No one had higher hopes for President Obama. No one feels greater sympathy for him as he has had to cope with wars and an economic meltdown he did not begin against an intractable Republican opposition more committed to getting him out of office than to resolving problems that confront the country. But he has not only followed his predecessors in allowing the violation of civil liberties and the expansion of un-reviewed executive authority, he has expanded upon both. He has given precedental weight to behavior which, were it confined to his predecessor’s administration, might be thought of as another sad aberration from American ideals, similar to interning the Japanese, or the earlier imprisonment of Eugene V. Debs*, and by his doing so, made constitutionally prohibited behavior more acceptable to Americans and more to be expected by people from other countries dealing with ours and with us.
He has set a course that says to all, “Whatever we once wanted to be, which included living up to some high ideals, from which we sometimes fell woefully short, we now want something quite different: to have our way, as the president sees that way, no matter what.
The single most egregious example is recounted in this post from Glenn Greenwald blogging for Salon.com. regarding the targeting for assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen. Give this and the likely consequences in the future under either Republicans or Democrats a few minutes thought:
If you are like me, i.e. you have little formal tie to the ideals of the country or any role in its governance other than that which is yours through being a citizen, and particularly if you are young and reasonably able to anticipate living here in 50 years after future administrations have come to take the powers he is assuming unto themselves as simple working assumptions, validated by time in place and both parties, think about what Greenwald says for a few minutes.
Some will note that I left room with “probably” in the headline for changing my mind. I did so for two reasons: the first is that Obama himself might alter his path and come home to what I hope were once his values. The second is that at the time I write this it is possible the Republicans will nominate, and significant numbers of Americans show themselves willing to elect, a candidate so outrageous that voting for Obama again requires a violation of English to express: a choice between worst and worst. In that case, I’ll vote for him again. Remote though I think the possibility to be at this time, the Republicans could nominate a candidate committed to our ideals to a greater degree than is Obama. I suppose I will have to vote for him or her.
* Lest a reader point it out as vitiating my whole point, both these happened under Democratic administrations. Falling short of our ideals is one area of non-partisan performance in our history and under the even the best of circumstances is likely to remain so.