Propublica’s timeline on Obama and civil liberties is very useful. A few notes:
- More than once, I’ve seen claims that “one can argue” that Obama has been even worse than Bush on civil liberties. Well, I suppose this is literally true, but this would be a really, really, really terrible argument. Two of the very worst abuses of the Bush regime — institutionalized torture and CIA black sites — have been ended. Gitmo has not been closed, but while Bush established it Obama spent political capital to try to close it but was thwarted by huge bipartisan majorities in Congress. On military commissions, he’s been marginally better, but not in ways that will constrain future administrations.
- And the ending the Iraq War also counts, of course, Although I’m sure that some would-be hardcore anti-imperialists will be along to assert that agreements the United States signs with its puppet regimes are completely irrevocable, and Obama secretly wanted to stay in Iraq forever but couldn’t withstand this immense countervailing power.
- Obviously, being better than the guy who signed John Yoo’s paychecks is not much of a compliment. By objective, as opposed to relative, standards, Obama’s civil liberties record has been quite terrible.
- And, yes, what happened when he tried to close Gitmo is a good explanation for why all presidents and most mainstream politicians are terrible on civil liberties. What member of Congress paid a political price for that vote? There just isn’t a major constituency for most civil liberties issues. But an explanation is not an excuse — these are low priority issues on which presidents have a lot of leeway, and Obama’s record has certainly been bad for reasons that go beyond political necessity.