then failed to deliver. And why should they have bothered to do their jobs? Any government official who tried to enforce accountability on, say, Halliburton quickly found his or her career derailed. Theres much, much more. By my count, at least six important government agencies experienced major scandals over the past eight years in most cases, scandals that were never properly investigated. And then there was the biggest scandal of all: Does anyone seriously doubt that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into invading Iraq? Why, then, shouldnt we have an official inquiry into abuses during the Bush years? One answer you hear is that pursuing the truth would be divisive, that it would exacerbate partisanship. But if partisanship is so terrible, shouldnt there be some penalty for the Bush administrations politicization of every aspect of government? Alternatively, were told that we dont have to dwell on past abuses, because we wont repeat them. But no important figure in the Bush administration, or among that administrations political allies, has expressed remorse for breaking the law. What makes anyone think that they or their political heirs wont do it all over again, given the chance? In fact, weve already seen this movie. During the Reagan years, 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 its giving Mr. Obama: let sleeping scandals lie. Sure enough, the second Bush administration picked up right where the Iran-contra conspirators left off which isnt too surprising when you bear in mind that Mr. Bush actually hired some of those conspirators. Now, its true that a serious investigation of Bush-era abuses would make Washington an uncomfortable place, both for those who abused power and those who acted as their enablers or apologists. And these people have a lot of friends. But the price of protecting their comfort would be high: If we whitewash the abuses of the past eight years, well guarantee that they will happen again. Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while its probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week hes going to swear to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Thats not a conditional oath to be honored only when its convenient. And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; 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, thats not a decision he has the right to make. ~~~*~~~*~~~*~~~*~~~*~~~*~~~*~~~~*~~~*~~~*~~~* Contrary to what I'm sure many will think I didn't post this to incite yet another political brouhaha. I agree with editorialist Paul Krugman. If president-elect Barack Obama allows this to be swept under the rug and relegated to the annals of history; then he is no better than those who came before him. Perhaps even worse as the crimes in question are worse.