Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Presidential Dictatorship: Not Thinking Things Through

He sees the flaw in your logic: Lucius Fox

Let me get this straight: You think that your client, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands -- and your plan is to blackmail this person?... Good luck.

Bruce Wayne's confidante and tech adviser Lucius Fox, confronting accountant Coleman Rose when the number-cruncher tries to expose Batman's secret identity. 

Some of Barack Obama's most impassioned conservative critics see him as an incipient dictator bent on radically transforming the United States into a socialist dystopia through the exercise of unfiltered executive power.

Many of those same critics denounce Obama for being insufficiently ruthless in using arbitrary presidential power to kill and imprison people. Their plan, apparently, is to goad that incipient dictator into becoming a fully realized despot. 

Writing in Investor's Business Daily, attorney Ernest S. Christian and economist Gary A. Robbins -- the former a veteran of the Ford administration, the latter a Reagan administration alumnus -- tidily encapsulate the conservative Republican critique of Obama the embryonic dictator:

"Too many overreaching laws give the president too much discretion over too many aspects of our lives. There's no end to the harm an out-of-control president can do.... [Barack Obama] is undermining our constitutional traditions: The rule of law and our Anglo-Saxon concepts of private property hang in the balance. Obama may be the most 'consequential' president ever."

In fact, Obama is nothing less than "an alien in the White House," they write, borrowing an expression coined by Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal. 

"A wounded rampaging president can do much damage -- and, like Caesar, the evil he does will live long after he leaves office, whenever that might be," they continue. There is even the possibility that Obama would remain in office in defiance of law and the will of the electorate, since the "overgrown, un-pruned power of the presidency to reward, punish and intimidate may now be so overwhelming that his re-election in 2012 is already assured -- Chicago-style."

The authors appear to believe that the formidable powers exercised by Obama somehow originated with him -- or, at very least, that Republican occupancy of the White House immunizes the office against depravity.

While painting Obama as a singular threat to liberty and Bill Clinton as a degenerate who "lowered the culture" of an electorate that twice elected him, they insist that "George W. Bush stood up for America, albeit sometimes clumsily." 

Translated into Roman terms, the authors would have us believe that Clinton was the corrupt, self-absorbed adolescent Elagabalus, and Obama either the depraved Nero or the despotic Diocletian -- but Bush the Younger, heck, he was Claudius, a relatively well-intentioned, albeit physically maladroit and verbally challenged, legitimate heir.

In fact, Obama is not materially different from his predecessor in any significant way. Mssrs. Christian and Robbins depict Obama as a unique threat to our "Anglo-Saxon" tradition of liberty protected by law. But it was Bush -- acting under the influence of his Sith Master, Dick Cheney -- who disemboweled the habeas corpus guarantee, the foundation of common law protections of individual rights. Granted, Obama has embraced and enlarged on Bush's actions, but the damage was done before the "alien" occupied the Oval Office. 

Brutum hominis cum Imperator
Perhaps Christian and Robbins intend to intimate that the threat Obama poses to the "Anglo-Saxon" tradition is a matter of identity, rather than performance, given that the chief damage was done by Bush the All-American Boy, rather than Obama the "alien."

During the reign of Bush the Lesser, Marc Thiessen -- now enjoying a sinecure at the American Enterprise Institute -- was one of the Imperator's scriptwriters. Since the end of that regime, Thiessen has continue to evangelize on behalf of torture, murder by executive decree, and other key tenets of the Bush-Cheney doctrine of totalitarian presidential power.

Thiessen has done nothing to conceal his disdain for the incumbent president; he is firmly in the camp of those who see Obama as a subversive and aspiring tyrant. Yet in a recent Washington Post column, Thiessen called for that same neo-Leninist to employ extraordinary means to abduct WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

"Assange is a non-U.S. citizen operating outside the territory of the United States," observes Thiessen. "This means the government has a wide range of options for dealing with him. It can employ not only law enforcement but also intelligence and military assets to bring Assange to justice  [sic] and put his criminal syndicate out of business."

This could mean sending a CIA or even a military team to snatch Assange off the streets of Iceland, Belgium, or other friendly countries unwilling to surrender him to Washington, Thiessen insists. It also means using the newly created U.S. CyberCommand to interdict WikiLeaks' access to the Web: "With a stroke of his pen, the president can authorize USCYBERCOM to protect American and allied forces by eliminating WikiLeaks' ability to disseminate classified information that puts their lives at risk," Thiessen insists.
In other words, Thiessen is eager to see the dreaded Obama deploy kidnapping teams and throw the internet "kill switch," and will hector him mercilessly until he does -- making sure to season those critiques of presidential weakness with dire regarding what he has described as Obama's despotic designs.

Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, Thiessen's comrade at National Review, likewise laments the supposed fact that Barack Obama -- whom he has described as a "neo-communist" -- has been diffident and tentative in exercising presidential power.

In an address last March in an event sponsored by Hillsdale College, McCarthy chided Obama for not emulating Andrew Jackson's example as military governor of New Orleans during the War of 1812.

On December 15, 1814 -- shortly before the storied "Battle of New Orleans" -- Jackson issued a decree announcing that it was his "unalterable determination rigidly to execute the martial law in all cases which should come before [my] province." The city would be run as an armed camp. A 9:00 PM curfew was imposed, and anyone found on the streets after that hour would "be apprehended as spies and held for examination."

Following the battle -- regarded as the only significant American victory, although the War of 1812 had already ended -- Jackson refused to restore civilian government. In March, nearly two months after the climactic battle,  a member of the Louisiana senate named Louis Louailler published an anonymous letter in the Louisiana Courier condemning the continued state of martial law as an affront to "our oath of making the Constitution respected."

"It is high time the laws should resume their empire," wrote Senator Louailler, who also demanded that the dozens of civilians held in military custody be brought before civilian courts and either charged or released.

As if anticipating Andrew Johnson's Reconstruction-era dictum -- "Whenever you hear a man prating about the Constitution, spot him as a traitor" -- Jackson treated this invocation of the U.S. Constitution as the act of a British spy.

He first commissioned publication of a propaganda sheet called Friend of the Laws that pointedly warned New Orleans residents that those found guilty of "espionage" within the "armed camp" would be subject to immediate execution. He then dispatched agents to learn the identity of his anonymous critic and arrest him.

Once Louailler was in military custody, he was accused of acting with  "the direct and manifest object [of bringing] the military authority into contempt," as well as fomenting sedition by "stirring up discontent and mutiny in the camp" -- meaning the City of New Orleans.
Jackson's critics had a point.

Some of Louailler's constituents filed an appeal with U.S. District Judge Dominick Augustin Hall, who issued a writ of habeas corpus.

"Instead of responding to the writ as directed," McCarthy admiringly recalls, Jackson "had Judge Hall arrested." Jackson charged the judge of "aiding[,] abetting, and executing mutiny within the camp" and threw him into the same cell holding Louailler. Shortly thereafter, Judge Hall was marched a short distance outside the "camp" and released.

A few weeks later, Louailler -- a civilian legislator -- was subjected to a court martial on numerous charges, including espionage, "illegal and improper conduct," "disobedience to orders," and "writing a willful and corrupt libel."

To his credit, Louallier refused to recognize the jurisdiction of that spurious court, and also rejected an offer of amnesty "by which they had sought to brand me a criminal." He spent years working to restore his reputation.

Alas, sighs McCarthy, "We've come a long way from Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama" -- the latter, presumably, a timid milquetoast scandalously unwilling to punish dissent through summary imprisonment, and exile judges who object to such abuses of due process.

My question to McCarthy would be this: Do you really want Obama to exercise those powers? Would we really be better off if Obama -- the incumbent "wartime Commander-in-Chief" -- treated criticism of his actions as sedition, arrested his critics, and imprisoned judges who issued writs demanding that the government justify its actions?

Jackson repays former allies: The Cherokee "Trail of Tears."
As it happens, Obama's behavior in office isn't that far removed from the totalitarian ideal espoused by Thiessen, McCarthy, and their ilk.

The indefatigable -- and entirely irreplaceable -- Glenn Greenwald of Salon points out that the Obama administration, building on the precedents set by Thiessen and McCarthy's former boss, has created a "hit list" of people subject to summary execution on presidential orders. This includes several U.S. citizens, prominent among them the radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

When Awlaki's father -- working with the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights -- filed an emergency appeal for an injunction to prevent the extra-judicial state murder of his son, "a significant and extraordinary problem arose," notes Greenwald: Regulations issued by the Treasury Department under the Bush administration "prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in any transactions with individuals labeled by the Government as `Specially Designated Global Terrorists,' and those regulations specifically bar lawyers from providing legal services to such individuals without a special `license' from the Treasury Department specifically allowing such representation."

