Obama's Democratic Authoritarianism He's bad — really bad — on civil liberties

He’s not closing Guantanamo, he’s continuing the "preventive detention" policy of the Bush administration under a new rubric ("prolonged detention"), he’s on board with military commissions ("reformed," of course) and the denial of habeas corpus — and last, but certainly not least, his supporters in Congress have launched a campaign to give him and his cabinet officials the power to close down the Internet in the name of "national security."

I won’t go on at length about the brazen hypocrisy and general slipperiness exhibited by Obama and his fans when it comes to key civil liberties issues such as these. Jack Goldsmith, former head of George W. Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel, and Rachel Maddow, progressive commentator on MSNBC, have done a superlative job of that. Goldsmith, of course, notes the president’s turn on a dime with obvious approval, arguing that the Bush approach was haphazard and lacked any substantive legal basis, while Maddow is horrified that, instead of abolishing these Bush-era assaults on the Constitution, her former hero is intent on formalizing and "legalizing" them. Go here to see her deliver the kind of stinging rebuke to Obama and his administration that Rush Limbaugh and his fellow radio ranters could never hope to match.

Maddow strikes a powerful blow against Cheneyism-without-Cheney by pointing out that the president’s preventive detention policy — which claims for the U.S. government the right to hold anyone, including American citizens, indefinitely, without trial, without formal charges, and without telling anyone — is worse than anything Bush ever attempted in one important sense. The Bushian effort was secretive and strictly ad hoc; the Obamaites, however, are quite openly constructing what Obama calls "a new legal regime" to preside over this wholesale assault on the Constitution.

At least the Bush crowd had enough remnants of a moral sense to sneak around and try [.pdf] to hide their crimes against liberty and the rule of law. Although they tried to rationalize their actions with after-the-fact legal arguments, the effort seems to me rather halfhearted: they weren’t really all that concerned with legalizing their power grab. They just went ahead and did it, and damn the torpedoes.

The Obamaites, on the other hand, have a different style — but the substance is essentially the same, with the addition of a few minor tweaks and rhetorical flourishes. They want to bureaucratize and institutionalize the horrors of the past eight years and make what used to be unthinkable routine.

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