Will Obama’s second term finally fulfill his 2008 promises? (Part I)

Friday, November 9, 2012 at 10:17 am by

This is the first part in a series examining opportunities for the Obama administration to return, in the wake of the 2012 election, to the president’s promises from the 2008 campaign to restore liberty and security. Part II and part III are also available.

President Obama’s reelection has sparked an onslaught of analysis attempting to define the agenda for his second term. Will it reflect the vision of restoring liberty and security on which the president ran in 2008, or the disappointing passivity towards the national security state that characterized his first term?

More to the point, will President Obama’s legacy include emerging American authoritarianism, or instead the recovery of constitutional freedoms lost over the past decade? While machinations in Washington will of course influence the answer, We the People will play a crucial role, well beyond the 2012 election, in determining the outcome.

Obama’s legacy of constitutional violations

With the broad strokes that history affords the past, any president’s legacy usually shrinks within a decade to two or three elements. For instance, Clinton is remembered for presiding over the tech boom and resulting federal surplus, dismantling welfare and escalating mass incarceration, and surviving a partisan impeachment effort prompted by sophomoric sexual indiscretion.

George H. W. Bush’s legacy includes the first Iraq war, failing to energize the economy, and a premature pledge not to raise taxes. We remember Ronald Reagan for overcoming the Soviet Union and its satellites (even if his methods ensured the contemporary budget crisis, created al-Qaeda, and emboldened Iran), heralding “morning in America” to end a recession, and after surviving an assassination attempt, conveniently growing unable to recall more or less anything about compounding scandals that stained his second term.

In these broad strokes, President Obama’s legacy will likely include memories of the historic debate over healthcare policy in 2009, and the recurring budget crises that, combined with GOP intransigence, have periodically brought Washington to a standstill under his administration. The most enduring part of his legacy, however, will be the entrenchment of the national security state on his watch.

Beyond merely failing to reverse the trajectory of the Bush-Cheney administration, Obama’s first term extended it, pioneering new abuses while entrenching old ones.

Unlike Obama, Bush & Cheney never asserted the authority to kill US citizens based on their speech.

Unlike Obama, Bush & Cheney never signed into a law a statute granting the military the power to detain any American without evidence or proof of crime.

While Bush & Cheney violated international law by authorizing torture, it took the Obama administration to decide  that such criminal acts would go unpunished (or even investigated), ensuring their recurrence and nailing the coffin of international human rights.

The Obama administration’s prosecution of whistleblowers who sacrifice their jobs to defend the public interest has reached unprecedented levels, as have deportations of undocumented workers, their families, and occasionally, even US citizens. Rather than repudiate the Bush & Cheney paradigm, Obama has unfortunately perpetuated it.

A former President’s warning

50 years ago, a president with the deepest military roots among any who has held office since then–no mere General, but the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower — issued a disturbing warning about a threat to our democracy posed by “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” that, together, he described as “the military-industrial complex.” President Eisenhower said, in no uncertain terms, that:

“[W]e must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Ike observed the larval stages of a dynamic that has grown only more pernicious since he left office. In the decade since 9/11, under Presidents Bush and Obama alike, our military-industrial complex has initiated not only various military conflicts abroad, but also a domestic war on the constitutional rights of the American people.

Secret and increasingly immune to public accountability, if not above the law altogether, and insulated from accountability by elected leaders from each of the major political parties, an alphabet soup of federal agencies has emerged to pursue a duplicative, wasteful, and constitutionally abusive national security agenda.

Eisenhower proved prescient. True to his prediction, the contemporary national security racket offends all Americans, regardless of ideology.

Casualties of the national security state: transparency, accountability, and legitimacy

First, it has erected such pervasive secrecy that it threatens the basis for democratic accountability, subverting the consent of the governed on which democratic  legitimacy depends. For years, the NSA operated its dragnet warrantless wiretapping scheme in total secrecy, not only unauthorized by statute, but in direct violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) enacted by Congress in the 1970s to stop domestic spying.

Every federal court ever to review the program on the merits has struck it down as unconstitutional, yet it persists unabated. Congress bent over backward to rewrite the FISA law in 2008, and appellate courts have thrown out numerous lawsuits challenging it based on the perverse reasoning that, because the NSA’s program is secret, no plaintiffs can prove that they, in particular, have been monitored.

Officials have admitted to violating even the permissive new law. Members of Congress have asked tough questions and received only silence in response. Yet, reflecting a disturbing pattern of bipartisan abdication repeated over the past decade, the House recently voted to reauthorize the 2008 FISA amendments for another five years, even beyond the next administration.

Secret programs violating contrived statutes, especially with the blessing of (supposedly) independent courts, make a mockery of our claim to live in “a land of the free.”

Part II of this series will examine the ideologically diverse social movements abused by misguided and constitutionally offensive domestic spying activities, as well as the contribution of those programs to the federal budget crisis. The series will conclude by suggesting not one, but two alternative national security agendas for President Obama’s second term.

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6 Responses to “Will Obama’s second term finally fulfill his 2008 promises? (Part I)”

  1. Shahid Buttar Says:

    If you like what you read, sign up for further updates from the Bill of RIghts Defense Committee. Just click the blue button in the right nav above. You can sign up for a monthly newsletter with news & analysis beyond the headlines, as well as opportunities to take action in your community to restore your rights.

  2. Nic108 Says:

    Good piece. There’s no indication that BO will do anything but continue to grow the Fatherland Security Police State during his second term..

  3. People's Blog for the Constitution » Will Obama’s Second Term Finally Fulfill His 2008 Promises? (Part II) Says:

    [...] The first installment in this series reviewed President Eisenhower’s prescient warnings about “the military-industrial [...]

  4. Dr. Xylem Galadhon Says:

    Great piece! I def. agree that the pressure of We The People will in some significant part affect the platform and priorities of the coming term — i strongly feel that is *why* the specific victories for the LGBT and immigrant communities were achieved in the first term — which further of course made the Pres *more* popular and supported by esp. his base, but independents also, who value strength and backbone, even if (maybe esp. if) it runs contrary to the other party.

    Btw, as a side point – the thing *i* will remember this Admin for probably beyond all others isn’t mentioned above, and is not as concrete and identifiable. It is the lofty vision and words of this Pres that push me, and many, to do the best we can for the country and world — even when those things sometime are in direct contradiction to the current policies of this Admin. I know that seems a bit curious, perhaps, but there is no Pres that has had the ability to bring out the best in us in my life, and it is hard to imagine how another could.

    Note though that this is *very* different from the Pres being tough in his approach with the opposition, and totally consistent with his words — that *is* something we need to hold him accountable to!!!

  5. People's Blog for the Constitution » Will Obama’s second term finally fulfill his 2008 promises? (Part III) Says:

    [...] first installment in this series reviewed President Eisenhower’s prescient warnings about “the military-industrial [...]

  6. Targeted Individuals: Casualties of the national security state | USA COINTELPRO VICTIM OF THE PATRIOT ACT Says:

    [...] national security state not only drains the federal budget and undermines the legitimacy of our government, but also assaults the rights of we taxpayers who fund it. Stretching beyond counter-terrorism to [...]

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