Thursday, October 08, 2009

Great Debate - Has Obama embraced Cheneyism?

There is a fascinating discussion at Anonymous Liberal between A.L. and Glenn Greenwald about Greenwald's thesis that President Obama has embraced Cheneyism with regard to national security and civil liberties.

A.L. argues that at its core, Cheneyism was characterized by lawlessness. Bush and Cheney's posture was that under inherent war powers they claimed existed in Article II of the Constitution, the Executive can do whatever he wants to do as long as he says he's doing it to protect America. Laws be damed.

[S]he argues also that whether you agree with Obama and Eric Holder on policy specifics, the fact is that they are operating within the law and that is the key difference between Obama and Cheney/Bush.

It is certainly true that Obama is continuing many of the Bush administration's policies, but they're the policies from 2008, after the Bush administration's hand had been forced by the Courts or Congress had come to its rescue with legislation. In other words, Obama may not be going to great lengths to voluntarily impose constraints on existing executive authority, but I have not seen any evidence that he has embraced Cheneyism, i.e., that his administration is using highly dubious legal claims to expand executive power. To me, that is a fundamental difference. It is the difference between acting legally and illegally.
Greenwald counters in A.L.s comments section that it doesn't matter what authority Obama cites. If you do what Cheney and Bush did, you're every bit as evil as Cheney and Bush.

The policies themselves were every bit as much defining attributes of Bush/Cheney radicalism as the underlying legal claims. The fact that Obama found better legal arguments to justify the same policies is nice, but it's not much help to those caught up in -- victimized by -- all of that, and it's a huge stretch to say that the same exact policies in Obama's hands are fundamentally different all because the legal theories asserted by his DOJ are (at least for now) different.
There is a lot more and all of it very good. Go check it out.