01/07/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Resetting the Table

The leftovers are gone now and we're on to the toned down holiday shopping. Many are rethinking their spending. In the spirit of thanks, I've noted several holiday parties that are requesting donations to various charities or even food banks in place of gifts of cheer. It may be a small gesture, but then, it was small gestures that helped Obama pull together his grassroots victory.

While we the people reset the dials on our own giving, it's time for Congress to do the same. No, I'm not referring to the economic bailouts -- though food banks would welcome some extra funds coming from the feds. For the past eight years, Congress has been the cowardly lion. Long after the curtain was removed, they continued to grant the wizard the same powers.

Many citizens, progressives and others, have been angry about the Bush abuses of power. When Nancy Pelosi famously took impeachment off the table, it deflated the energy that had elected the new Democrats to Congress. Not only did impeachment get derailed, but many of the other legislative promises of a new majority were sidelined. The hope for change was then transferred to Obama, but his offer of change has not bee focused on looking backward, as he has explained.

It's time to reset the table. There's much talk about lame duck Bush, but not much about lame duck Congress. Yes, they are still meeting and there will be sessions in January before Obama's inauguration. Of course the focus is on the economic crisis, but there are other issues.

One issue is those pesky regulations Bush is pushing through, preemptively blocking legislation and executive rule-making by the new leader before he's even in office. Another is interim appointments that he is likely to make. But the one issue that overrides all others is the one Pelosi refused to deal with. Yes, it's too late for actual impeachment, but with Bush's proclivity for preemptive activities, Attorney General Mukasey"s comments notwithstanding, why would we think that the President will not grant himself and his cronies pardons?

Rep. Jerrold Nadler has introduced to the House Judiciary Committee legislation that brings up the issue of presidential pardons and lists the specifics of the types of crimes that Bush may seek to pardon: "crimes involving the mistreatment of detainees, the extraordinary rendition of individuals to countries known to engage in torture, illegal surveillance of United States citizens, unlawful leaks of classified information, obstruction of justice, political interference with the conduct of the Justice Department, and other illegal acts." (HR 1531) It also states that "Bush has been urged to grant preemptive pardons to senior administration officials who might face criminal prosecution for actions taken in the course of their official duties."

Of course the resolution has no teeth, no more than the lame duck government we have running the country. But there's more than quackery here.

Does this mean that Bush could be impeached? Of course not, at least not in the formal structural way allowed under the Constitution. He's out of office already but his powers are not. Regardless of Mukasey's denial that laws were broken, remember that this is the man who said he didn't know if waterboarding was torture. He has a stake in this too.

During the Obama campaign, I was struck by how many people expressed anger about the Bush administration not being held accountable; even those who were not convinced that Obama was the right person for the job wanted to see justice brought to bear on the current administration. Yet they felt helpless about doing anything about it. While Nadler's resolution merely expresses a "sense of Congress" about the issue -- it could carry the ball in making a case against a blanket pardon and could begin to open up the possibility of investigations where laws could be applied. These could go beyond the war crimes that could perhaps be prosecuted after Bush leaves office.

Nadler needs sponsors for this resolution to go anywhere. It's the last hope for those who want our government to be about laws not about men. So for this holiday season, let's reset the table. Ask your representatives to co-sponsor HR 1531. If your representative has been retired, it could be his/her parting gift to constituents and it won't cost anything. If your representative was reelected, ask him/her for a charitable contribution to the rule of law.