President Obama betrayed me. He betrayed you, too.
When I cast my vote for Obama in November 2008, I wasn’t looking so much for “hope” as I was hoping for “change.” I was voting for an end to the Bush Administration’s excesses in the War on Terror. I was voting against torture. I was voting against Gitmo. I was voting against warrantless wiretapping. I was voting against the thousands of big and small ways that President Bush, Dick Cheney, John Yoo, and David Addington made the presidency a little more imperial—and made America feel a little less free.
I got bupkis.
The final betrayal came last Friday, when the president signed the National Defense Authorization Act. The act does a lot of things, and some of them—like paying for our military during 2012—are pretty important.
But it also does one thing horrendously at odds with the guarantees of freedom and due process that Americans have expected for more than 200 years: It lets the president put you in prison. Forever. Without a trial. The only requirement is that the president suspect you of being a terrorist.
If we’re being scrupulously fair, it must be noted that the president says he won’t actually use this power: “I want to clarify that my administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” he said in a statement issued at the bill’s signing. “Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation.”
He’s right: It would. Maybe we can even trust him not to break the promise. But as the ACLU notes, Obama’s promise “only applies to how his administration would use it and would not affect how the law is interpreted by subsequent administrations.”
In other words: 13 months from now, President Santorum will have a free hand to lock up America’s enemies. Terrified yet?
This moment has been a long time coming. It was forseeable back in 2008, when then-Senator Obama voted to give immunity to telecom companies that had participated in the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens. It was apparent when he promised to close down Gitmo within a year—a promise unfulfilled three years later. It was obvious when he weighed in against prosecuting those who authorized and enabled torture. It became unavoidable when he started signing assassination orders for American citizens suspected of terrorism.
If you voted for President Obama in the hopes of a new dawn for civil liberties and due process rights—and accountability for officials who had violated domestic laws and international treaties after 9/11—then there’s no getting around it: President Obama didn’t just fail to achieve those goals. He actively betrayed them.
He had plenty of help. Democrat Nancy Pelosi and Republican John Boehner voted for the National Defense Authorization Act. So did Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. And so, for that matter, did Bob Casey and Pat Toomey. The betrayal is complete, it is broad-based, and it is bipartisan.
As it happens, the Iowa caucuses are tonight: We’re starting the process of determining who will be president a year from now. If you’re looking for somebody who will be better than Barack Obama on these issues, your choice among Republican candidates is … Ron Paul. Who hates the Civil Rights Act, misses the gold standard, and who seems to associate with racist crackpots.
In other words: You don’t have much choice at all.
If you care about civil liberties, you may not have a candidate. You may not even have a party anymore. You certainly don’t have a president who is on your side. All that’s left is the acid taste of betrayal. Hope? It was just an illusion.