Tag Archives: Obama

Obama Started Killing Americans, But I Mean…I Had Healthcare

The Obama administration has filed a brief arguing that no one can legally challenge their order for the assassination of Anwar al-Aulaqi because it would compromise “state secrets” (Washington Post, Glenn Greenwald). To review: Anwar al-Aulaqi is an American citizen living in Yemen. While he is suspected of aiding Al-Qaeda, he has never been convicted or even charged with a crime in the US courts. It is probable that he is guilty of crimes, and possible that he could be convicted, but Obama has pre-empted that by ordering his assassination, which can be carried out even if he is located outside of a combat-zone.

Claiming the power to assassinate Americans is odious enough, but the Obama administration has raised the stakes by claiming the courts cannot hear the case. Given the way the state secrets claim is made, does anyone imagine that the administration would ever allow a legal challenge to any assassination without crying about state secrets?

In effect, the administration is trying to lay the groundwork for a right to kill Americans that is not subject to real judicial oversight. So long as the legislature is cowed, the constraints on the President would be extremely weak. I suppose it’s nice to think that Obama isn’t the type to abuse this–though I hope you’re asking yourself what kind of man asserts this power–but does that change all that much? What matters are the powers themselves, not the man holding them.  Obama is not a tyrant, but he is repeatedly demanding tyrannical powers.  Not only may future Presidents be less trustworthy, the powers themselves are abhorrent.

I would not want to slander the majority of Democrats by saying that they’ll support this decision just because it’s Obama. That would be unfair, as most Democrats have the good sense to say that this kind of decision is really just awful, before pivoting and talking about healthcare. With this unpleasant business forgotten, they can get on to explaining how the “professional left” is full of people who “need to be drug tested”, see the glass as “half full”, and act petulant when the President doesn’t give us “world peace.”

There’s too many accomplices out there.

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Obama Orders The Assassination Of A US Citizen

I’m on the bus, and extremely busy to boot, but it’s worth attending to this story. Have a look at Glenn Greenwald’s report on the subject.

Taking America Too Seriously

I just got a reminder of why I don’t truly like Andrew Sullivan’s commentary, even though I often find much of it worthwhile:

If any person has done more to advance some measure of calm, reason and peace in this troubled word lately, it’s president Obama. I think the Cairo speech and the Wright speech alone merited this both bridging ancient rifts even while they remain, of course, deep and intractable. He has already done more to heal the open wound between the West and Islam than anyone else on the planet.

I’d just add one caveat: the American people who elected him deserve part of the credit too. Now he needs partners to help him.

Andrew Sullivan buys into American exceptionalism to an embarrassing degree.  He’s the perfect example of a foreign policy liberal in my typology (inspired by FDR): conservatives say “America is always right”, liberals say “this is a betrayal of America’s nature–we’re always right except this time”, leftists say “same old shit from America.”†   I think Matt Welch is entirely on target:

Among many other things, this selection illustrates the United States’ way-too-oversized role in the world’s imagination.

I do think Obama’s remarks were almost perfect.  Not a note in there that suggests he thinks he’s being awarded for special accomplishments he made.  There was a lot of danger that he’d react awkwardly to an award this premature.

Update: James Fallows has a nice breakdown of Obama’s speech and why it was good.

† I admit that it makes the taxonomy look bad that I come out as a leftist.  It’s even worse that it implies Daniel Larison doesn’t exist…maybe I should just give up.

I’m Sorry That I Was Not Even Meaner To ‘Birthers’

Leave it to the National Review to be the publication that lets me know that when Barack Obama was born, two separate Hawaiian newspapers did announcements.

Rush’s Limbaugh’s Newest Bit Of Crazy

Just a quick note, in case you haven’t properly maintained your belief that Rush Limbaugh is crazy.  He’s a birther.  That is, he’s one of the people who believes that Barack Obama has not satisfactorily demonstrated that he was born in the United States, and that there’s a serious threat that he is therefore ineligible to have become President.

I guess this actually counts as pretty tame stuff, compared to saying that Hilary Clinton had Vince Foster murdered, a theory that Rush was still name checking during the 2008 primaries.

You’ve Got A Hammer, But This Time, There Actually Are A Lot Of Nails Around…

As part of a post on the politics of emergencies, Reihan analogizes the following two lines, the first of which is George Packer, defending Obama against David Brooks, the second of which is his invention:

  • Obama isn’t trying to remake America’s economy and society out of ideological hubris. He’s initiating sweeping changes because he inherited a set of interrelated emergencies that require swift, decisive action.
  • Bush isn’t trying to remake the Middle East out of ideological hubris. He’s initiating sweeping changes because he inherited a set of interrelated emergencies that require swift, decisive action.

