Barack Obama, Freedom, Politics

Obama’s Presidential Powers vs. Our Civil Liberties

It’s a painful fact of life that hope is all too often the cause of naivety and the enemy of truth.  When President Obama was elected, I hoped he would rollback the Bush Administration’s dangerous erosions of our civil liberties. Consequently, I have been slow to grasp that President Obama is not rolling back a thing.

Instead of doing as I had hoped, it seems evident that he is consistently moving to make permanent the dangerous new powers granted to the presidency by the Bush Administration.

On Friday, Rich Lowry of the conservative National Review Online, more or less accurately laid out what seems to have become the Obama Administration’s pattern:

Barack Obama has perfected a three-step maneuver….

First: Denounce your presidential predecessor for a given policy…. Second: Pretend to have reversed that policy upon taking office with a symbolic act or high-profile statement. Third: Adopt a version of that same policy….

The results can confuse people into thinking President Obama has actually reversed a Bush policy when, in fact, he hasn’t.

For instance: Late last week, the Administration announced it would cease categorizing people as “enemy combatants”.  The category of  “enemy combatant” was created by the Bush Administration to provide cover for indefinitely detaining terrorist suspects without charging them with a crime.  So, the Obama Administration’s rejection of the label seemed to many people to amount to a rejection of the notion the president had the power to indefinitely detain people without charges.  Hence, the announcement generated headlines suggesting a significant change was taking place.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration seems to have no intention of rejecting the Bush Administration’s power grab.  The Obama Administration has filed a legal brief setting forth its actual position (.pdf) and that brief shows the Obama Administration does not significantly differ from the Bush Administration in what it thinks is its rightful power to detain people indefinitely without charges.

You need not be too cynical to suspect the Administration is trying to confuse people into thinking President Obama stands for certain civil liberties that he does not, in fact, support.

I remember reading about a conversation someone had with President Truman several years after Truman retired.  Truman and his guest spent most of their time discussing presidents.  At some point towards the end of their conversation, it occurred to the guest that, so far as Truman was concerned, a great president was someone who expanded the powers of the presidency, an average president was someone who merely maintained the powers of the presidency, and a poor president was someone who gave up any of the powers of the presidency.

It doesn’t seem too far fetched these days to suspect that President Obama substantially shares President Truman’s notion of what constitutes a great president.  On a personal level, I like and admire Barack Obama.  But these days, I’m finding myself increasingly forced to remember that a politician is a politician is a politician.  No matter how likable they are, no matter what hopes we might place in them, we must be wary.  Freedom and liberty need to be zealously defended no matter who is in office.


Obama’s “Enemy Combatant” Policy: Following a Familiar Pattern

7 thoughts on “Obama’s Presidential Powers vs. Our Civil Liberties”

  1. “…Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.” – Peter Townshend

    I’ve been telling Obama backers and Obama detractors alike – things will change – but they won’t change as much as you think.

    – M. \”/


  2. Been saying that for a long time. Politics is politics is politics.

    Having said that, I’m not rich, therefore irrelevant to all those with shiny suits and expense accounts. The President is after all only one person no matter how many memos are signed. The real rulers of any government are the bureaucrats.


  3. In fairness, I doubt the “rich and powerful” are the ones behind the counter-terrorism policy. (They’re too busy at work on the economic policy side.) It might be an attempt to stifle criticism from Republicans in Congress and the media about being “soft on terrorism.” But it’s also, I think, about state power – which goes beyond most left/right ideological divides. I think that Truman’s views, as you’ve put them forward, are probably the views of most presidents and their closest advisors.

    The first enemy of our freedom is almost always the state.


  4. Good post. I voted for Obama, but I’ve never put him on a pedestal. You called it exactly right – he’s a politician. No matter how good they look, how sharply they dress and how eloquently they speak, all politicians play variations of the same games to get into office and to stay there.


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