"On July 16, roughly two weeks after Awlaki's father retained the ACLU and CCR to file suit, the Treasury Department slapped that label on Awlaki," Greenwald continues. "That action would have made it a criminal offense for those organizations to file suit on behalf of Awlaki or otherwise provide legal representation to him without express permission from the U.S. Government."

Timothy Geithner, the career criminal in charge of the Treasury Department, has condescended to issue the requested license, thereby permitting Awlaki's father to press his legal challenge. This also preserves the supposed authority of the executive branch to grant or deny -- on any whimsical basis it considers appropriate -- permission to attorneys seeking to defend the legal rights of people on the president's "kill list."

Last January, after Awlaki was accused of inciting the attempted Christmas bombing of Northwest Flight 253, his father was asked why he didn't encourage his son to return to the United States to confront the charges.

"I will do my best to convince my son to do this," Awlaki told CNN, but he understandably doesn't trust a government that claims the right to execute his son without trial -- or even formal criminal charges.

"They want to kill my son," he pointed out. "How can the American government kill one of their own citizens?"

The unsettling answer to that troubling question is one terrifying word: "easily." Obama's conservative critics want to make this task even easier still. They really haven't thought this through, have they?

    Postscript, August 5: On the subject of the "Alien in the White House"....

This is the kind of thing that threatens to eliminate the ever-narrowing gap between life and parody that sustains The Onion's existence: 

The head of an eastern Pennsylvania amusement company has yanked a carnival game in which players shot foam darts at an image resembling President Barack Obama.

Irvin Good Jr. pulled the target-shooting game after receiving a complaint from a Massachusetts woman attending a fair in Roseto, about 65 miles north of Philadelphia. Good said Wednesday his company, Hellertown-based Goodtime Amusements, won't offer the game again.

"It was just a big, big mistake in judgment, and I feel sorry about it," he told The Associated Press. "I can't take it back, but I can try to make it better."

The game, dubbed "Alien Attack," featured a large painted image of a black man wearing a belt buckle with the presidential seal and holding a scroll labeled "Health Bill." Players could win prizes such as stuffed animals by hitting targets on the image's head and heart.

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Dum spiro, pugno!


the misery index said...

Saw a page last week that said obama wasn't socialist enough. The imperial executive was just getting warmed up under shrub the lesser. We'll get through the great leap forward with healthcare and welfare checks for all. The banksters and Soros will give the manchurian puppet his orders and he'll do as he is told.

MoT said...

Just recently some FedScum rep in the House call for Bradley Manning to be executed! Amazing that the very ones who lied us into evil imperial wars are more than happy to kill anyone who exposes the lies for what they are. They on the other hand are too exceptional to be bothered by such trifles like "conscience" or "morality".

MoT said...

Oh, and another thing, the more I learn about Jackson, sans the lies told me while growing up, the more I hate him. He is, yet again, another example of the villains that aspire to be president.

David Singhiser said...

Another great post.

Once again the conservative supporters are contradictory in their thinking. Obama is a usurper but he's not tyrannical enough.

Each new president is worse than the last. What happens after Obama if the neocons return to power?

TJP said...

Obama is a pawn, like those before him. The permanent state--which hardly suffers a change of staff after an election--is always increasing its power. People are understandably confused when the Executive indicates his agreement with an expansion of state power that was happening anyway.

6-19 said...

Senator John C. Calhoun, in the Senate, January 13, 1834:--

"It cannot be necessary, before so enlightened a body, that I should undertake to refute an argument so utterly untrue in premises and conclusion--to show that Congress never possessed the power which the Secretary claims for it--that it is a power, from its very nature, incapable of such enlargement, being limited solely to the safe keeping of the public funds--that if it existed, it would be susceptible of the most dangerous abuses--that Congress might make the wildest and most dangerous association the depository of the public funds--might place them in the hands of the fanatics and madmen of the North, who are waging war against the domestic institutions of the South, under the plea of promoting the general welfare."

