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"Age of Obama" Author Mark Curtis on KTXL-TV Fox 40 in Sacramento on the 1st 100 Days

(Sacramento, California)

I was the guest of anchor Natalie Bomke on the "KTXL-TV Fox 40 Morning News" in Sacramento on Wednesday, talking about President Obama's first one-hundred days in office.

My book, "Age of Obama: A Reporter's Journey with Clinton, McCain and Obama in the Making of the President 2008," is available by clicking on the blue book button on the right side of this screen.


The Next 100 Days

Obama 100 Days.jpg

(Oakland, California)

Okay, all of the hype and hyperbole over President Obama’s first one-hundred days are over. I wrote my original review at ninety days to mock the mass media for the quadrennial exercise in futility. The one-hundred-day yardstick is so arbitrary it means almost nothing. Still, we forge ahead with our stories and analyses. Everything can be dandy for one-hundred days, only to go sour on day one-hundred and one. It’s part of the peril of being President.

In many respects, the next big date for the President is the midterm election in 2010. The party in power often loses seats in Congress in the first midterm vote, because people are disappointed the President hasn’t “waved a magic wand to fix everything.” As popular and as successful as Ronald Reagan was, the Republicans lost twenty-six House seats in 1982.

So, here is my advice to President Obama for the next one-hundred days (and beyond): Leave the waterboarding case be! The President has already sent too many mixed messages on this issue, and he’s confusing and distracting the public (not to mention distracting attention from his own agenda). First he said there would be no prosecutions; now he has left the door open to them.

President Obama considers waterboarding to be torture, and he will not allow it during his administration. That’s fine. He’s the boss, and he sets the policy. As for what past administrations did, he should let it be—as he once promised he would. There was divided legal opinion in the Bush White House, the Pentagon and the CIA. It was a debatable matter and was not so cut and dried as polarizing opinions now suggest.

Why should President Obama let the waterboarding issue go? There are four good reasons.

First of all, he has set a clear policy for today and going forward. It’s unequivocal.

Second, any prosecution of former White House lawyers will have a chilling effect on the quality of advice this or any other President gets from legal counsel. Any President needs his advisors to be completely candid, without fear of being fired or being prosecuted. If such fear is there, a lawyer might give advice to “cover his a__” that could be contrary to the best advice a President needs. One can imagine a scenario decades ago when White House lawyers could have given Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson improper legal advice on some of the civil rights crises in which they intervened, simply because the proper legal advice might not have played well politically. This happens enough in Washington, D.C., as it is.

Third, President Obama needs to look forward, not backward. The nation has way too many problems that need his attention right now, not the least of which is the badly faltering economy. "Pay attention to what matters to most people," would be my advice, even if it is politically unpopular. President Ford taught us a great lesson in pardoning President Nixon. The nation and the White House were being crippled by the controversy; and at that time the economy was in bad shape, too. What would have been the point of prosecuting Nixon after he already had been forced from office? Senator Ted Kennedy, who vehemently disagreed with Ford at the time, later awarded him the “Profiles in Courage Award” for having done the right thing in pardoning Nixon. Hindsight is 20-20.

The country needed to move on back then, just as it does now. The country also learned from the impeachment of President Clinton that lying under oath to a Federal Judge was an impeachable offense, but that removal from office was an excessive punishment to most in Congress and the public. Many people said lawmakers had more pressing issues to deal with, even though President Clinton had violated the public trust. Lesson learned: Running this country is a balancing act.

Fourth, the prosecution of former White House lawyers will poison the bipartisan tone that President Obama has tried to build in Washington. He has shown a greater willingness to work with the opposition party (even appointing three of its members to his Cabinet), than I have seen from any previous President in my lifetime. Prosecuting lawyers--who, we hope, tried to give their most candid, honest and learned legal opinions without fear of reprisal—will be self-defeating for the rest of Mr. Obama’s agenda.

The irony of all this is that one of the Bush White House legal advisors is a law professor at U.C. Berkeley. There is an effort on campus to strip him of his tenure and have him fired. He’s a conservative legal scholar, but guess who is coming to his defense? Some of the most liberal law professors on campus and across the nation are supporting him. They know that punitive action against him will have a chilling effect also on their academic freedom, one of the most prized prerogatives of any professor or scholar.

Some in Congress are inclined to investigate this case, and that’s fine. A vigorous airing of the waterboarding matter— with immunity--is a healthy debate, since Congress does have oversight jurisdiction. However, to prosecute lawyers for their legal opinions would be a bad precedent for President Obama, who has already banned the practice of waterboarding in the future.

It’s just time to move on.

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