Sunday, October 9, 2011

Obama a disaster for civil liberties?

In a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley writes that "the election of Barack Obama may stand as one of the single most devastating events in our history for civil liberties":
However, President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture. In his first year, Obama made good on that promise, announcing that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the "just following orders" defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.

But perhaps the biggest blow to civil liberties is what he has done to the movement itself. It has quieted to a whisper, muted by the power of Obama's personality and his symbolic importance as the first black president as well as the liberal who replaced Bush. Indeed, only a few days after he took office, the Nobel committee awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize without his having a single accomplishment to his credit beyond being elected. Many Democrats were, and remain, enraptured.

It's almost a classic case of the Stockholm syndrome, in which a hostage bonds with his captor despite the obvious threat to his existence. Even though many Democrats admit in private that they are shocked by Obama's position on civil liberties, they are incapable of opposing him. Some insist that they are simply motivated by realism: A Republican would be worse.
Hmm... I didn't vote for Obama (but will do so in 2012 if any but maybe two of the current crop of Republican candidates gets the nomination), but I can see this is a case of selective memory. Let's see, he ended Don't Ask, Don't Tell, effectively ended the executive branch's defense of the Defense of Marriage Act's proscription of same-sex marriage. Indeed, I see some expansion of civil liberties in the Obama universe.

Y'know, the guy's not Superman. He can't do everything and still have political capital to win the other battles. The guy passed a major health care reform bill that, though imperfect and in need of tweaking whether it works well or not, everyone knew would bring out the opposition in full force at midterm elections. If a Republican is elected, we can say bye-bye to the Affordable Care Act and sit back while the Republicans do the same thing to fix the gaping head wound that is our healthcare "system" after they defeated Hillarycare in 1993-94: absolutely nothing.

So, yeah, maybe the civil libertarians will get more of what they want in a second term, but probably not all of it. Wait until the two wars have wound down and see what can be revisited. Like it or not, that's the way it works.

In the meantime, don't even pretend, as Ralph Nader did, that there is no difference between the Dems and the new crop of Republicans* that have taken root since the new millennium. The Iraq War to vanquish al Qaeda (remember that justification?!) — rabidly opposed by the man Ralph Nader helped defeat, Al Gore — is Exhibit A of that.

* The Republican Party has lurched so far to the right you can't see them because of the curvature of the Earth. I want back the fiscally conservative but socially responsible and pragmatist GOP of old. Bring back Nixonian Republicanism so that I don't have to fear for the country's future survivability when/if the Democrats lose!


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