How Obama Institutionalized the Imperial Presidency

Dan Froomkin says much the same thing that I have been saying for many years, that probably the single worst thing that President Obama has done in office is to institutionalize the vast expansion of executive power that happened under the Bush/Cheney regime. He writes:

Instead, under President Barack Obama, they’ve become institutionalized.

There will be no snapping back to a pre-Bush-era respect for basic human dignity and civil rights. Thanks to Obama, it’s going to be a hard, long fight.

In some cases, Obama has set even darker precedents than his predecessor. Massively invasive bulk surveillance of Americans and others has been expanded, not constrained. This president secretly condemns people to death without any checks or balances, and shrugs as his errant drones massacre innocent civilians. Whistleblowers and journalists who expose national security wrongdoing face unprecedented criminal prosecution.

In a few cases, Obama publicly distanced himself from Bush/Cheney excesses, but to little effect. He forswore torture, and promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. But by actively covering up what happened in the U.S.’s torture chambers, and by refusing to hold the torturers and their political masters in any way accountable, he has done nothing to make sure that the next time a perceived emergency comes up, it won’t all happen again. And Gitmo, which he treated as a political rather than moral issue, is still very much open for business…

In retrospect, what the country needed was a radical break from the Bush/Cheney national security policies: A reestablishment of American moral integrity; a rejection of decision-making based on fear (of terrorism, or of political blowback); a reassertion of the international laws of war; and a national reckoning.

Instead, the hopes for any change are slim. Obama has eroded the credibility of any future promises of expansive reform in the area of national security. And, in any case, no such promises are forthcoming: Congressional response to the recent disclosures has been narrowly focused and prone to loopholes; the current leadership of both political parties — and their likeliest standard-bearers in 2016 — aren’t expressing any outrage at all.

As surely — if not as enthusiastically — as his predecessor, Obama has succumbed to the powerful systemic pressures that serve the needs of the military-intelligence-industrial complex. Secrecy is rampant. Politics drives policy. There is no accountability. Congressional and judicial oversight have become a bitter joke. And the elite press gets tighter and tighter with those to whom it should be adversarial.

He’s absolutely right. The opportunity to repudiate and reverse that expansion of power and restore something resembling actual limitations on executive power has been lost, perhaps forever. For all practical purposes, we have an entirely unrestrained executive branch with the authority to violate the 4th Amendment at will with no checks and balances to constrain their choices. Congress and the courts have both failed just as completely in providing any oversight whatsoever. This is the grand tragedy of the Obama presidency.

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  • matty1

    Does his being a Democrat make the long term effect worse? It seems to have cemented the idea that voters cannot reject this shit without the extra hurdle of getting a third party into power.

  • Michael Heath

    Well I sure wish President Obama would use his supposed imperialistic powers to start effective mitigation efforts against AGW.

    Dan Froomkin writes:

    There will be no snapping back to a pre-Bush-era respect for basic human dignity and civil rights.

    Hyperbole to the extreme, particularly against a president who has effectively succeeded at advancing the protection of rights for gay adults and their children far greater than all previous presidents combined, signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, passed meaningful health care reform (which expands people’s liberty), and appointed liberals to the Supreme Court and other federal courts,

    Yes President Obama has failed in some areas regarding civil rights. But Mr. Froomkin and Ed’s conclusion is not consistent when we consider this entire topic, instead they’re zeroing in on a narrow field and then conflating defective performance that to his entire record. So their conclusion comes across as little better than a conservative Christian claiming President Obama is the biggest enemy ever to religious freedom.

  • mx89

    @2:

    Given that even conservatives like Judge Posner are now ripping apart the anti-marriage equality proponents, do you really think that train was pushed much further by Obama? The guy cowardly spent like 4 years pretending he was “evolving on the issue”, waiting until the politics were safe. No, Obama helped gay folks relatively little – their own advocates did all the work while he followed afterward. As far as “appointing liberals” to the Supreme Court goes, that’s a pretty low bar given that any Democrat would be expected – forced – to do so, and even then these “liberals” he appointed aren’t “Wild Bill” Douglas or even Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And women’s rights? How are Obama and the Democrats doing much? At best they’re sort of halfheartedly holding back a Republican assault, but as evidenced in the states in particular they’re losing.

    I can tell you something Obama has done “far greater than all previous presidents combined”, though – brought Espionage Act charges against whistleblowers. Meanwhile, the economy continues to screw over the middle and working classes, Democrats who controlled all three houses for a couple years didn’t manage to put any transparently criminal bankers in jail, increase a minimum wage, etc, do anything about torturers (who the hell says “we tortured some folks” and asks us to move on? MOVE ON??? Under international law “some folks” should be heading to The Hague!). And that’s all DOMESTIC policy. You wouldn’t be singing that tune if your family had just been droned at a Yemenese wedding, or if you were a Libyan watching as US intervention causes your country to come apart, or if you lived in Gaza while the US reloaded Israeli grenade launchers, all actions under the control of Obama.

