Barry Eisler

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Obama Effect

Way back in December 2009, I wrote a post called It's Good to Be The King.  The post was about Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (the concept was hilarious at the time, and it's only gotten funnier since) -- in which Obama took a bow because, as he put it, "I prohibited torture."  I said:


This paragraph is pleasant on the surface, and poisonous underneath. Obama has no more power to prohibit torture than Bush had to permit it. Torture is illegal in America. The law, not the president, is what prohibits torture. What would you make of it if the president said, "That is why I prohibited murder. That is why I prohibited rape. That is why I prohibited embezzlement, and mail fraud, and tax evasion."

And today we have the exciting and completely unsurprising news that what President A unilaterally prohibits, President B might unilaterally permit:

Mr. Romney's advisers have privately urged him to "rescind and replace President Obama's executive order" and permit secret "enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives," according to an internal Romney campaign memorandum.

(By the way, you really have to admire all the Orwellian verbiage in that memo.  Did the Romney people suspect it might leak?  Or is the bullshit primarily intended for internal consumption?)

As the Times article puts it, "the future of American government practices when interrogating high-level terrorism suspects appears likely to turn on the outcome of the presidential election."  Indeed, and I don't know why so many people have so much trouble understanding this.  If you support a power in the hands of a President Obama, you are supporting it too in the hands of a President Romney, or Bachmann, or Palin.  If you support such a power in the hands of a President Bush, you are supporting it too in the hands of a President Hillary Clinton, or Pelosi, etc.  Arguing the power lawfully belongs with one president but not with another is the mentality of a subject, not of a citizen.

Increasingly in a country where, as Thomas Paine put it, "the law is king," the law is less than an afterthought -- it's simply irrelevant.  This trend is not new, but it's worsened under Obama, whose great legacy will be the conversion of what was formally seen as radical, illegal, unconstitutional behavior (by liberals, anyway, and however disingenuously) into mere policy differences partisans will cheer or decry depending solely on which party currently occupies the White House.  We can call this The Obama Effect.
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3 Comments:

Blogger Mr S Puppet said...

I like 'enhanced interrogation techniques'! Very Orwellian. Who could possibly be against enhancement?

I'm English, but wouldn't vote for either Romney or Obama because both seem all too willing to kill people or have them killed when it suits them. And Obama, in a way, is more sinister because he tries so hard to look like what he isn't. In his book 'People of the Lie' (which contains one loony chapter about the exorcism of ghosts but is otherwise brilliant), psychotherapist and author M Scott Peck argues that a useful psychoanalytic definition of evil might be: harm done by people who cannot allow their actions to be perceived as anything but good, by themselves or by others, and so have to justify why the recipient deserved it, and why bad must in fact be good. Peck describes people who behave in this way habitually as 'people of the lie' (hence title, obviously!). It's mainly a psychology book, but has a lot of resonance with the way politicians carry on. Peck believed that the most dangerous people of all are those who are convinced they are 'the good ones'. Which I suppose could apply equally to Romney and Obama.

As for the idea that one should vote for Obama to make sure Romney doesn't win...personally, I've never believed in tactical voting. A lot of my English friends vote for Party X to keep Party Y out, even though they really support Party Z - but Party Z doesn't stand a chance of getting in, and they don't want to 'waste' their vote. I don't agree with this definition of a wasted vote, and I think people confuse 'wasted' with 'unsuccessful'. I always feel that if I've voted for a party I genuinely believe in, then my vote is not wasted, since a vote is an opportunity to put forward your opinion - but I think a lot of people mistake it for bid to win a competition, and that's why it feels like a waste when it doesn't work. Whereas, in my book, if I've voted for the party I support, my vote has worked - I've expressed my opinion, and I don't actually mind if I win or not. If I don't, it means not enough people agreed with me (this happens all too often!) and so it's right and proper that my party lost.

Thursday, September 27, 2012 10:54:00 AM  
OpenID stanrmitchell.com said...

Wow, Barry. Your genius shows up time and time again.

You're so right about each party's cheerleading or hating.

Bush uses drones. Bad.

Obama uses drones. Good.

But I'm hopeful that more and more people are picking up on this phenomenon and that we'll soon start watching the expansion of presidential powers with a more skeptical eye.

Friday, September 28, 2012 7:44:00 PM  
Blogger ryan field said...

Well said. And this time I agree completely.

Saturday, September 29, 2012 1:00:00 PM  

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