Obama embraces the Bush/Cheney unitary executive

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For me, it was the most compelling argument to vote for Barack Obama – We need to elect a Democrat to “undo the damage” of the Bush administration.

Although I agreed with the diagnosis, I could not concur with the treatment. The toxic side effects of Single Party Rule presented a greater risk than the potential benefit of curing the Bush/Cheney unitary executive disease. In particular, the prospect of the new President inheriting the expanded Bush/Cheney presidential power while his party held even larger majorities than enjoyed by George W Bush and the Republicans was particularly frightening. Those fears were confirmed last week, when Obama steamrolled a very bad stimulus bill over a neutered Republican party, handing future generations more debt and putting the economic future of the country at risk.

That said, I expected to enjoy a couple of civil liberty consolation prizes with the Obama victory. First and foremost, balance would be maintained in judicial appointments and on the Supreme Court, and second – Obama would indeed roll back some of the worst offenses of the Bush administration. While I still have high hopes for the first consolation prize, early indications are not promising for the second. Not promising at all.

I know it has only been a month, but Obama works fast. It is not too early to checkpoint how President Obama is progressing on “undoing the damage” of the Bush/Cheney Imperial Presidency. The most egregious offenses of the Bush/Cheney administration fall under the umbrella of expanding executive branch power at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches, with a commensurate erosion of constitutional protections. There are some positives. The executive order to close Guantanamo in a year or so is great news. The executive order on torture sounded great, as long as you ignore the loopholes. But on balance – So far… all is not so good.

The Obama administration supports Bush era invocation of state secrecy to protect rendition and torture.

Anthony Romero – ACLU:
“After the British High Court ruled that evidence of British resident Binyam Mohamed’s extraordinary rendition and torture at Guantánamo Bay must remain secret because of threats made by the Bush administration to halt intelligence sharing, the Obama administration told the BBC today in a written statement: “The United States thanks the UK government for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information and preserve the long-standing intelligence sharing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens.” The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union: “Hope is flickering. The Obama administration’s position is not change. It is more of the same. This represents a complete turn-around and undermining of the restoration of the rule of law.

The Obama administration supports Bush era state secrecy claims to deny torture victims their day in court.

Glen Greenwald – Salon:
“What makes this particularly appalling and inexcusable is that Senate Democrats had long vehemently opposed the use of the “state secrets” privilege in exactly the way that the Bush administration used it in this case, even sponsoring legislation to limits its use and scope. Yet here is Obama, the very first chance he gets, invoking exactly this doctrine in its most expansive and abusive form to prevent torture victims even from having their day in court, on the ground that national security will be jeopardized if courts examine the Bush administration’s rendition and torture programs — even though (a) the rendition and torture programs have been written about extensively in the public record; (b) numerous other countries have investigated exactly these allegations; and (c) other countries have provided judicial forums in which these same victims could obtain relief… What this is clearly about is shielding the U.S. Government and Bush officials from any accountability. Worse, by keeping Bush’s secrecy architecture in place, it ensures that any future President — Obama or any other — can continue to operate behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy, with no transparency or accountability even for blatantly criminal acts.

The Obama administration supports Bush era state secrecy claims to protect executive orders for illegal wiretapping and domestic surveillance.

Bob Egelko – San Francisco Chronicle:
“For the second time this week, the Obama administration has gone to court in San Francisco to argue for secrecy in defending a terrorism policy crafted under George W. Bush – in this case, wiretapping that President Obama denounced as a candidate… The dispute involves Walker’s Jan. 5 order to allow plaintiffs who say the government illegally wiretapped their phones to read a classified surveillance document that could confirm the assertion and avoid dismissal of their suit. Lawyers for the Obama administration say the judge’s decision “presents a clear-cut conflict between the court and the executive branch.”

Out of fairness, I should point out that this last should not be a surprise. It is completely consistent with the July, 2008 version of Barack Obama who voted against the rule of law and in support of immunity for the Telecom companies that cooperated with illegal government wiretap requests. OTOH it is a complete flip-flop from the January 2008 version of Barack Obama who promised to support a filibuster to prevent granting immunity to Telecom companies.

The Obama administration opposes torture, but not all the time.