"But it is attempted to vindicate the conduct of the Secretary on the ground of precedent. I will not stop to notice whether the cases cited are in point ; nor will I avail myself of the great and striking advantage that I might have on the question of precedent : this case stands alone and distinct from all others. There is none similar to it in magnitude and importance. I waive all that ; I place myself one higher grounds--I stand on the immovable principle that, on a question of law and Constitution, in a deliberative assembly, there is no room--no place for precedents. To admit them would be to make the violation of to-day the law and Constitution of to-morrow ; and to substitute in the place of the written and sacred will of the people and the legislature, the infraction of those charged with the execution of the laws. Such, in my opinion, is the relative force of law and constitution on one side, as compared with precedents on the other. "

"If we are to believe what we hear from the advocates of the administration, we would suppose at one time that the real question was, Bank or no Bank ; at another, that the question was between the United States Bank and the State Banks ; and, finally, that it was a struggle on the part of the administration to guard and defend the rights of the States against the encroachments of the General Government. The administration the guardians and defenders of the rights of the States ! What shall I call it ? audacity or hypocrisy ? The authors of the Proclamation [of 12/10/1832] the guardians and defenders of the rights of the States ! The authors of the War Message against a member of this confederacy--the authors of the 'bloody bill' the guardians and defenders of the rights of the States ! This a struggle for State rights ! No, Sir, State rights are no more. The struggle is over for the present. The bill of the last session which vested in the Government the right of judging of the extent of its powers, finally and conclusively, and gave it the right of enforcing its judgments by the sword, destroyed all distinction between delegated and reserved rights ; concentrated in the Government the entire power of the system, and prostrated the States as poor and helpless corporations at the foot of this sovereignty."

But what could Mr. Jackson do ? leave the united States as pawns of british imperial and financial interests ? (free trade produced what for 90% of Southerners ? the Bank o'USA produced what for the people ?) Calhoun's and Davis' South was played like a fiddle by the british. Against a unified, disciplined, well organized and well directed enemy (international money power, residing in England) only a unified phalanx can do anything.

Anonymous said...

" 'Regulations issued by the Treasury Department under the Bush administration "prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in any transactions with individuals labeled by the Government as `Specially Designated Global Terrorists'. . . ."

This begs a few questions, of course. First and second: Why would you not laugh in the face of a "regulation" by the "Treasury Department?" When did the (dead) Constitution give them the power of legislation? Or law enforcement, for that matter.

Third: Which treasury department is it? The Federal Reserve's (whose Secretary puts one of the two signatures on your dollar bills), or the one established by the Constitution for the original General Government (supposedly the other signature on the bills).

Fourth: So is it safe to assume that the GWOT is really about money (or what passes for such) and not the safety of the federal slaves of Amerika?

Linda June

Daniel Hewitt said...

Great post, and hilarious pictures.

I rarely defend McCarthy (this might actually be the first time). He was a guest on Bill Bennett's radio show yesterday morning. I agree that he is very much a neo-Leninist* as you noted, but he did say that Thiessen's column went too far and that using military/intelligence to pursue a non-US citizen on non-US soil would set a dangerous precedent.

Thiessen is truly in a category of his own....see his latest book.

*nice term BTW, I'll have to use it in the future

Anonymous said...

This article goes beyond the "villian of the moment" in the Whitehouse. It gets to the heart of the delusions that have crippled this country for generations. The ever increasing powers of a centralized government, transformed by an imperial presidency, and allowed to flourish by a catatonic citizenry.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article, Will, but I must take issue with the "not thinking things through" analysis. It seems to offer these despicable invertebrates the excuse of being merely mistaken. I am convinced that such wannabe petty despots know very well what they do; and have thought things through, according to their own fashion: all the way through to the real dictatorship in which they envision their wonderful selves holding exalted position.

Ex-JBS said...

Another great one, Will.

And thanks for supplying that horror story on Andrew Jackson (it made me think for a minute that you were writing about Bush II).

The more I learn about our early presidents, the more convinced I am that power mongers have occupied that office from the git-go.

Anonymous said...

If there is such a list, Will, would you be surprised to be on it, or surprised if you weren't?

rainbows and unicorns said...

That woman from the peoples republik of Massachusetts was right to complain about that dastardly game. Nannygov has to remove anything that would ever offend us in life and place us in a cocoon of touchy feely good kumbaya singing vibes. It is a part of political correctness after all.

Marc Swanson said...

With most intellectuals convinced that unchained government is the wellspring of progress and the economy trapped in an accelerating death spiral as a result, some form of dictatorship is probably inevitable. When society chooses a suicidal course one can only try to get out of the way.