02/21/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Case for Letting the Rats Slink Away

The demands for the nascent Obama administration to fully investigate the crimes, up to and including war crimes, of the Bush administration are legion. Keith Olbermann's special comment on the subject, delivered last Monday in the man's patented, outraged style, has been passed around the liberal blogosphere like a joint filled with kind. Everybody wanted a hit.

And it's not as though such cries don't have merit -- scads and scads of merit, given the orgy of torture, rendition, warrantless wiretaps and other horrorshow policies that have been the hallmark of the Bush years. The Fourth Amendment, perhaps my favorite one of the bunch, is little more than a punchline these days, a minor detail that government officials on the state and federal levels are now free to consider an insufferable annoyance to be sidestepped, rather than a sacred right enumerated in our founding document. What I'm trying to say is, I'm as bug-eyed angry about the Bush years as anyone. But drag the whole damned crew up on war crimes? The Machiavellian side of me calls that a bad idea.

The current state of the Republican Party is a source of pride for partisan Democrats. The GOP skids ever closer to the dustbin of history, where lie the Whigs, the Know-Nothings ... all the half-bright, half-baked ideas of political history. The Republican Party is beginning to look like the phrenology of political thought. Now, how best to strike the coup de grace? What serves to deal the merciful blow better -- a massive investigation of any and all Republicans having anything to do with the disaster of the previous eight years, or simply quietly overlooking them, acting already as if they don't matter?

What we know for certain is that the mushy middle of the country wants to move on. They want the cooperation and bipartisanship that Barack Obama has promised. And if the Democrats can show those people that they're making every effort to reach across that aisle, even as they push a solidly progressive agenda, the Democrats have the opportunity to effect a seismic shift in voter trends. Karl Rove once boasted of creating a permanent Republican majority through his brand of slash-and-burn politics, so it's particularly ironic that now, less than a decade later, the Democrats have the opportunity to do the same, mainly because of the utter failure of Rove's methods.

The Democratic Party will only get one shot at killing the GOP with kindness. If it elects instead to put every ex-Bushie before a congressional committee, to investigate every alleged crime and misdeed of the Bush administration, the opportunity will be lost. We will return to the bomb-throwing, trench-warfare politics of the past several decades, and the huge gains that Obama has made for the Democratic Party's image as the adults in Washington will be destroyed by the endless partisan battles that follow.

But if the Democrats instead move ahead with Obama's agenda, they may do so over the howls and cries of an obstructionist opposition, but it is an opposition whose cries will grow softer, more pleading than outraged, until one day, there will be no cries at all. Which is not to say we ever could -- or, especially, should -- have a one-party system. But the very real possibility that the GOP could be replaced with something that offers actual good ideas for the 21st century is a welcome thought.

But if not, if the Democrats do resolve to step back in the trenches and man the cannons, understand that I'll be there, shrugging my shoulders at what might have been a nice idea, sharpening up the bayonet and waiting for the whistle, to make the charge to no man's land.