Obama campaigned as a consistent critic of the Bush administration’s understanding of executive power — and a critic with a background in constitutional law, no less. But apart from his disavowal of waterboarding (an interrogation practice the Bush White House had already abandoned), almost the entire Bush-era wartime architecture has endured: rendition is still with us, the Guantánamo detention center is still open, drone strikes have escalated dramatically, and the Obama White House has claimed the right — and, in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, followed through on it — to assassinate American citizens without trial.
These moves have met some principled opposition from the left. But the president’s liberal critics are usually academics, journalists and (occasionally) cable-TV hosts, with no real mass constituency behind them.
The majority of Democrats, polls suggest, have followed roughly the same path as the former Yale Law School dean Harold Koh, a staunch critic of Bush’s wartime policies who now serves as a legal adviser to the State Department, supplying constitutional justifications for Obama’s drone campaigns. What was outrageous under a Republican has become executive branch business-as-usual under a Democrat.
N.B. I am one of those addled academics who, despite not being terribly left-wing, believes that Obama has acted unconstitutionally on major questions on perhaps a score of occasions. I genuinely believe that the civil liberties of Americans stand in peril. I also think that the scope of the President's claim of unilateral authority to make war anywhere in the world is, not only breathtaking, but also dangerous in the long run to the entire planet. And to think that Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize! (But the Nobel Peace Prize committee has made other odd choices -- for example, Henry Kissinger.)
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