Enjoy Civil Liberties? Don’t Vote for Obama in 2012

The president has consistently betrayed American citizens.

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.

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1309721121 Mark

    Joel, quite whining and get real. It’s obvious, your just another balding head shaver who pretends to have everything under control. I’m going to vote for Obama. I like women to have rights and health care should also be an issue. Sorry that your world is so, so trivial and stupid. You obviously voted for Nader instead of Gore. You will always deserve what you get in your aesthetically perfect world.

  • http://joelmathis.blogspot.com/ Joel Mathis

    Mark: I hear what you’re saying about women’s rights. I don’t want to let perfect be the enemy of the good.

    On the other hand, sometimes voting for the lesser evil is still evil. And while I want my government to provide things like health care, I’d much rather my government didn’t kill and imprison American citizens merely on the president’s say-so.

    Remember, the powers the president claims are powers that are available for a Republican president. He won’t care so much about women’s rights or health care—PLUS he’ll be able to kill and imprison Americans on his own say-so. Obama has helped claim *that* power for future Republican presidents.

    Name-calling doesn’t make your case for you, though I’m sure it feels good. But what you’re saying is that it’s OK for Americans to give up old freedoms if the president’s other domestic priorities are in line with yours. Maybe. There are always tradeoffs. But this is one I’m not inclined to make. Your mileage may vary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.gautreau Chris

    Admittedly it’s because I identify completely with the sentiment, but this is without a doubt the most articulate distillation yet on the letdown for us who elected BHO in 2008. No one took him to be some political savior. Hell, if nothing else, he was undeniably smarter than Bush and actually knew how the law works. But Obama has soft-pedaled America in keeping just about every policy that stoked hatred for the previous administration. Four years ago, I thought of myself as “not Republican.” I’m so effing jaded with what American politics has devolved into.