All the President’s Koolaid Drinkers

All the President’s Koolaid Drinkers July 5, 2012

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:

  1. Barack Obama is a sellout, “just Bush with a tan,” subservient to the same malevolent political and economic forces that Bush was.
  2. 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.

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  • Tim,

    Good post. I might say, however, that this is the case with both parties. It’s funny. I remember it was Dems who hated deficits during Bush’s term. Now we (republicans) hate them. I also think it’s interesting how we defended things like Bush’s signing statements and now we hate Obama’s executive privilege. Both sides get blinded by partisanship. Even on little things like vacations. Watch. When Romney is President, suddenly we won’t care about how often he takes a vacation or plays golf.

  • John Haas

    Taken together, this and the earlier post amount to a brilliant analysis of Obama as a raging moderate. Well done. But watch out! You may find yourself accused of courting that “strange new respect” accorded anyone foolish enough to dabble in rationality . . .

  • Doug D

    Is it impossible to blame President Obama for continuing certain Bush II policies while at the same time appreciating Obama for other changes he’s made? Most Obama voters, I’m sure, have a handful of gripes with the president, while still remaining Obama voters for other reasons. Isn’t some balancing of accounts like this always necessary when we consider our feelings – and votes – for people in elected office?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Yes, and I think that would be the route of the most honest and reasonable of liberals. I still see a whole lot of liberals, though, either defending the same policies they once decried or at least going conspicuously silent on them.

      And yes, it happens on both sides.

  • Exactly. You are exactly right.

  • Man I am shocked by the intelligent people at this site. I had to join this site. I will be posting more in the future. Furthermore that article is something you won’t hear on fox news or msnbc because those guys are clowns.