Dump the Dems (10): Obama Morphs Into Bush Over Presidential Power

Obama’s actions are, at best, a mixed blessing so far. He has surrounded himself with establishmentarian Blue Dogs and Democrat conservatives, from his powerful Chief-of-Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, to Treas Sec Timmy Geithner (a Wall Street Willie if ever there was one), Leon Panetta at the CIA, and Larry Summers as a Presidential Advisor. While he has talked eloquently about Wall Street’s responsibility for the mess, he insisted in $billions$ in bail-out money to moribund, clueless auto CEO’s and is about to hand over another $30B to AIG because, you know, it ran through the first $100B paying for parties and executive bonuses.

But all of that was prelude to the real danger. It puts in context a much more conservative agenda. In “Dump the Dems 6” I warned, “The Democrats aren’t pretending to be like the Pubs to get elected. They are like the Pubs.” Obama seems to be going out of his way to prove it. Glenn Greenwald again reports on the heels of Marcy Wheeler’s excellent summation of the recent moves by the Obama Admin to make exactly the same arguments of presidential power that Bush made.

[T]he Obama DOJ is now spouting the Cheney/Addington view of government in its purest and most radical expression. 


The brief filed by Obama on Friday afternoon (.pdf) has to be read to believed.  It is literally arguing that no court has the power to order that classified documents be used in a judicial proceeding; instead, it is the President — and the President alone — who possesses that decision-making power under Article II, and no court order is binding on the President to the extent it purports to direct that such information be made available for use in a judicial proceeding. 

(emphasis added)

What I’ve been afraid of is happening right now. Obama and the conservative Democrat leadership are fighting to preserve the very same power Obama criticized Bush for taking, using the same autocratic arguments that Bush used. Does it make them right just because a Democrat says them?

Of course not.

We cannot allow this to stand. If successful, Obama’s move would enshrine in tradition (which has a powerful effect on legal decision-making) monarchic presidential powers that the Constitution expressly forbids except in time of emergency, which this is NOT unless he is also accepting the bogus Bush doctrine of a global WOT directly threatening the US.  In “Dump the Dems 5” I wrote:

The Constitution is and was from the very beginning an attempt to enshrine in law the concept that “the just powers of the executive derive from the consent of the governed” – not from the material and possibly accidental acquisition of power, whether military, financial, or political, but from the active consent of the community and its people. To maintain (much less act) otherwise is a violation of American law so breathtaking in its extremity and its contempt for the source of American society that it MUST define such a one as totally and utterly un-American. In other words, a Traitor.

There can be no compromise here. One CANNOT be at once a believer in democracy and at the same time award – or even be willing to tolerate – the assumption of monarchic powers by the executive branch (the president) and the concomitant loss of power by the legislative and judicial branches. There is room for interpretation and compromise with regard to exactly where the lines of power are drawn, but there is NO room for unilateral assumption of such power, especially by an executive so classically ignorant of democratic principles that he doesn’t even know what they are.

The saddest part of those two grafs is the last sentence, written when Bush was still president. Our new president is anything but “ignorant of democratic principles”, and yet his DOJ is actively and belligerently (see Marcy Wheeler’s post) fighting for Bush’s “unitary president” (UP) BS.

The latest from the Obama apologists is more or less what you’d expect: “Give him time. Conservatives have been screwing everything up for 30 years and Obama can’t fix everything overnight.” Mark at Norwegianity is typical for this argument.

Presidents used to get 100 days. It seems as if Obama only got 100 hours, and they started on the day after the election, not the inauguration. And really, I’m getting pretty tired of Glenn Greenwald’s constant pissyness. The man is stunningly ignorant of the political process and while he has a prosecutor’s eye for lawbreaking, he’s as bad as a talk radio host when it comes to speculatively imbuing political realities with democracy-threatening implications.

(emphasis added)

Um, Mark – who as an ex-political activist really ought to know better – seems to be “stunningly ignorant” of the very political reality he mentioned in that first sentence: that presidents, new or re-elected, historically get the majority of their significant successes in the first year, usually in the first 6 months. After that, things get tougher (unless you’re Bush and the supposed “opposition party” is helping you even after they win back the Congress by promising they won’t help any more). Giving the new president time to get his program through is one side of the equation. The other side is that a) if you give it to him and it’s the wrong program, you’re stuck with it forever after, and b) if you don’t get him to push certain vitally necessary changes while he still can, they’ll never get done.

It isn’t fair but so what? Obama wanted the job and got it. This comes with the territory. And militating for the Obama Administration to act Constitutionally when it is instead following the clearly unConstitutional Bush/Cheney/Yoo/Addington UP policy right to the end in the courts doesn’t come under the head of “pissyness”. It comes under the head of trying to save our goddam democracy.  Greenwald isn’t overstating the issue. If anything, he’s understating it. The Obama DOJ is NOT going to go into court 4 years from now and fight against what it is fighting for today. That isn’t going to happen.

Mark’s faith in Obama’s eventual “plan” is about equal to the faith the country put into Nixon’s supposed “plan” to end the Viet Nam War in 1972. Neither exists. The assumption that Obama is some sort of super-politician with a Secret Grand Design (“Just wait ’til the second term! Then you’ll see.”) is nothing but a comforting platitude for people who’d rather not acknowledge what’s actually going on. And what’s going on is that Obama’s DOJ is actively engaged in propping up John Yoo’s autocratic apologia for dictatorial powers in a supposedly democratic presidency. Mark states the other side’s rationale about as cogently as it can be.

