UPDATED 8/5/12: To fix some of the crappy prose (but reader beware! only some)
The spectacle of Willard “Mitt” Romney refusing to release his taxes is certainly amusing–since we all know you don’t make $100 million on an IRA without some pretty fetid financial chicanery. But watching the Obama campaign wave the bloody flag of transparency as if this was 2008 (and to be fair, the primaries in 2008 when their boss pretended to care about such things), as well as liberals like Rachel Maddow carrying water for them on this matter is simply ludicrous. That liberals think it’s a brilliant campaign strategy to reduce Mittens to a caricature of Thurston Howell III when the guy is so good at painting himself as Thurston Howell III is fairly pathetic on its own account. But that this guy, Jim Massena, is the architect of the “Mitt’s not transparent!” line is stomach-churning. Massena turned the health care reform into a grotesque mélange of grass-roots backstabbing, corporate handouts, and corrupt political deals–all in strictest secrecy (remember Dems thinking Obama supported single-payer and opposed the individual mandate, now there was a long con!)–enough so the citizenry was revolted by the process and still holds the law in contempt. And, oh by the way, the same citizenry thumped Massena’s boss in the mid-terms in an epic way to show their disapproval (and yes, you promise change and deliver backroom deals you might just “weaken your brand”). This Massena is a guy who conspired with lobbyists against his own Congressional party leadership (true email quote: “As you may have heard I am literally rolling over the house.”) And liberals are carrying water for that guy’s strategy–a guy who met with industry lobbyists in coffee shops (which, to be fair, seems to be what everyone in the White House does) so he could plainly evade the open records and anti-lobbying laws, a guy who just might be the first Obama official to visit the crowbar hotel? Even administration allies like Henry Waxman are pissed at Massena’s sleaze. But yeah, that guy has a right to craft a political campaign around Mr. Romney’s lack of transparency and liberals will get in line and cheer. Yeah, that guy.
But as Glenzilla shows, the hypocrisy is sooooo much deeper than just the usual sucker punch on the “change” thing.
Obama’s administration has simply taken the standard operating procedure of secrecy under the Bush/Cheney regime and dialed it up to eleven. Bush/Cheney refused to release their legal justification for torture, well Obama refuses to release his legal justification for executive assassination (I’m quite sure for a similar reason–that Kohl’s finding is just as amateurish and contradictory to basic constitutional principles as Yoo’s). Secret laws are the hallmark of despotic tyranny (as a Soviet historian I am always reminded of Stalin’s “law against terrorism” under which so many purge victims were executed) and Obama has embraced that tyrannical style of rule just as strongly as Bush did. You don’t need to now under which law we detain you, deny you a try, torture you and, if we find the other processes too inconvenient, murder you. As Chomsky pointed out wrily,
“If the Bush administration didn’t like somebody, they’d kidnap them and send them to torture chambers. If the Obama administration decides they don’t like somebody, they murder them.”