    Froomkin and Ed are dead on and pretending that just because Obama was vaguely better on social issues than GW Bush while being identical or worse in almost everything else gives him a free pass is ridiculous.

  • Michael Heath

    mx89,

    The level of denialism in your last post is truly a stunning sight. It serves as a nice reminder that denialism based on a fiercely held political ideology isn’t an attribute owned solely by the right.

  • colnago80

    Re mx89 @ #3

    You wouldn’t be singing that tune if your family had just been droned at a Yemenese wedding, or if you were a Libyan watching as US intervention causes your country to come apart, or if you lived in Gaza while the US reloaded Israeli grenade launchers, all actions under the control of Obama.

    Ah gee, Obama failed to throw Israel under the bus. The left wing Israel bashers like MX89 won’t be satisfied until the State of Israel is removed from the map of the world.

  • Artor

    Colnago80, do you ever pull your head out of your ass, or it it permanently lodged there? Us lefties would be perfectly happy if Israel started acting like a civilized state, instead of actively seeking the genocide of the Palestinians. I’ll add the fact that among the lefties you accuse of wanting Israel erased are several of my Jewish friends and in-laws.

  • Michael Heath

    artor writes:

    Us lefties would be perfectly happy if Israel started acting like a civilized state, instead of actively seeking the genocide of the Palestinians. I’ll add the fact that among the lefties you accuse of wanting Israel erased are several of my Jewish friends and in-laws.[Heath bolded]

    Well Zionist history was first rooted in effectively denying the very existence of the Palestinian people in that region, beyond a mere smattering the Zionists were confident would willingly abandon the territory once a Jewish state was created. Of course that’s wildy untrue and that prediction failed miserably.

    And while I can’t support your assertion that the state of Israel is seeking genocide, I do concur that many of us are merely demanding that Israel, and all other states, defend people’s liberty rights and do so equally. The bad behavior of one actor is no excuse to defend the bad behavior of another actor.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    There is no accountability.

    Hardly. He holds whistleblowers accountable for the nefarious crime of telling us about the awful things done in our name.

     

    Congress and the courts have both failed just as completely in providing any oversight whatsoever.

    Have you seen the news? Congress is providing oversight, and when they find something wrong they ignore it and sue him for unrelated things! Plus, his own party sometimes shows up to work! And then at the end of the day they go home!

  • colnago80

    Re Michael Heath @ #7

    And while I can’t support your assertion that the state of Israel is seeking genocide, I do concur that many of us are merely demanding that Israel, and all other states, defend people’s liberty rights and do so equally.

    That’s a nice sentiment. Unfortunately, it’s asking a lot to demand that Israel defend the liberty of the folks ruling the Gaza Strip. I suggest a perusal of the Hamas Charter would indicate just how outsize this demand is. I suggest that the USA will be less then assiduous in defending the liberty of al Baghdadi and his ISIL followers.

  • lofgren

    You actually thought there was ever an opportunity to roll back Bush’s expansion of power? That’s adorable.

  • mx89

    @4: Do you have any facts or details, or is your response simply “NUH-UH!”

    @5: As described by Jabotinsky (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Zionism/ironwall.html) and acknowledged by Ben-Gurion and other early Israeli leaders, there’s one group in the area out to wipe out someone’s territory, but that group isn’t the Palestinians. Israel is a racist, colonialist state and should be treated as no better than Apartheid South Africa. I’ve no serious problem with an Israel existing, but I do have a problem with a racist settler state Israel.

  • Michael Heath

    mx89 writes to me:

    Do you have any facts or details, or is your response simply “NUH-UH!”

    I provided exactly that in my first post. E.g., Obama’s record expanding the protection gays’ rights relative to the totality of contributions by all previous presidents, his record of appointing liberal federal judges and justices. You then went off on a bizarre denialist and avoidance rant regarding those exact facts in your response.

    Whoosh.

  • colnago80

    Re mx89 @ #11

    Oh come on now, if the Government of Israel wanted to give the Palestinians the Eichmann treatment, it is well within their capability to do so. They have several dozen low yield nuclear weapons (<1Kt) which would do the job. As ethnic cleansers, the various governments of Israel have proven to be totally incompetent at it. The Arab governments, such as that in Iraq, did a much better job of ethnically cleansing their nations of their Jewish population. There are currently more then 1 million Arabs living in Israel as compared with a few hundred Jews living in Arab nations. In 1948, there were 800,000 Arabs living in what is now Israel and an equal number of Jews living in the various Arab countries.

    Rather then blather on, consider reading the Hamas Charter.

  • mx89

    @12: I responded at length. Are you seriously saying that Obama personally made a big difference as far as gay rights are concerned, for example? That’s a pretty amazing stretch. Ridiculing that position is far from “bizarre denialis[m]”.

