Friday, August 23, 2013

Bush's Legacy Is Trashed. Why Would Obama Want to Follow Suit?

We had your back from Day 1. Where did you go?

Let's face it, Barack Obama has done enough good things -- helped us limp through a tepid recovery, overseen a return to civility (if only on his side), ended DADT, helped win the same-sex marriage debate, and brought us healthcare reform -- that his legacy is fairly well secured. Simply by letting Iraq and Afghanistan wind down was almost enough to place his presidency on the right side of sanity. Add support for sensible gun laws and Obama has done well.

Except -- this is crucial -- the president went and let the national security apparatus give him the smackdown he could have avoided. This is what threatens his legacy the most, that he didn't stand up to the thugs that naturally build up around defense.

The NSA is clearly out of control, its descent beginning as far back as TIA (Total Information Awareness) under John Poindexter early in the Bush years after 9/11. It came out of DARPA, the defense lab that gave birth to the Internet, and though Congress defunded TIA to get rid of it in 2003, it hung around like cancer and slowly metastasized.

And, like a cancer, it threatens not only Americans' constitutional rights but also Barack Obama's legacy. If it does, he'll have only himself to blame: You let the slimy critters live and they'll take over. And it seems they have.

Unfortunately, Obama has double-doubled down, firstly by saying at the beginning of his presidency that we would "look forward, not back" and leave off investigating the origins of torture and a host of black ops run by Bush's (or rather Dick Cheney's) cabal of blackguards, and secondly by participating in the stock prevarications used by all those in power who wish to preserve even the most sullied of their prerogatives. Power corrupts, and even Barack Obama with his lofty rhetoric has been so corrupted.

Obama didn't just let it lie there. He actually tripled down through the Justice Department, with its ruthless pursuit of whistleblowers and leakers, using antiquated statutes to label anyone who went up against this overgrown, out-of-control surveillance leviathan a traitor, a spy, an enemy of the state.

Sorry, Mr. President, somebody is listening to our phone calls.

Now, to a great extent, it doesn't matter what Barack Obama does in the remaining 3 and 1/2 years in office. Obamacare can be a great success, gun control might yet stage a comeback, immigration reform might yet pass the Congress. But in many ways, Obama has already drawn a weak hand and traded in the wrong cards by standing on the podium and saying that "your government doesn't spy on you" when he knows that it does and should have known better than to think the American people would believe him. They don't. And it was the first and clearest example of how an apparent man of principle loses his when he ascends to the White House.

Perhaps that's why Obama allowed his administration to so ruthlessly hunt down leakers. Obama wanted to be the leaker-in-chief, wanted to manage the message at all costs, to control the talking points. Edward Snowden, like Bradley Manning before him, had a very clear message to Barack Obama: We got your talking points right here, Mr. President.

Barack Obama had the clearest path laid out before him when he was elected, and that path was untrod by George W. Bush. Why, then, did Obama turn and follow Bush into the oblivion of the power-hungry? Maybe someday Obama will write the book on how good men go wrong. Or maybe he's writing it now.

Update. Talking Points Memo has a feature out today listing the major revelations on the NSA front. It's a must-read. And to pile on, TPM flags this ridiculous bit of flim-flamery. C'mon, Barack. You're not doing yourself any favors.

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