In “All the President’s Privileges,” Ross Douthat considers the way in which Senator Obama was one of the loudest critics of the Bush administration’s expansive view of executive power, yet President Obama has, if anything, expanded executive power even further:
The majority of Democrats, polls suggest, have followed roughly the same path as the former Yale Law School dean Harold Koh, a staunch critic of Bush’s wartime policies who now serves as a legal adviser to the State Department, supplying constitutional justifications for Obama’s drone campaigns. What was outrageous under a Republican has become executive branch business-as-usual under a Democrat.
On domestic matters, the liberal silence is even more deafening. It was conservatives who pointed out the dubious constitutionality of Obama’s immigration gambit. Among liberals, it was taken for granted that the worthy ends were more important than the means.
Two forces are at work here. One is the intersection of power and partisanship, which produces predictable hypocrisies when one side passes from critiquing authority to embodying it.
…But these turns are not always a bad thing. Sometimes it was the original partisan critique that was overdrawn, and sometimes power educates rather than corrupts. If the view from the State Department looks different from the view from Yale Law School, it isn’t necessarily the State Department that’s wrong.
Ross points to a question I’ve raised before in this blog. As I wrote in “Bush Hatred Prevails Over Obama Love“:
Consider all the ways in which the Obama administration has continued the policies of the Bush administration, even policies that liberals, including Obama himself, excoriated when Bush was President. [See the post for the full list.]…What’s so astonishing, though, is not that Obama has extended so many controversial Bush administration policies but the way in which his erstwhile supporters have responded. They face (at least) two options:
- Barack Obama is a sellout, “just Bush with a tan,” subservient to the same malevolent political and economic forces that Bush was.
- Or the Bush administration was actually pretty reasonable to adopt these policies in the first place, and the Obama administration has been reasonable enough to recognize the fact.
Both options require the liberal to admit a mistake: either he was wrong about Obama, or he was wrong about Bush. But the first option requires the liberal to sacrifice his love for Obama, while the second option requires him to sacrifice his hatred of Bush. Either Obama was dishonest in the campaign or overwhelmed by baleful influences once he came to the Oval Office — or Obama, once he came to the White House and had the same information and responsibility that Bush had, came to more or less the same conclusions as Bush had.
At the time, I assessed that Option #1 was the big winner. I certainly didn’t see anyone rushing to confirm that the policies they once hated were, actually, once you got behind that desk in the Oval Office, seen to be pretty reasonable. Yet I should have included a third option, which is coming to the fore now that we’re approaching the election:
3. Continue to hate the Bush administration for putting in place a certain set of policies, and continue to love the Obama administration for maintaining the same set of policies. Refuse to acknowledge the contradiction and just live with the cognitive dissonance, or concoct an explanation for why President Obama’s use of these policies is somehow different that convinces only yourself and the other Koolaid drinkers.