Much of the discussion among progressives as of late has been centered around the possibility of overkill with investigations of the Bush Administration should the Democrats retake one or both houses of congress. The theme running through this conversation is Democrats are so frustrated at the constant lies and transgressions of this President that, once they have the institutional levers of oversight under their control, they risk the possibility of going completely apeshit to the degree they dilute the possibility of actual oversight. For this reason Democrats should limit the investigations to one or two big-ticket items. Digby comes with a list of three items to investigate.
I agree with Matt that the Democrats need to be smart about how they go about investigating the Bush administration and should concentrate on the key areas that best illustrate their massive failure. I also agree that war profiteering is an overlooked subject that focuses on the corrupt crony capitalism that has fueled this administration from day one. (Jane was on this a year ago.) It's long past time people started asking where in the hell all that money went.
I would suggest that the other two issues that are ripe for investigations, and which would capture the worst of the egregious actions of the Bush administration, are presidential abuse of power and the manipulation of intelligence and strategic errors of Iraq. Those are the areas in which it is important to demand accountability from the administration and demonstrate to the American people that mature, responsible leadership will not allow such behavior to go unpunished.
Putting aside the HUGE cart-before-the-horse element of this conversation I think there's another thing missing here: it's built on the assumption that the Democrats have effectively assumed opposition party status and are itching for a fight.
I don't doubt for a second that if the Democrats were to win Congress (an enormous, colossal, gargantuan "if") there would be investigations of the administration. The difference will be in that these investigations will be institutional rather than partisan. Democratic leaders will focus on issues in which the lines of the traditional balance of powers between the coequal branches of government have been redrawn these last few years. The hearings will focus on the loss of institutional power by congress itself. In short: they will once again miss the forest for the trees.
The administration through Alberto Gonzalez's Unitary Executive theory has asserted unchecked power on matters of policy ranging from torture of prisoners, secrecy, ability to interpret statute covering the Executive branch and even the ability to declare war above and beyond congressional authorizations for the use of force (themselves probably unconstitutional.) Efforts by congressional Democrats in a majority to reign in the administration on all of these issues would be pointless if it didn't address the philosophy behind their assertion of power in the first place. It's not enough to say "Congress matters!" The extraconstitutional philosophy that led to this radical and dangerous rogue presidency needs to be exposed and exercised from the body politic. Congressional Democrats just don't have it in themselves to do this.
We know this because even while in the minority for twelve years, even while dealing with an unprecedented level of corruption by majority Republicans, even while being neutered to the point of political impotence and treated like dogs, congressional Democrats continue to show deference to their collegues across the aisle.
Take Jay Rockefeller for example. As the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee he has continued to let himself get pushed around by Chairman Roberts and done nothing about it. Yesterday it was reported that Roberts was going to kick the can of Phase Two of the Iraq war intelligence down the road until after the election and it appears Rockefeller is okay with that. His officed announced he wouldn't have objections to postponing the postponement of the postponement of the investigation that they had already postponed on numerous occasions. He then rolled over on his back and begged Roberts to scratch his belly.
The point being it's hard to imagine a situation where CHAIRMAN Rockefeller would act differently in defference to a request by then ranking minority leader Roberts request to postpone. Out of respect for the instititution, deference to his collegues, etc. Rockefeller would probably postpone the investigation rather than ignore the request. These guys don't have the fire in their belly no matter how much the grassroots has tried to beg and cajole them into realizing these are different times and you can't show deference to radical maniacs who clearly want to eliminate you and everything you stand for and the country in the process.
Meek and mealy-mouthed Democratic Senators and Congressmen aren't going to suddenly grow a spine once they take the majority. In the inverse Republican Senators and Congressman won't suddenly understand the importance of comity and consensus once they're back in the minority. All of us will be better off once we come to terms with that.