Undoing the Damage

Now that the Democrats have taken back both houses of Congress, everyone has an opinion about what they should do (and how soon). Most discussion has involved whether the Democrats should be "confrontational"--impeach Bush for any of his obvious crimes, or at least investigate malfeasance in his administration--or look for issues on which some bipartisan consensus can be reached. Even if the Democrats wanted to be aggressive about undoing the damage of the last twelve years, though, what would that include? It is easy to forget just how many bad laws have been passed and how many bad decisions have been made in that time.

Some of the worst actions of the last twelve years happened under Clinton. AEDPA (which severely damaged the rights of prisoners) and IIRIRA (a gratuitous bit of immigrant bashing) sailed through as Clinton tried to guarantee his re-election in 1996. The welfare reform bill, though puzzlingly thought of even by some liberals as a success, was another triangulation special. During Bush's time in office, almost every change to the tax laws was a mistake, while the Patriot Act and its reauthorization should both be repealed. More recently, the MCA (Military Commissions Act) was a low point in American history that managed to go unnoticed while we made tasteless jokes about Mark Foley's text messages.

Some Republican-inspired mistakes, of course, are literally irreversible but at least partially reparable, such as invading Iraq and neglecting New Orleans. Others cannot be undone without creating horrible precedents going forward, such as getting rid of the judges that Bush put on the federal bench. Besides Alito and Roberts, remember the "compromise" that put several of Bush's most extreme nominees on the appellate bench (Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor, Thomas Griffith, etc.)? We should hope for progress and insist on an end to the damage, but there's no getting around just how much harm has been done.