On my way back to the office from Rotary today, I heard this guy Jonathan Turley on NPR going on and on about how Barack Obama is — gasp — “worse than Bush” on civil liberties (or words to that effect; I wasn’t taking notes while driving).
Conveniently, he wrote out his thoughts on this in an op-ed piece in The Los Angeles Times recently. An excerpt:
Civil libertarians have long had a dysfunctional relationship with the Democratic Party, which treats them as a captive voting bloc with nowhere else to turn in elections. Not even this history, however, prepared civil libertarians for Obama. After the George W. Bush years, they were ready to fight to regain ground lost after Sept. 11. Historically, this country has tended to correct periods of heightened police powers with a pendulum swing back toward greater individual rights. Many were questioning the extreme measures taken by the Bush administration, especially after the disclosure of abuses and illegalities. Candidate Obama capitalized on this swing and portrayed himself as the champion of 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…
As you know, I have commented upon the same phenomenon myself, only not as a bad thing. From my endorsement of his tough talk about Pakistan in 2007 to my praise of his national security continuity right after the election, through my noting the end of the “Kent State Syndrome,” I’ve been pretty laudatory.
What’s really amazing about Obama is that he managed to persuade people before the election, and many after, that he’s this antiwar guy who was going to undo all the supposedly wicked deeds of the Bush administration. I wasn’t hearing that.
But even I was unprepared for how much further Obama would take things than Bush. I guess he’s able to do it because he has the political permission within his own party. Sort of like it took Nixon to go to China, Obama is allowed the latitude to more aggressively pursue the (I’m going to use the term that his base avoids) global War on Terror. As you recall, I made the analogy earlier that Bush was like Sonny Corleone (the blusterer who had trouble getting the job done), and Obama is Michael (who speaks softly and convinces everyone he’s the peaceful don, but wipes out his enemies efficiently without a word of warning). Of course, I don’t see them as heading a criminal enterprise. Others disagree.
It really does put Democrats in a weird place. Some of my most reasonable Democratic friends used to make these extravagant claims about how George W. Bush had trashed the Constitution. They really seemed to believe it. They are quieter now.