Turley: In terms of civil liberties, Obama may be “the most disastrous president in our history”

Thanks to AMERICAblog commenter shocker, we find this, from law professor and practicing lawyer Jonathan Turley. As you can see, that headline is no exaggeration (my emphasis and paragraphing below):

Civil libertarians have long had a dysfunctional relationship with the Democratic Party, which treats them as a captive voting bloc with nowhere else to turn in elections.

Not even this history, however, prepared civil libertarians for Obama. After the George W. Bush years, they were ready to fight to regain ground lost after Sept. 11. Historically, this country has tended to correct periods of heightened police powers with a pendulum swing back toward greater individual rights. Many were questioning the extreme measures taken by the Bush administration, especially after the disclosure of abuses and illegalities. Candidate Obama capitalized on this swing and portrayed himself as the champion of civil liberties.

However, President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture.

In his first year, Obama made good on that promise, announcing that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the “just following orders” defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.

But perhaps the biggest blow to civil liberties is what he has done to the movement itself. It has quieted to a whisper, muted by the power of Obama’s personality and his symbolic importance as the first black president.

As Turley points out, “realism alone cannot explain the utter absence of a push for an alternative Democratic candidate or organized opposition”. For him, this situation “looks more like a cult of personality”. To which I add this reminder.

Please read the article to the end; it’s both thoughtful and clear. I’ve said that Obama is crossing lines of conscience, one Dem at a time. Turley agrees.

About that “right to kill U.S. citizens” — Obama ordered the executive assassination of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and seems to have carried it out. Turley doesn’t mention this, but I do.

Execution by decree is a kingly power, forbidden by the Constitution for just that reason. Obama just handed that power to every king (er, president) that follows him.

All of this leads to two obvious questions, if these issues matter to you (they may not, relative to your view of the threat of terrorism):

   1. Can you, in conscience, vote for Obama?

   2. If No, are you willing to work to replace him as head of the party?

   3. If Yes, what plan would you support?

I’m asking these questions as actual questions, knowing there are valid reasons for disagreement on the first one. Your line of conscience may not yet have been crossed.

If you answered No to question 1, there really are only two choices for 2012 — a primary challenge (or group of them) and a third-party challenge.

Long term, the choices are similar — “Tea Party” the Dems from the left (an attempted coup), or build a viable (and named) Progressive Party to replace the party-based progressive coalition.

As a starter for your thoughts, I suggest these considerations of my own. I prefer primary challenges to third-party ones — entirely on practical grounds, since I normally play to win.

As primary challenges go, either of these modes fits the profile — Matt Stoller’s rolling favorite sons-and-daughters plan; and a viable, committed outsider with nothing to lose, like this guy. Yep, him. Now your turn.

Are you ready for 2012? This century is not for the faint of heart, but it’s rich in possibility. The prize? Overturn the Truman-created national security state. (If you click the link, search on “Truman”. The quote is from Gore Vidal. There’s more here, same suggestion.)


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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