    @13: I have read the Hamas Charter. The more interesting one is the Likud Charter. To be sure, the ’87 Hamas charter is anti-Semitic, violent and distasteful, which reflects the state of the organization at the time, ran by an extremist, quadriplegic cleric (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmed_Yassin). Israel should know, they were the ones that backed Hamas against the secular PLO (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB123275572295011847) – oops!. But even the charter reflects a hardline goal of reclaiming land, not genocide, and in the years since Hamas has greatly moderated their rhetoric and aims. Is this the speech (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/24/AR2006022402317_pf.html) of an extremist lunatic? In reality, Hamas leaders have insisted that the 2006 election platform is what they should be judged on: “Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal indicated to Robert Pastor, senior adviser to the Carter Center, that the Charter is “a piece of history and no longer relevant, but cannot be changed for internal reasons”. Hamas do not use the Charter on their website and prefer to use their election manifesto to put forth their agenda. Pastor states that those who quote the charter rather than more recent Hamas statements may be using the Charter as an excuse to ignore Hamas.”

    Now, let’s take a look at Likud, the major party in the coalition currently governing Israel. Hamas states that it will recognize Israel as long as they will recognize Palestine in return, but what does Likud think? What does its own charter say?

    Well:

    a. “The Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel.”

    b. “Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem”

    c. “The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.”

    d. “The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. **Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defense of the vital interests of the State of Israel.** The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.”

    In addition, the current Israeli PM, Netanyahu, “as opposition leader in the 1990s addressed a rally under a banner reading “Death to Arafat” a year after the Palestinian leader signed a peace accord with Israel.”

    Who, exactly, is the unreasonable or dangerous party here? Likud simultaneously denies the Palestinians their own sovereignty yet insists that Israel must be a majority Jewish State. This leaves endless occupation or apartheid, both unacceptable and unethical options. And Likud is the *mainstream* conservative party in Israel.

    Your whataboutery about Arab nations is noted, and irrelevant. Israel doesn’t claim to be a Putinist mafia state or a Saudi dictatorship, it claims to be a 21st century democracy. It thereby is held to different standards than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

  • http://essaressellwye.tumblr.com Hershele Ostropoler

    Judge Posner is a conservative, but he is not Conservatives. Moreover, he has a history of issuing rulings based in the Constitution first, the law second, and his personal feelings third — which is as it should be, but the ruling only means he thinks it’s the law, not that he thinks it’s a good idea. “Judge Posner ruled in favor of marriage equality” is not sufficient evidence for “conservatives (are beginning to) support marriage equality.”

  • Michael Heath

    Hershele Ostropoler writes:

    Judge Posner is a conservative, but he is not Conservatives.

    Who argues otherwise? This forum’s readers are mostly a well-informed bunch. I’m confident no one would hold up Richard Posner as an exemplar conservative. That title would go to Sam Alito, Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, and Clarence Thomas.

    Hershele Ostropoler writes:

    “Judge Posner ruled in favor of marriage equality” is not sufficient evidence for “conservatives (are beginning to) support marriage equality.”

    Who are you quoting here? No one in this thread. It appears you’re battling a strawman in your head.

    Lastly, you’re in the wrong blog post dude. This one’s about the current president’s supposed imperialism (not).

  • http://essaressellwye.tumblr.com Hershele Ostropoler

    The exact quote is “Given that even conservatives like Judge Posner are now ripping apart the anti-marriage equality proponents…” but I think my paraphrase is a fair summary of mx89’s comment.

  • Michael Heath

    Hershele Ostropoler writes:

    I think my paraphrase is a fair summary of mx89′s comment.

    Sorry about that. This blog post thread is the first time I recall mx89 posting here.

    That person is in no way representative of the informedness of commenters in this forum. If that were the case I wouldn’t hang out here.

  • hunter

    I said way back when that there was no way any president was going to roll back the expansion of executive power initiated by Bush II. That’s just not in the cards. The only way for that to happen is for Congress to grow a pair and take it away. And cue the wailing of “National Security!!!11!” from both sides of the aisle. (That assumes, of course, that any given president will actually pay attention to any efforts of Congress to curtail his or her power.)

    I don’t really see this as an issue of civil rights from the administration side. It’s more, I think, an effort to nullify congressional “interference” in the operations of the surveillance state. The civil rights violations are coming from the lower-level and mid-level operatives, who are not being reined in by their superiors, because those superiors don’t really give a damn.

    In other words, welcome to the authoritarian state, American style.

  • hunter

    A footnote to my previous comment: And I wonder how much of the surveillance state is actually under the president’s control.

  • Michael Heath

    hunter writes:

    I said way back when that there was no way any president was going to roll back the expansion of executive power initiated by Bush II. That’s just not in the cards. The only way for that to happen is for Congress to grow a pair and take it away.

    I think the far most likely way to roll back executive power is to elect Democratic presidents who continue to appoint liberal and moderates to the federal bench.

    One reason Ed’s use of the word ‘imperial’ is so absurd is that the policies the Obama presidency has followed have been predominately challenged in federal court and found to be constitutional. Now I agree with Ed that nearly all the policies he argues are unconstitutional are in fact, unconstitutional. But it’s not because the Administration alone says so, i.e., an imperial executive. Instead the federal courts largely support the Executive.