Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of the government. The history of government is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is the history of the limitation of government, not the increase of it. – Woodrow Wilson
Time and again I have pointed out that the popular American belief that the Democratic Party is “liberal” (in the conventional, though incorrect sense) and the Republican Party “conservative” (ditto, ditto) is not only wrong, but dangerous; naïve people support the candidate of their party of choice presuming that he will act in a way more in keeping with their views and priorities than the candidate of the other party, but this is simply not true. Time and again politicians do whatever is expedient and pleases their masters (the big-money interests who bankroll their campaigns) rather than what the people who elected them expect them to do, and often Republicans act in ways which place them to the “left” of Democrats, and vice-versa. Case in point our current president; the conventional wisdom says that Democrats are supposed to care more about civil liberties, but as Jonathan Turley of George Washington University points out in a September 29th article from the Los Angeles Times, that certainly isn’t the case with Obama:
…Protecting individual rights and liberties — apart from the right to be tax-free — seems barely relevant to candidates or voters. One man is primarily responsible for the disappearance of civil liberties from the national debate, and he is Barack Obama. While many are reluctant to admit it, Obama has proved a disaster not just for specific civil liberties but the civil liberties cause in the United States. Civil libertarians have long had a dysfunctional relationship with the Democratic Party, which treats them as a captive voting bloc with nowhere else to turn in elections. Not even this history, however, prepared civil libertarians for Obama. After the George W. Bush years, they were ready to fight to regain ground lost after Sept. 11. Historically, this country has tended to correct periods of heightened police powers with a pendulum swing back toward greater individual rights. Many were questioning the extreme measures taken by the Bush administration, especially after the disclosure of abuses and illegalities. Candidate Obama capitalized on this swing and portrayed himself as the champion of civil liberties.
However, President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election…Obama…[announced] that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the “just following orders” defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II. Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses. But perhaps the biggest blow to civil liberties is what he has done to the movement itself. It has quieted to a whisper, muted by the power of Obama’s personality and his symbolic importance as the first black president as well as the liberal who replaced Bush. Indeed, only a few days after he took office, the Nobel committee awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize without his having a single accomplishment to his credit beyond being elected…
It’s almost a classic case of the Stockholm syndrome…Even though many Democrats admit in private that they are shocked by Obama’s position on civil liberties, they are incapable of opposing him. Some insist that they are simply motivated by realism…[but that] cannot explain the utter absence of a push for an alternative Democratic candidate or organized opposition to Obama’s policies…It looks more like a cult of personality…Ironically, had Obama been defeated in 2008, it is likely that an alliance for civil liberties might have coalesced and effectively fought the government’s burgeoning police powers. A Gallup poll released this week shows 49% of Americans, a record since the poll began asking this question in 2003, believe that “the federal government poses an immediate threat to individuals’ rights and freedoms.” Yet the Obama administration long ago made a cynical calculation that it already had such voters in the bag and tacked to the right on this issue to show Obama was not “soft” on terror. He assumed that, yet again, civil libertarians might grumble and gripe but, come election day, they would not dare stay home. This calculation may be wrong. Obama may have flown by the fail-safe line…it will be virtually impossible [for civil libertarians] to vote for someone who has flagrantly ignored the Convention Against Torture or its underlying Nuremberg Principles…by blocking the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for torture, Obama violated international law and reinforced other countries in refusing investigation of their own alleged war crimes…
In time, the election of Barack Obama may stand as one of the single most devastating events in our history for civil liberties. Now the president has begun campaigning for a second term. He will again be selling himself more than his policies, but he is likely to find many civil libertarians who simply are not buying.
Since Turley does not specifically mention them, I feel it necessary to add that the present administration’s record on other civil rights issues of interest to myself and my readers is as deplorable as its record on torture, surveillance and the police state. Candidate Obama pledged “to seek a more humane and effective drug policy”; President Obama has expanded the drug war, authorized DEA raids against medical marijuana suppliers and dispensaries in states where they are legal, suspended the first, second and fourth amendments in order to persecute them still further, and ignored scientific findings to pronounce that marijuana has no valid medical use. Candidate Obama spoke of immigration reform; President Obama has deported over one million immigrants, far more than any other US president in history. He went longer without issuing a pardon than any president other than the first two and last two, and has to date pardoned only 17 people in all (mostly for minor crimes). He has repeatedly waffled on gay rights issues, and ignored the recommendations of a group of respected scholars that he reject the policies of the Bush administration that equate all prostitution with sex trafficking, instead choosing to continue the “anti-prostitution pledge” that ties federal funds to an oath that recipients will demonize and support criminalization of sex workers. And he has supported his vice president’s campaign to strip young men accused of sexual impropriety of their civil rights, even when their supposed “victims” deny they did anything wrong.
No matter which party wins the presidency, this trend is likely to continue; Obama has proven himself a foe of civil rights, nearly every candidate in the Republican field considers his opposition to civil rights to be a selling point, and the last time a third-party candidate won the office was in 1860 (and that party went on to become one of the two major ones). But there is hope; as Turley points out, 49% of Americans now consider the government “an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens”. At the current rate of increase that should reach 60% in less than four years, and then maybe, just maybe, enough people will become angry enough to launch a new civil rights movement…and it’s about damned time.
One Year Ago Today
“Anatomy of a Boondoggle” dissects a news story about prostitution stings in suburban Pittsburgh, revealing the truth behind “the sort of prohibitionist propaganda which the police love to issue and which gullible reporters swallow whole because they can’t be bothered to investigate the facts or interview anyone with an opposing view (and wouldn’t be allowed to print it if they did).”