Don’t interfere with cops at the scene of a crime. Just don’t. Our judiciary system is packed with Federalist Society members who’re ideologically subordinated to political expediency and cronyism. They won’t hesitate to throw up roadblocks if Obama tips his hand. And they are the number one reason why Obama can’t change everything that needs changing — yet.

There are two problems with this argument.

The first is the (rather naive) assumption that if Obama “tips his hand” right-wing cracker judges will “throw up roadblocks”. Dude, they’d throw up roadblocks if he suggested a law stating that apple pie was a “treat” instead of a “dessert”. To paraphrase Groucho Marx,”Whatever he does, they’re against it”. If we accept this logic, Obama should do nothing at all about Gitmo or Iraq or Afghanistan because the Federalist Society might have a hissy fit. What’s the point? They’ll have it anyway.

The second problem is the assumption that Obama isn’t “tipping his hand” right now, that he doesn’t really mean it when he has his DOJ fight for monarchic-style presidential powers, that it’s all a ruse of some kind to lull the opposition into a false sense of security. Man, you been readin’ too many comic books.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Obama could easily have told the DOJ to argue that it wanted “time to review the matter”. Any court would have granted them that time, being as how the Admin is new and all, but as Glenn points out, they said no such thing, asked no such thing. They plunged straight into a spirited defense of Bush’s abhorrent policy without a moment’s hesitation and using exactly the same arguments Yoo detailed in his memos and the Bush DOJ used in court. Not once but three times. If Obama wanted to put it off to a later time, he could have used this traditional technique. He wasn’t interested.

On what do his defenders base this belief that Obama’s playing a deep political game with great skill and panache, appearing to be going in one direction when he’s “really” going in another?


Oh. Based on what exactly?

Words. Statements made during the campaign, statements that Obama partisan Al Giordano, in a brilliant rationalization tantamount to arguing that Obama alone knows how to square a circle and extremely similar to the kind of statements we’ve been hearing from Bush partisans for a decade, himself said we should ignore because nothing any candidate says during a campaign has anything to do with how he governs.


Based on what he’s done, I frankly find fairies and gnomes easier to believe in than that Obama has some kind of Grand Progressive Plan he’s keeping hidden until a (mythical) “Right Time” comes along to unveil it and sweep the Baddies away. The Real World doesn’t work like that.

We can afford some faith over the economy even if we think his shoveling $$$ to crooked bankers and insurance companies etc is simply throwing good money after bad. Fine. Give him 100 days or whatever seems reasonable (yeah, I know) but when it comes to the Constitution we cannot afford to lie down. Because if we do, the next time we try to get to our feet we’ll find a fait accomplis – a done deal we can’t undo.

Again, the real question is: “What does the Democrat party have to do to convince you they are a) for real or b) conservative frauds with no intention of allowing a progressive or Constitutional thought anywhere near them?”

When is enough enough? How long are we going to be suckered by a corporate-owned party only marginally better than the GOP? And finally and most importantly:

WHEN DOES THE CONSTITUTION TRUMP POLITICAL LOYALTY? The second year? The fourth? The eight? The eleventeenth of Never? When?

3 responses to “Dump the Dems (10): Obama Morphs Into Bush Over Presidential Power

  1. Mark Gisleson

    Sorry but I can’t argue with you because my point is we won’t know until long after the fact what was achievable and what wasn’t. What seems like a slam dunk to you might have been something McConnell swore privately he’d shut down the Senate over.

    Give the guy some time before you cut him up for stew meat. When FDR took over, did half his party have a record of rolling over for the Republicans?

    Obama will take what is there and then some. How anyone on the outside can know what’s doable right now is simply unfathomable to me.

    LOOK AT THE SIEGELMAN CASE. Appellate court made an indefensible ruling because Congressional Dems moved so frickin’ slowly on Rove and Miers that the Republicans got to take their law breaking up one a rung to the appellate level. That was NOT Obama’s failure, it was Congress’s. Should Obama have gone to the mattresses over Siegelman? No. Not when it wouldn’t have made a difference but would have eaten up valuable political capital.

    Governing is judged by what you accomplish. Give O 100 days, six months, one year — then tell us what you think

  2. C’mon, Mark. That’s your answer? “We can’t know”?

    Obama will take what is there and then some.

    Example please? You know, I can’t think of one….

    Give O 100 days, six months, one year — then tell us what you think.

    In 100 days it could be a done deal, incredibly difficult if not impossible to reverse.

    Nobody suggested he get involved in the Siegelman case. I didn’t, anyway. And yes it was Congress’ utter failure to pursue a Constitutional issue. So, what? Are you now arguing that Obama has the right to make the same mistake the Congress made?

    Even then, if his DOJ was asking for time, stalling, evading until later, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. You’re ignoring the core criticism and the significant action: he’s vigorously pursuing the protection of UP. Because McConnell said he’d close down the Senate if he didn’t? I don’t effing think so.

    Give the guy some time before you cut him up for stew meat.

    You know better than that. You know me well enough to know that if I’d wanted to do that he’d be cooked and on the compost heap already. I’ve haven’t even singed him.

    But I will not compromise on the Bill of Rights. Or on torture. Those are rock-bottom minimums. They aren’t susceptible of “what can be done” realism any more than slavery was. These are not issues about which there can be debate.

  3. Pingback: Where’s the Obama-Line? « Mick Arran

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