I read this essay Andrew Sullivan did for Newsweek about why Obama’s critics are so dumb, and my reaction was, “Spoken like someone with a job and health insurance.” Now the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf dissects it for us:
To Sullivan, this is the big picture story of the Obama Administration: “the president begins by extending a hand to his opponents; when they respond by raising a fist, he demonstrates that they are the source of the problem; then, finally, he moves to his preferred position of moderate liberalism and fights for it without being effectively tarred as an ideologue or a divider.” Like the whole of his essay, it takes as its lodestar the two-party system and defines Obama as a centrist within it, as if the most coherent way to judge him is by comparison with other establishment politicians.
But centrism inside a consensus that is steadily eroding civil liberties, doing away with checks and balances, and increasing executive power is nothing to support, never mind something to celebrate. “Yes, Obama has waged a war based on a reading of executive power that many civil libertarians, including myself, oppose. And he has signed into law the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without trial (even as he pledged never to invoke this tyrannical power himself),” Sullivan states. “But he has done the most important thing of all: excising the cancer of torture from military detention and military justice. If he is not re-elected, that cancer may well return.”
That sums it up, doesn’t it?
Obama has transgressed against what is arguably Congress’ most essential check on executive power — its status as the decider of when America goes to war — and he has codified indefinite detention into law, something that hasn’t been done since Japanese Americans were detained during World War II. But at least he doesn’t torture people! How low we’ve set the bar.
It isn’t that I object to Sullivan backing Obama’s reelection if his GOP opponent runs on bringing back torture. Is he the lesser of two evils? Maybe so. But lauding him as a president who has governed “with grace and calm” and “who as yet has not had a single significant scandal to his name”? If indefinite detention, secret kill lists, warrantless spying, a war on whistleblowers, violating the War Powers Resolution, and abuse of the state secrets privilege don’t fit one’s definition of “scandal,” what does? If they’re peripheral flaws rather than central, unacceptable transgressions, America is doomed to these radical, illiberal policies for the foreseeable future.