Yeah, so to Obama’s liberal supporters running secret drone death squads is so much less important than being open about your sneaky Swiss savings accounts, right? What is most hideous about Obama’s autocratic style is that every time someone tries to go to court to contest his policies, the Justice Department rushes into court to have the case dismissed on “national security” grounds. You see it’s ok for top government officials to leak that they’re gunning for Awlaki, it’s ok for Congressional leaders to call for the assassination of Awlaki, it’s even ok to murder his son who is searching for his father (oh, I’m sorry, “collaterally damage” the teen), but if someone tries to ask a court under what right their son is to be murdered by the state, that someone “lacks standing.” Indeed, guys like Maher Arar, could sue their own government for conspiring with the Americans to have him kidnapped, falsely imprisoned and tortured by pleasant chaps like Assad (remember when the CIA considered this thug an “ally on the war on terror”?), but not America, where the court house doors were closed to him (and everyone else). Obama’s Attorney General lectures us that there are some things that are too important for the courts to consider, but not to worry–having, literally, a secret Star Chamber that passes judgment on who is to live and who is to die provides “due process.” Mr. Stalin, I should point out, had exactly the same form of “due process” (which is a bit unfair, since Stalin at least went to the trouble to have Show Trials in some cases). Oh, and let’s not forget Obama’s unprecedented war on whistle-blowers, who he considers traitors just as much as Mr. Putin does (in principle, with Holder’s explanation, there’s no reason why one shouldn’t use radioactive sushi, it’s just that drones are more menacing). Let’s leave aside the horrific treatment of Private Bradley Manning, who after all was detained in such punitive pre-trial conditions that the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture considered the conditions torture (Manning is alleged to have released the lowest level of classified information to Wikileaks, but Obama officials regularly release the most sensitive material such as the Stuxnet revelations–I don’t see John Brennan forced to sleep on a concrete cot naked, do you?). Manning’s crime, if true, was not leaking but not leaking secrets to pet journalists who would cast Obama as a brave “war-fighter. This White House leaks all the time, but only for political advantage. As the generally sympathetic Tom Junod of Esquire admits, the Obama “Lethal Presidency” does not leak information that makes them look bad. Junod could get anything he wanted on the killing of Awlake, but nothing at all on the offing of his teenage son, presumably because the public takes a dim view of assassinating children. But, as I said, let’s leave Manning aside. The essence of Obama’s war on whistle-blowing (twice as many attempted convictions under the draconian Espionage Act as all previous presidents combined!) is really revealed by the treatment of John Kiriakou versus Jose Rodriguez. Kiriakou is suspected of being the source to a New York Times journalist revealing United States officials were breaking the law and their international treaty obligations by torturing detainees. For revealing a crime, Kiriakou has been arrested and charged under the harshest laws–including the Espionage Act under which, if convicted, would make Kiriakou eligible for the death penalty (though prosecutors are asking for “only” thirty years imprisonment). Jose Rodriquez, on the other hand, destroyed 92 “torture tapes” as a CIA official and was being prosecuted by the Bush Administration for obstruction of justice. The Obama Justice Department not only dropped the charges, but allowed him to become a media darling by clearing the publication a chest-thumping memoir, Hard Measures, where he brazenly admits and is proud of his role in administering “enhanced interrogation.” The depraved media establishment fawns over this “warrior” like he’s some sort of celebrity instead of a chief torturer (I’m looking at you, 60 Minutes) and collectively shrugs its shoulders at Kiriakou’s dilemma. One hopes Rodrigues travels abroad so some civilized nation can arrest this brute and haul his ass off to the Hague, but that’s little comfort to Kiriakou. Yeah, the disctinction between Kirakou’s and Rodriguez’s treatment is transparent as all hell, but probably not in the way the White House wishes it was. (And although it’s not much of a stretch, I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to suggest at black sites like Bagram, Obama has his own Rodriguez dishing out “enhanced interrogation.)
Oh, and it’s just not that the Obama White House is pushing for an American “official secrets act” (which it is), it is crafting it in such a way as to muzzle the press. Indeed, the muzzling of the press is actually pretty germane to the whole Kafka-esque secrecy regime, as a high profile lawsuit against the National Defense Authorization Act indicates. Now, while the NDAS shreds habeas corpus and allows indefinite detention as long as the Forever War™ continues–which means, you know, forever, there are some poisoned arrows in it for freedom of the press as well. A number of journalists are in Federal court right now trying to convince a judge that they face “irreparable harm,” i.e., being locked up on some Navy brig, if the law is not enjoined. Remarkably, this judge did not just submit to hand waving by the government and decided not to dismiss the suit on “national security” or “standing” grounds. Forced to reply to the plaintiffs’ concerns’ (including former Times reporter Chris Hedges) that they might be “detained” for contact with “subsidiary forces” of those deemed terrorists (by, you know, interviewing and publishing them), the government has let lose some incredibly Orwellian arguments for dismissing the case. My favorite, (h/t to Kevin Gosztola at Firedoglake for this catch) is that
“it is not enough for plaintiffs to simply ‘put forward evidence’…or to ‘put forward uncontroverted proof’ in order to establish standing to bring the case in court.
