Look, I know the guy’s a centrist, OK? I know he’s not the Messiah. But I’m still quite disappointed:
In a stunning defense of President George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, President Barack Obama has broadened the government’s legal argument for immunizing his Administration and government agencies from lawsuits surrounding the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping efforts.
In fact, a close read of a government filing last Friday reveals that the Obama Administration has gone beyond any previous legal claims put forth by former President Bush.
Responding to a lawsuit filed by a civil liberties group, the Justice Department argued that the government was protected by “sovereign immunity” from lawsuits because of a little-noticed clause in the Patriot Act. The government’s legal filing can be read here (PDF).
For the first time, the Obama Administration’s brief contends that government agencies cannot be sued for wiretapping American citizens even if there was intentional violation of U.S. law. They maintain that the government can only be sued if the wiretaps involve “willful disclosure” — a higher legal bar.
I didn’t expect Obama to do the right thing on the war(s), or to be some great progressive leader. But I did expect him to at least break with the Bush administration when it came to respecting the basic tenets of the Constituion and U.S. law. Apparently that faith was misplaced. Sad.
Melissa Harris-Lacewell and James Perry co-authored this piece for The Nation. Here’s an excerpt:
When New Orleans flooded in August 2005, the Democratic Party was a shambles, locked out of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. For nearly a decade the Democrats played defense against a Republican onslaught initiated by Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America. After September 11, Democrats had joined with Republicans in giving President Bush unprecedented executive authority, thereby helping to erode civil liberties at home and authorize ill-advised aggression overseas. In 2004 Democrats were keenly aware that a solid majority of Americans believed it was unpatriotic to protest the Iraq War. So instead of articulating a clear alternative to Bush’s militarism, they nominated John Kerry on the strength of his record as a solider. Even so, they found it impossible to outmaneuver the existing commander in chief.
In August 2005 the Democratic Party had no clear leader, no identifiable platform, no winning national coalition and little political courage.
Then the force of Hurricane Katrina devastated the inadequate levees surrounding New Orleans. Americans watched as the city flooded, the power went out, and food and water became scarce. They watched as emergency shelters became centers of disease, starvation, agony and death. The nation watched in horror, but no mass evacuation began and Air Force One did not land. As the crisis wore on, the public became increasingly confused by and angry about the lack of coordinated response to alleviate human suffering and evacuate trapped citizens. As the waters rose, President Bush’s approval sank.
Mr. Summers has spent much of his career tweaking fellow liberals with arguments he considers unpleasant truths â€” on the dangers of budget deficits, the benefits of capitalism and other subjects. But he seems to have decided that conservative orthodoxies have become a vastly bigger threat to good economic policy than liberal ones. His favorite argument today is one that instead drives some conservatives nuts.
It goes like this: To undo the rise in income inequality since the late â€™70s, every household in the top 1 percent of the distribution, which makes $1.7 million on average, would need to write a check for $800,000. This money could then be pooled and used to send out a $10,000 check to every household in the bottom 80 percent of the distribution, those making less than $120,000. Only then would the country be as economically equal as it was three decades ago.
NYT columnist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman thinks FDR can be an inspiration for the Obama administration — but he thinks Obama needs to go further than FDR did in spending to revitalize the economy:
The political lesson is that economic missteps can quickly undermine an electoral mandate. Democrats won big last week â€” but they won even bigger in 1936, only to see their gains evaporate after the recession of 1937-38. Americans donâ€™t expect instant economic results from the incoming administration, but they do expect results, and Democratsâ€™ euphoria will be short-lived if they donâ€™t deliver an economic recovery.
The economic lesson is the importance of doing enough. F.D.R. thought he was being prudent by reining in his spending plans; in reality, he was taking big risks with the economy and with his legacy. My advice to the Obama people is to figure out how much help they think the economy needs, then add 50 percent. Itâ€™s much better, in a depressed economy, to err on the side of too much stimulus than on the side of too little.
In short, Mr. Obamaâ€™s chances of leading a new New Deal depend largely on whether his short-run economic plans are sufficiently bold. Progressives can only hope that he has the necessary audacity.