This past week has been a strangely clarifying political moment. It was caused by two related events: the leak of the Justice Department’s “white paper” justifying Obama’s claimed power to execute Americans without charges, followed by John Brennan’s alarming confirmation hearing (as Charles Pierce wrote: “the man whom the administration has put up to head the CIA would not say whether or not the president of the United States has the power to order the extrajudicial killing of a United States citizen within the borders of the United States”). I describe last week’s process as “strange” because, for some reason, those events caused large numbers of people for the first time to recognize, accept and begin to confront truths that have long been readily apparent.
Illustrating this odd phenomenon was a much-discussed New York Times article on Sunday by Peter Baker which explained that these events “underscored the degree to which Mr. Obama has embraced some of Mr. Bush’s approach to counterterrorism, right down to a secret legal memo authorizing presidential action unfettered by outside forces.” It began this way:
“If President Obama tuned in to the past week’s bracing debate on Capitol Hill about terrorism, executive power, secrecy and due process, he might have recognized the arguments his critics were making: He once made some of them himself.
“Four years into his tenure, the onetime critic of President George W. Bush finds himself cast as a present-day Mr. Bush, justifying the muscular application of force in the defense of the nation while detractors complain that he has sacrificed the country’s core values in the name of security.”
Baker also noticed this: “Some liberals acknowledged in recent days that they were willing to accept policies they once would have deplored as long as they were in Mr. Obama’s hands, not Mr. Bush’s.” As but one example, the article quoted Jennifer Granholm, the former Michigan governor and fervent Obama supporter, as admitting without any apparent shame that “if this was Bush, I think that we would all be more up in arms” because, she said “we trust the president”. Thus did we have – while some media liberals objected – scores of progressives and conservatives uniting to overtly embrace the once-controversial Bush/Cheney premises of the War on Terror (it’s a global war! the whole world is a battlefield! the president has authority to do whatever he wants to The Terrorists without interference from courts!) in order to defend the war’s most radical power yet (the president’s power to assassinate even his own citizens in secret, without charges, and without checks).
That many Democratic partisans and fervent Obama admirers are vapid, unprincipled hacks willing to justify anything and everything when embraced by Obama – including exactly that which they pretended to oppose under George W Bush – has also been clear for many years. Back in February, 2008, Paul Krugman warned that Obama supporters are “dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality.” In May, 2009, a once-fervent Obama supporter, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, wrote a column warning that Obama was embracing many of the worst Bush/Cheney abuses and felt compelled – in the very first sentence – to explain what should be self-evident: “Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House.” The same month, former Bush DOJ official Jack Goldsmith – who provided the legal authorization for the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program – went to the New Republic to celebrate that Obama was not only continuing the core Bush/Cheney approach to terrorism, but even better (from his perspective), was strengthening those policies far beyond what Bush could achieve by transforming Democrats from opponents of those policies into supporters.
And exactly as Goldsmith happily predicted, polls now show that Democrats and even self-identified progressives support policies that they once pretended to loathe now that it is Obama rather than Bush embracing them. On MSNBC, Obama aides and pundit-supporters now do their best Sarah Palin impression by mocking as weaklings and losers those who think the President should be constrained in his militarism and demonizing as anti-American anyone who questions the military (in between debating whether Obama should be elevated onto Mount Rushmore or given his own monument). A whole slew of policies that would have triggered the shrillest of progressive condemnations under Bush – waging war after Congress votes against authorizing it, the unprecedented persecution and even torturing of whistleblowers, literally re-writing FOIA to conceal evidence of torture, codifying indefinite detention on US soil – are justified or, at best, ignored.
I could have done without the gratuitous slam at Sarah Palin but otherwise Glenn is dead on.
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, but it is a series of fantasy fiction books written by Stephen R. Donaldson:
Thomas Covenant, an embittered and cynical writer, afflicted with leprosy and shunned by society, is fated to become the heroic savior of The Land, an alternate world. In six novels published between 1977 and 1983, he struggles against the satanic Lord Foul, “The Despiser”, who intends to escape the bondage of the physical universe and wreak revenge upon his arch-enemy, “The Creator”. Some elements are similar to those found in Richard Wagner’s epic “Ring Cycle” and in earlier Celtic literature, but with some of the values inverted.
Lord Foul’s specialty is manipulating and corrupting people into destroying the things they most love and want to protect. They think they are opposing him and don’t realize until it’s too late that they were doing what he wanted all along.
I feel like something similar has happened to the Democratic party. I am certainly no candidate for sainthood but it was not that long ago that I took pride in being a liberal Democrat because we occupied the moral high ground. Now I wonder if they changed or if I was merely naive.