Greg Sargent – the Plum Line:
“As I noted here yesterday, human rights advocates think that the executive order outlawing torture that President Obama signed yesterday preserves some wiggle room… Obama very strongly denounced torture yesterday as he signed the order outlawing it. But it’s nonetheless hard to avoid the conclusion that the administration does in fact want to preserve some kind of flexibility here, for reasons that are not yet entirely clear, at least to me.”

The Obama administration continues Bush era faith based initiatives undermining the principle of Separation of Church and State.

New York Times Editorial:
“…there was reassuring language about maintaining the separation of church and state in Mr. Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast preceding the issuance of his order, and in the order itself. But it would have been a lot more reassuring if the directive had actually revoked Mr. Bush’s 2002 executive order authorizing religious-oriented recipients of federal funding to hire and fire on religious grounds.We suspect that Mr. Obama was not particularly proud of this omission. He chose to sign his order away from the view of television cameras or an audience. Joshua DuBois, the Pentecostal minister selected by Mr. Obama to lead his initiative, says the president is “committed to nondiscrimination,” and that the executive order “provides a process” for case-by-case review to decide if grants to faith-based organizations are “consistent with law.” What process? The executive order says only that White House officials “may” seek Justice Department guidance if questions arise about particular grants. Discrimination by faith-based grantees should be barred.The case-by-case review seems destined to confuse as much as enlighten. And it is hardly the clear commitment to proper employment practices Mr. Obama voiced as a candidate, and the Constitution requires.

White House Political Office, Politicizing the White House Counsel, Executive Privilege – The more things change…

Other early items where the Obama administration appears to moving closer to the style and substance of the previous administration include: Obama continues the much reviled White House Political Office – former home of Karl Rove; Obama appointed a political hack to the office of the White House Counsel, further opening the administration to comparisons with the Bush/Rove White House and charges of politicizing the office; – and – as long as we are on the topic of Karl Rove; The Obama administration will apparently not challenge the constitutionally questionable Bush administration claims of “executive privilege” shielding Karl Rove from testimony before the legislature in the matter of U.S. Attorney General firings

There are more than a few liberals who have not hesitated to to call BS, most notably Glen Greenwald, as he takes to task those whose loyalty is not to principle but to a personality:

“During the 2008 election, Obama co-opted huge portions of the Left and its infrastructure so that their allegiance became devoted to him and not to any ideas. Many online political and “news” outlets — including some liberal political blogs — discovered that the most reliable way to massively increase traffic was to capitalize on the pro-Obama fervor by turning themselves into pro-Obama cheerleading squads…. on one issue after the next, one can vividly observe the harm that comes from a political faction being beholden to a leader rather than to any actual ideas or political principles.”

Greenwald’s analysis is instructive. It explains why so many on the left greet Obama’s support and active defense of the Bush/Cheney model of the unitary executive with a yawn. It is not the principle of checks, balances and constitutional protections that inform their view of the world. For some on the left, it is about blind loyalty to a leader and a party. From their perspective, the Bush/Cheney model of executive power is not a problem if Obama is in the White House. Apparently, with the ring of power in Barack Obama’s benevolent hands, the Bush/Cheney executive power will only be used for good. So – just put your trust in Barack – not in the rule of law – not in the Constitution – but in the man. These Obama supporters resemble nothing so much as the right-wing apologists for Bush administration excesses.

Greenwald says it best:

“What we need far more than a benevolent and magnanimous President is a re-assertion of Congressional authority as a check on executive power. Even if Obama decided unilaterally to refrain from exercising some of the powers which the Bush administration seized, that would be a woefully insufficient check against future abuse, since it would mean that these liberties would be preserved only when a benevolent ruler occupies the White House (and, then, only when the benevolent occupant decides not to use the power). Acts of Congress — along with meaningful, enforced oversight of the President — are indispensable for preventing these abuses. And that’s true whether or not one believes that the current occupant of the Oval Office is a good, kind and trustworthy ruler.”

Under the current incarnation of One Party Rule, the Republicans are impotent in the face of Obama and his large Democratic majority. The only hope for any moderation of the power of this presidency, must come from principled Democratic legislators in Congress (Feingold, Feinstein, and Leahy are stepping up). The only hope for economic sanity, must come from Democratic fiscal conservatives like the few Democratic representatives in the House of Representatives that voted against stimulus porker.

It’s only been a month.

Obama still has plenty of time to correct course.

That is my (faint) Hopeâ„¢.

Excerpted from “Divided We Stand United We Fall