Candidate Barack Obama ran his presidential campaign on a message of hope and change. President Barack Obama seems to be running his presidential administration on the thesis that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney didn't go far enough in the creation of a secretive national security state. Even more than they ever did, Obama seems to be pushing for a nation where habeas corpus, constitutional rights, and basic civil liberties protections can be emptied of substantive meaning whenever the president decides.
America has been kicked in the values so many times that I'm sure many doubted it could ever be able to stand back up again; others, I'm just as sure, were optimistic that America would be able to recover. I fear though that Barack Obama has delivered a final coup de grace to basic American values by authorizing an official assassination program against American citizens around the world. I don't think it's possible to argue that there can remain any substance to basic civil liberties if the president can officially have you whacked any time, anywhere, for any reason.
It's important to be absolutely clear on what Obama's assassination program is all about. Unfortunately, it's a secretive program that the government doesn't want us to know much about. I'm surprised that anyone even admitted to its existence. As far as anyone can tell, though, Barack Obama has asserted that he has the authority as president to order the death of American citizens anywhere in the world based on unknown evidence from unknown sources and for unknown reasons.
There can be no independent, judicial review of the evidence, no independent challenges to the sources, no public debate about the reasons. Obama has asserted the authority to be "The Decider" in ways that go well beyond what anyone else has tried to do. Even Bush and Cheney only asserted the authority to merely arrest and imprison people without trial or review; Obama, in contrast, thinks that because you voted for him, he has the authority to order your death.
Yes, you — I mean the personal "you" not the impersonal, generalized "you." The authority Obama is claiming is not restrained by any sort of public debate and pressure, impersonal laws, or independent oversight. You can generally count on laws and an independent judiciary to protect you from being arrested and imprisoned for crimes you didn't commit; there are no protections from Obama ordering your death. You should treat this as a personal threat instead of just assuming that you're safe, because you have no good reason to assume that it will only ever be employed against people you don't like.
The only reason it hasn't happened to you or people like you yet is that he simply hasn't singled you out. You have to trust that you'll never do anything that will personally bother him enough. Sure, we know that he won't order the death of a blogger for writing a critical essay, but that's only because we trust that he's a better person than that. Shouldn't our confidence instead be based on the existence of laws preventing it? And just how justified are we in trusting the character of a man who would institute an official program of extra-judicial assassination of American citizens?
"Murder" is the term we should be using here; "assassination" and "killing" are almost too euphemistic because they fail to communicate the full truth of what's going on. Killing a person without anything like a trial or judicial review and solely because a single person with power has decided that they need to die is murder, nothing more. It's not just the hired assassin who is a murderer, though, but also everyone in the chain who passes along the order to commit murder — right up to and including Barack Obama. The buck stops with him.
What's the difference between Obama ordering a hit on an American he thinks is helping enemies among Muslim extremists and a mafia don ordering a hit on a member of the family he suspects of helping the FBI by giving them information? Nothing grants any president anything even close to this sort of power. It's no more legitimate for a president to order the assassination of an American citizen than it is for any other American citizen to order the assassination of another citizen.
Laws or Men
It really doesn't matter if Barack Obama is convinced that he is doing this for the right reasons. It doesn't matter if he is convinced that he needs to do this to "protect" America and Americans from other Americans. It doesn't matter if he really is a good person who will only use this power for good things, never for evil. When you are forced to trust in the whims of a person rather than the generally applicable standards of the law, you no longer live in a country ruled by laws rather than by men. You no longer live in the sort of country that the Constitution was supposed to create.
It's undeniable that Bush and Cheney did a lot of things to move us in this direction, but Obama has made things immeasurably worse by trying to institutionalize the Bush/Cheney measures and by making them more official. This matters tremendously because what kills values, ideals, and principles is not so much attacks — not even attacks from those who pretend to defend them — but rather the absence of enough people who will defend them.
America's "Left" has largely abandoned its commitment to the rule of law in favor of adopting the Right's commitment to the authoritarian principle of following and accepting the decisions of the Leader. What is separating them is which leader they will blindly follow, not whether some leader deserves their blind allegiance.
Sadly ironic is how the Tea Baggers have invested so much time and effort complaining about Obama undermining liberty while falsely identifying this with things like health care reform. They aren't protesting the policies where their complaints have some validity; on the contrary, they seem to approve of those policies. Thus the Tea Baggers are protesting the loss of freedom in the context of policies which don't affect their freedoms while supporting policies which really do undermine basic freedoms.
I'm not sure if they are the ones who are more confused, or if it's the liberals who voted for change under Obama but now tacitly or even openly approve of Obama's expansion and deepening of the illegal national security programs they complained about under Bush. They are all deeply confused, and I think it's because they are still trying to pay lip service to values they no longer truly believe in.
Tea Baggers and the Right probably abandoned those values first, but it really doesn't look like many on the Left care much about them anymore either. At best they only honor those principles when it's convenient, but I suspect that even that isn't true very often anymore.