If this is not a summation of the Obama view of rule of law–”Evidence? We don’t need no stinking evidence!”–I don’t know what is.
I should note that not only lefties are noticing that the Most Transparent Administration Evah!™, ain’t. We know this administration has taken “hippie-punching” to a new level, so its dismissal of the “professional left’s” concerns from the likes of the ACLU is to be expected. But even establishment media organs such as the Washington Post have noted a certain, how should we put it?, foot-dragging on declassification and Freedom of Information Act requests. One understands why the Administration is slow-walking FOIA requests since, contrary to the claims at the time and much liberal pearl clutching, a recent FOIA request from the notoriously named Department of Homeland Security (the name still sounds better in the original German) has revealed that, yes, DHS was monitoring and spying upon the peaceful Occupy Wall Street movement. And odds are that so-called liberal and moderate mayors took their marching orders from DHS in their strangely coordinated and vicious suppression of the movement. This repression was so vicious that the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights wanted to know why the Federal government had not intervened to stop the police brutality. (Silly UN! The White House was probably coordinating the crack-down. Next you’ll expect Putin to rein in the Moscow police). The Special Rapporteur received no response.
And in the sphere where it has untrammeled power, foreign affairs, the Obama Administration has taken secrecy to new levels. This is obvious not only in its clearly duplicitous policy of denying to Congress what it was clearly doing in Libya–not a “kinetic humanitarian intervention” but (cough, cough) waging a war (the better to escape that pesky War Powers Act, doncha know?)–or dropping cluster bombs (a vicious weapon) on Yemeni civilian targets and hiding behind its puppet-regime as a fig leaf, but now we find out that it has secretly been coordinating (with Turkey) the Syrian opposition to Assad from the city of Adana thanks to a presidential “finding.” Let us not spend too much time on the Secretary of State excoriating the Russians for non-existent weapons deliveries while she is quite aware her own government is arming the Syrian opposition. Such observations would be so jejune in the world of diplomacy, but we should note the waging of secret and aggressive war is one of the original impeachment charges against Richard Nixon. And at this rate, Obama is going to end up sponsoring more secret wars, coups and civil insurrections than even Richard Nixon (and that Kissinger was no piker!).
So to summarize, Obama has set up a secretive star chamber to sign off on murdering enemies of the people. Check. He has closed off all legal redress to victims of his illegal detention policies. Check. He has ruled through secret law and suppresses any inside dissent that might reveal official criminality. Check. He has moved to limit the media’s ability to report on such criminality. Check. He has spied on peaceful, domestic dissent. Check. He has coordinated the violent crackdown on peaceful dissent. Likely. He has used executive power to circumvent the requirements of the War Powers Act and wage secret war without restriction to his conduct of such wars. Check.
