Guantanamo, presidential influence, power and priorities, civil liberties,…Fourth of July rhetoric

On June 26th Glenn Greenwald wrote at Salon about the closing/not closing of Guantanamo citing a New York Times piece of the same date by Charlie Savage about Guantanamo fading as a priority of the administration. Although a bit long and involving interbloggery debate, I commend Greenwald’s work.

Everyone knows that presidential persistence on a subject is at least one means of influencing Congress and it is not an inappropriate exercise of his office.  One senses that Rahm Emmanuel knows a great many other means of exerting influence and has used them for the things the Administration cares about.  As Greenwald points out, a number of the things it cares about, public auction, free market in prescriptions, tough financial regulations, are quite contrary to what candidate Obama said he cared about.

Obama is a great disappointment in the field of civil liberties, an area in which it is frequent that conservatives, at least of the libertarian stripe, and liberals can often find agreement.  He has not only preserved nearly every asserted executive prerogative of the George W. Bush administration but added a few more.  I think there are two reasons for this:

  1. For him to forswear many of these would place limits on the intelligence agencies that they simply don’t want.  They do not regard the days of worrying about civil liberties as “the good old days” when the Constitution was rigorously applied, they regard their current freedom of action as something to be preserved and, if possible, enhanced.  If they can continue to convince their bosses that their morale and effectiveness will plummet if they can’t behave freely, those bosses can convey that to Obama who reputedly does not wish to alienate them.  (To take just the Fourth Amendment as an example, how constrained they ever were is really open to debate.  Prior to the Bush Administration’s securing a law to effectively circumvent FISA, it was surely the most compliant with government court in the history of the nation.)
  2. Anyone who is president is likely to feel constrained more than powerful, simply because he cannot usually work his will by sheer fiat.  Those powers accumulated to the office by his predecessors, and George W. Bush accumulated, often by assertion, quite a few, are not to be given up casually, even if they are not used.  Who knows when they might be useful?  Giving them up is a headline and sop to a civil liberties base that has not demonstrated its effectiveness in getting people elected while it is a full steak and lobster dinner for the Tea Partiers who think he is weak and naive.  Sad as I am to say it, and as much as it made some Fourth of July rhetoric ring off-key for me, unless people who are virtually sure never to be caught up in these executive deprivations of rights rise up to a degree they have shown no disposition to do, I can’t see him giving up any of these powers or leaning into Congress to take action on related issues.  Revise the Patriot Act to ensure the preservation of individual rights?  Why?

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