The analogy bears weight in only one tiny regard: if you think that Packer’s invocation of a crisis that “requires swift, decisive action” is meant to foreclose debate and endorse any policy that the President puts forward, then you will see the analogy, since Bush used the crisis as a method of avoiding real debate.  

But on the merits, there is no analogy.  Nothing about the 9/11 attacks, coming from radical Islamists who had had negligible contact with Saddam Hussein, suggested a reason to attack Iraq.  Yet the administration took advantage of a public willing to believe that there was such a connection in order to conduct a meaningless war.  In a less serious instance, they passed a capital gains tax cut on September 13, 2001.

In contrast, Greg Mankiw, a prominent stimulus critic, listed the potential for fiscal policy to stimulate “a less than fully employed economy” as one of his fourteen examples of where there was broad agreement by economists on an issue of macroeconomics.  One can easily argue that the choices of spending are bad ones, given the aim of stimulating the economy, but what one can’t argue is that federal expenditures as stimulus are an arbitrary response to the crisis that we’re facing.  

A further point: someone might try to repair the analogy by arguing that many of the items in the stimulus bill are Democratic pet projects, just like attacking Iraq was a neocon pet project.  However, this isn’t enough–projects can be both Democratic pet projects and stimulative.  This is a point that many conservative commentators have continually missed.  The Democrats are the majority party.  If there’s a case where they can advance external goals while also addressing the crisis, they should.  That’s only wrong if they’re subordinating the stimulus to their other goals.  Any such argument would have to proceed on a case by case basis, and so far that kind of criticism has been lacking.  Instead, there have been a lot of careless attacks that do nothing more than call the bill liberal.

Kiss and Tell

I’m not sure whether the (ed: now very old–this post has been sitting as a draft for roughly a week) comments by Obama’s deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand are just tone-deaf or downright creepy:

The point I’m making here is that our new president, the Congress and all Americans must come together to solve these problems. This is not a time for the left wing of our Party to draw conclusions about the Cabinet and White House appointments that President-Elect Obama is making.

That sounds like the old president.   The bad one.  Slightly more encouraging is the following paragraph:

As a liberal member of our Party, I hope and expect our new president to address those issues that will benefit the vast majority of Americans first and foremost. That’s his job. Over time, there will be many, many issues that come before him. But first let’s get our economy moving, bring our troops home safely, fix health care, end climate change and restore our place in the world. What a great president Barack Obama will be if he can work with Congress and the American people to make great strides in these very difficult times.

Marc Ambinder thinks this has the effect of framing what is still a very liberal agenda as the centrist counterweight to the left-wing of the party.  See, liberals want crazy things, Obama wants sane things like ending the war, health care, environmental protection… The other reassuring reading of Hildebrand’s comments is that he did a bad job of saying “don’t jump the gun, wait and see how we govern.”  Those caveats provided, what’s the negative reading of Hildebrand’s remarks, and why is it worrying? 

Since the election, there have been a number of disturbing signals about how the new administration might govern, and how political commentators will react to it.  We have John Podesta saying “if you leak, you’re gone,” and there are non-disclosure agreements for the transition team.  Marc Ambinder calls the absence of leaks “kind of amazing.”  Matt Miller, of the Center for American Progress (but thankfully no part of the administration!), called on Obama to act like a celebrity, and sign binding contracts to block aides who would “kiss and tell.”

If an administration is pursuing good policies, then there’s a benefit to it being on message.  The media really is capable of wreaking havoc by focusing on petty internal feuds, or baseless speculation based on what insiders say off the record (you can see some of this already in the essentially baseless speculation about the Blagojevich scandal’s impact on Obama).  Yet on almost any important matter, we are better off with transparency.  

A major reason why I supported Obama, both during the primaries and the general election, was that he seemed to have better instincts about openness in government and the limits of executive power.  Even without major pressure from the public, I have no doubt he will do better on these issues than the Bush administration.  But almost all of the incentives for the President are bad ones here, so even someone with good instincts needs to be held to account by public opinion.  It’s the nature of political thought that despite your best efforts, it’s difficult to hold people you agree with to the same standards.  That bias makes it all the worse when prominent Democrats come out to defend government secrecy.