What Obama Hath Wrought

To say that the Presidency of Barack Obama has been a disaster from a governmental restraint perspective is the understatement of the century.  Granted, the century is still young.  But can anyone doubt that Terry Michael’s claims that libertarians should have endorsed and got behind Obama have been, at best, demonstrated as almost exactly wrong.  Yes, there are progressives condemning Obama as too conservative and conservatives condemning him as too liberal, but both are missing the point.

President Barack Obama is a statist, whose real agenda is maximizing the power of the national government and in particular that of the executive branch.  His real agenda for the direction of American government is a continuation, if not an acceleration, of the process begun under George W. Bush, a process with its roots in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and Medicare Part D, which came to full flower in the bipartisan bank bailouts of 2008 and the government buyout of General Motors and Chrysler, and reached a triumph with the health care reform law.

Just like his predecessor — no, even more callously and crassly than his predecessor — Obama has suborned compliance with the law to his own political advantage.  Consider, for instance, this interview with an editor at the Associated Press concerning the Obama White House’s attitude towards the Freedom of Information Act:

…shortly after President Obama took office, the department had instituted a highly unusual policy that is unprecedented at other federal agencies in which many hundreds of FOIA requests that had been submitted by members of the media, citizens, advocacy groups, members of Congress were being vetted by political staff who didn’t know anything about the Freedom of Information Act.

They were allowing the political staff to govern the release of the information. Nothing could be released until the political advisers agree that it was okay to send it out the door. [¬∂] … either the political staff, the senior staff in Secretary Napolitano’s office were dictating which releases could be disclosed to the public and to the media and to the members of Congress, frankly, and when they could be disclosed.

[Interviewer Q:] But you’re saying that they vetted the people who are making the requests. They were looking at the backgrounds of those people?

[A:] The documents that we got described in remarkable detail a process by which the FOIA staff, the career staff at the Department of Homeland Security were instructed to provide, along with a synopsis of the request for information, detailed information about where the person lived, who it was, was it a reporter, was it not, was it an advocacy organization, what was the interest of the advocacy organization. All of this is highly, highly unusual under the act.

In other words, who you were and where you stood politically affected what information the government would release, when it would release it to you, and what portions of it would be redacted. To be fair, the interview goes on to suggest that this policy has been changed and depoliticized somewhat. But the fact that it even occurred to someone to suborn the FOIA process to political considerations demonstrates that the law is viewed as an obstacle to achieving political goals.

And why shouldn’t they view the law as an obstacle and not a goal? Obama and the Obamamen view the Constitution as an obstacle rather than a goal. The Fourth Amendment, for instance, is just as much an inconvenience to Obama and his security personnel as it was to Bush and the Bushmen, and their solution is the same — get private companies, unbounded by the Fourth Amendment, to do all the government’s without-good-cause spying on American citizens by proxy.  And Obama and his legislative minions have taken Bush’s national security claims further than Bush ever did — reserving the right to summarily execute an American citizen abroad who is accused* of aiding al-Qaeda, and what’s more, making it a crime to offer that American citizen the assistance of counsel.  He has even left truck-sized loopholes in his own orders that continue to authorize the use of torture of prisoners in American custody.**

These things should not make you feel better that Obama is protecting our freedoms and our way of life.  These are attacks on our freedoms and our way of life.  Just like George Bush did before him.  What’s worse, these attacks come from within our nation, within our government, come wrapped in the flag to make dissent and criticism of them appear unpatriotic and risky, and because they come from a Democratic President rather than a Republican one, leave the political left of the country largely silent in a damning exposure of their hypocrisy.  Not that the political right comes off much better in my analysis; they loudly condemn Obama doing today exactly the same sort of thing that they cheered Bush on for doing two years ago and the commitment of the “tea party movement” to meaningfully reducing the government’s powers can be relied upon only for so long as the President of the United States is not a Republican, at which point we’re back to the partisan-polarized dialogue about government power we had going in 2007.

There are meaningful and important differences between America’s two political parties.  But I have come closer to thinking that the differences are not so important as the similarities.  There is no significant political organization in America devoted to individual freedom and restraining the power of government.  There is no significant political organization in America focused on the reduction of our government’s spending deficit, much less elimination of its debt.  For too long we have allowed fallacious arguments about “the other guy” to distract us from the fact that the people entrusted with safeguarding our Constitution have been the ones subverting it.  “Yeah, but that other guy is really a bad dude and we should be scared of him!” is not a valid rebuttal to

Osama bin Laden masterminded the destruction of some very large buildings and the deaths of over three thousand people, which was an awful thing.  But as awful as it was, America survived that attack.  America was and is stronger than that.  As long as we are a free people, we always will be.  It is only from within, and not from without, that America can truly be defeated.  And the ones who possess the power to defeat America are the ones who ought to be leading it.  America will not be defeated on a battlefield or a chess match.  It will be defeated if and when it morphs into something new and different from what it has been.  That is why we should beware of efforts to change the definition of what an “American” really is.  That is why we should be educated and vigilant and principled with regards to how our government conducts itself.  And so far, my verdict is that we are still at risk.

* Probably correctly, I will stipulate.  That’s not the point.
**  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — the rule should be “No torture.  Ever.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. Aww, you're just a racist for saying something against the anointed one….joking.Agreed regarding Bush. Not entirely sure regarding many of the Republicans in Congress, especially a number of the junior ones (it seems to have been the senior power-brokers, the ones who'd been there too long, who were working with Bush… and the higher level Democrat power-brokers from safe districts as well).If anything, Bush was a disappointment to just about everyone who voted for him the second time around.

  2. I think you have to look back further than that. Bush the Younger's expansion of the security apparatus was basically a series of incremental steps from what Clinton did. Who in turn expanded upon the previous expansions that took place under Bush the Elder, Reagan, Nixon (I'm less sure about Ford & Carter so I'll leave them out for now).Basically, Marx was right about at least one thing: the context of existence determines consciousness. An actor, an oilman, a lawyer, a community organizer; no matter what they were beforehand, when they become president they will seek to expand their own power. And by and large they will succeed over time. After all, they get to choose the justices of the Supreme Court, and by and large that body has done relatively little to restrain the executive. Congress has done even less. And the American people, as far as I can tell, by and large don't give a damn.

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