Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Erosion of Civil Liberties (II)

Kevin Drum offers his own thoughts, which are quite similar to mine:

[Obama's] early ban on torture was profoundly welcome, but aside from that he's mostly continued Bush-era policies with only minor changes and then added to them things that Bush and Cheney could only have dreamed of. In this one area, I feel betrayed.

As I wrote the previous post, I was afraid that I was falling into the same trap that many have regarding Obama. Namely, that they ascribed to him their own policy preferences, rather than looking closely at what he has said and written. I wasn't at home, so I didn't have my copy of his book handy. Now I do:

More often, though, finding the right balance between our competing values is difficult. Tensions arise not because we have steered a wrong course, but simply because we live in a complex and contradictory world. I firmly believe, for example, that since 9/11, we have played fast and loose with constitutional principles in the fight against terrorism. But I acknowledge that even the wisest president and most prudent Congress would struggle to balance the critical demands of our collective security  against the equally compelling need to uphold civil liberties.

(Emphasis mine.) In many ways, this is classic Obama. How often have we heard him use the "on one hand, on the other hand" rhetorical trope? I guess this isn't exactly unequivocal support for civil liberties, but it certainly seems to take a stronger line than he has in office. In his inaugural address, he made a great case for the importance of our ideals in defending our nation:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.  Our Founding Fathers -- (applause) -- our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man -- a charter expanded by the blood of generations.  Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake.

This line stuck in my head, but Obama's actions in this aspect certainly have not matched his rhetoric. It seems to me that he hasn't rejected the choice so much as made it. And the choice was safety over ideals.

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