And liberals are worried about the fact that Mitt Romney might be a tax cheat! To be fair, liberals are really crappy and have been historically crappy with the whole civil liberties thing–as long as their guy was the fellow doing the suppressing of the civil rights, that is. Liberals did not seem to have too much problem with Wilson passing the Espionage Act and imprisoning a guy who came in third in the election of 1916 under its provisions, Eugene V. Debs (for having the temerity to enunciate the policy Wilson got elected on–opposing entry into the World War). The next liberal president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, engaged in massive ethnic-based deportations that would have made Stalin proud. Earl Warren could never, in my mind, expunge the villainy of that act of mass repression with all his later jurisprudence from the bench, no matter how allegedly noble (the “with all deliberate speed” clause makes such nobility suspect as it really deformed Brown v. Board and shows typical liberal weeniness in the protection of other people’s rights, i.e., you have a right to integrated education, but we’ll just take a generation to get around to that up in Boston, of all places). Everybody loathes Sen. McCarthy, but somehow Truman’s witch-hunting loyalty oaths get a pass. Robert Kennedy authorized the spying on Martin King, but Hoover is considered the nasty old panty-sniffer for implementing it. Lyndon Johnson unleashed Cointelpro against the anti-war movement but Nixon is the paranoid and grasping politician for continuing it. And of course, Dick Cheney’s policies are too much on the “dark side” for liberal sensitivities. Never mind that whereas Mr. Cheney argued the government would need to go to the dark side “from time to time,” Mr. Obama has set up camp in the dark side with less hope than Darth Vadar of exiting it. Mr. Bush simply (and arguably illegally) opened up a harsh detention and interrogation facility at Guantánamo Bay, mostly because he knew it was wrong and hoped the base would be beyond the jurisdiction of American courts. Mr. Obama bought a prison in Illinois and wanted to normalize such extraordinary practices and make them legal. Yeah, he wanted to close Guantánamo Bay, but only to open Guantánamo North. And where’s the liberal outcry? Where’s the progressives marching in the street about the drone wars, the escalation in Afghanistan, the secret wars in Libya and Syria. From progressives and liberals like Rachel Maddow we get at most polite expressions of concern, but more often celebration of the tough guy president who shoots Osama in the face (well, his troops do) and leaves Iraq (after the Maliki government threw him out).
This gets us to the nub of the issue. Somehow the liberal argument that Mr. Romney is ineligible for political office due to his lack of transparency on his taxes is not supposed to apply to Mr. Obama’s systematic lack of transparency on matters of domestic policy formation (meeting with lobbyists in coffee shops–no corruption there!), civil rights (why even list the numerous examples here?), foreign wars and rule of law. Mr. Romney may be a “clear and present danger” for a closed and secretive government, but Mr. Obama is operating one of the most unresponsive and secretive governments since Richard Nixon. There is literally no realm of government administration where Mr. Obama has not been the most secretive president in decades. Now, an honest liberal might acknowledge this and say, “Well, I trust neither Mr. Romney nor Mr. Obama, but I support Mr. Obama’s policies.” That is an arguable position but it is honest. Rather liberals play the game of pointing out the mote in Mr. Romney’s eye but avoiding the beam in their own candidate’s eye. This entire hullabaloo over Mr. Romney’s taxes is just comical–how about we get the legal opinion on how the President can personally order you murdered–before we get in a dither about tax cheats?
I know this post will be attacked by partisan democrats and liberals (I do consider myself one of the latter, by the way) as anti-Obama, and I must say there is simply no way I am going to cast my vote for the President. That said, I do not consider my position to be about a particular man. During the last decade there has been an incredible erosion of civil rights and democratic responsibility in the United States; we protect official lawbreakers and persecute those who unmask or decry them. Increasingly, America is looking like a banana republic with a formal constitution but a culture of impunity that hollows out the rule of law. Mr. Obama has not simply been a party to this process, but a critical agent in its mainstreaming. Behaviors that were viewed as aberrant and abhorrent under Mr. Bush have become normalized under Mr. Obama. As Junod puts it in his discussion of the “lethal presidency,” Mr. Obama has become a pioneer of a new “normal.” Speaking directly to Obama, Junod points out:
But here’s something simpler, and more human. You have made sure that you will not be the only Lethal President. You have made sure that your successor in the White House will also be a Lethal President, as well as someone somewhere else in the world.
Yup. To liberals who argue that Barack Obama is the “lesser of two evils” the reply is not, “well then you are still voting for evil.” No, the answer is that “Barack Obama is the more effective of two evils.” Obama partisans might want to note the wisdom of Billy Shakespeare on this score, a wisdom Junod is echoing: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” We’ll be living with Obama’s mainstreaming of the most reckless policies of state secrecy for a long, long time. And that conclusion, at least, is transparent enough.