During his 2008, presidential campaign, Barack Obama spoke forcefully against then-President George W. Bush’s expansion of executive power, leading many to believe that he would strengthen civil liberties. In March 2008, Jeffrey Rosen wrote at The New York Times that “[i]f Barack Obama wins in November, we could have not only our first president who is an African-American, but also our first president who is a civil libertarian.”
That was the great “hope” about Obama, to borrow a phrase from his 2008 campaign. There is no question that Bush waged an assault on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by signing the PATRIOT Act, approving warrantless wiretaps, among other concerning policies he enacted.
But since taking office in 2009, President Obama has not only kept these policies of his predecessor in place, but he actually greatly expanded them — and he has done so with the approval of neo-conservatives, who were frequent targets of the Left during Bush’s presidency. During an interview with Charlie Rose on CBS just this morning, former Vice President Dick Cheney praised President Obama’s drones program.
The irony here is thick. BuzzFeed noted recently that there are several aspects to Obama’s presidency that not many Democrats are willing to acknowledge — from the troops surge in Afghanistan to the “kill list” and drones to torture of terrorist suspects — though when Bush pushed them, they absolutely lost their minds.
Glenn Greenwald, who frequently writes about civil liberties issues, explained yesterday that Democrats who got worked up about civil liberties abuses under Bush but have sat silently during Obama have proven themselves to be “hacks.”
“Obama has embraced and expanded the core premises of the Bush/Cheney global war on terror that Democrats so vehemently claimed to find offensive, radical, a ‘shredding of the Constitution,’” Greenwald wrote. “And they are now supportive for one reason and one reason only: it’s a Democratic president whom they trust — Barack Obama specifically doing it — rather than a Republican president they distrust. That is the very definition of vapid, unprincipled partisan hackdom, and it matters for several reasons.”
This isn’t a defense of Bush’s presidency, by any stretch of the imagination. And while there are certainly civil libertarians in the Democratic Party who have spoken out against the policies being push by Obama, they seem to be few and far between. Unfortunately, this is the nature of politics. Their guy can always be trusted, but the other can’t.
It’s a sad reality for many Democrats, but based on the policies Obama has expanded upon or enacted since coming into office, it’s hard to deny that we’re living in Bush’s fourth term.