Obama & presidential powers..

Those who thought that the Department of Justice –henceforth to be referred to as DOJ – under President Obama’s was going to behave any differently than it had under Bush (and Cheney) are having something of a wake-up call. The Obama administration, it is now generally agreed, continues its claim to the very presidential powers that, as Bush critics, they condemned as radical, lawless and authoritarian.

According to Glenn Greenwald’s opinion column  in today’s Salon, “it is becoming increasingly difficult for honest Obama supporters to dismiss away or even minimize these criticisms and, especially, to malign the motives of critics”.  

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) — which, to the cheers of liberals everywhere, was one of the nation’s most stalwart defenders against the Bush assault on core civil liberties — declared last week:  “In Warrantless Wiretapping Case, Obama DOJ’s New Arguments Are Worse Than Bush’s.”  On Tuesday night, Keith Olbermann began his show by announcing:  

President Obama‘s Justice Department now is not just defending Bush officials from lawsuits surrounding National Security Agency domestic spying, but seeking to expand the government’s authority by making it immune from any legal challenge regarding wiretapping — ever.

Olbermann went on to add that “the Obama administration is just flat-out dead wrong about this” and then contrasted Obama’s campaign statements on transparency with his conduct as President and concluded:  “That was then, this is now.”  Law Professor Jonathan Turley — who, as a regular on Olbermann’s show during the Bush years, was one of the single most-cited and praised sources by the netroots on matters of executive authority — said that Bush officials should wave a “Mission Accomplished” banner because they “have Barack Obama adopting the same extremist arguments and, in fact, exceeding the extremist arguments made by President Bush.”

Greenwald’s lengthy piece ends with this thought:

It’s also possible the Obama may (or may not) take actions in the future — releasing the last OLC torture memos, granting full due process rights to Guantanamo detainees, offering habeas hearings to abducted-and-rendered Bagram prisoners — that could substantially improve his record in the areas of accountability, transparency and adherence to Constitutional guarantees.  If he does those things, credit will be warranted — but only if and when he does them.  And thus far, he has not.  In most instances, he has done the opposite.

Whatever else one might say, the rule of law, the Constitution, and core civil liberties are the centerpiece of a healthy and well-functioning government, and nothing justifies an assault on those safeguards.  That was the argument most progressives made throughout the Bush presidency, and the more Obama continues on the Bush/Cheney path in this area, the more solid the progressive consensus against his actions becomes.  

In Ireland, we used to believe that the man who “puts things on the long finger” was the man who intended to postpone things indefinitely. Any change from the ” Bush/Cheney path in this area” is, I believe, “on the long finger” as far as Obama is concerned.


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