Friday, October 14, 2011

When NPR Criticizes Obama

You know the Obama Administration is very obviously missing the boat on something large when NPR feels confident enough to mention it. In this case, NPR's "Talk Of The Nation" program noticed an LA Times article by Jonathan Hurley that included a quote that read,

"the election of Barack Obama may stand as one of the single most devastating events in our history for civil liberties."

NPR then had Turley on as guest to elaborate and take calls. Here's a short transcript of note:

JONATHAN TURLEY: It is a strong language, but I think civil libertarians are coming to grips with what is really a building disaster for our movement, and it's been a rather difficult process. You know, I have a large civil liberties blog, and there's a lot of soul-searching among civil libertarians about what exactly happened. But we are engaging in a sense of collective denial when we deal with President Obama.

DONVAN: You mean you're not talking about it publicly.

TURLEY: Yeah. And I think that's part of the purpose of this column, is to address the fact that President Obama is a perfect nightmare when it comes to civil liberties. He not only adopted most of President Bush's policies in the civil liberties areas when it comes to terrorism, but he actually expanded on them. He outdid George Bush.

Not all civil libertarians have had trouble coming to grips with this reality. The partisan Democrat civil libertarians, yes. They have put on the blinders in a huge way. Team first! Rah rah!

A partisan Libertarian such as myself began calling out the President within six weeks of his inauguration. It was that obvious almost immediately. The dialogue is really excellent.

TURLEY: Well, certainly. I supported Barack Obama. I wasn't very quiet about my support. I thought he was going to be a refreshing change to George Bush. But what has happened is that we have an election that's become a single-issue election, and that issue is Barack Obama. And he's an icon to both sides. But what's happened to the civil liberties movement is that we generally have a pendulum swing back in favor of civil liberties, which we were building towards after the Bush administration.

Polls were showing that citizens were opposed to many of the abuses, that they wanted to see more protections, and Barack Obama really rowed that way. He portrayed himself as a civil libertarian. And then when he proved to adopt many of Bush's positions and adopt even worse positions in some regards, it split the base of the civil liberties movement. There are many people that frankly cannot get themselves to oppose Barack Obama. They make a lot of excuse for him.

DONVAN: You mean emotionally they can't do it?

TURLEY: They can't emotionally, politically, personally. They just have a very difficult time opposing a man who's an icon and has made history - the first black president, but also the guy that replaced George Bush. And the result is something akin to the Stockholm syndrome, where you've got this identification with your captor. I mean, the Democratic Party is split, civil libertarians are split, and the Democratic Party itself is now viewed by most of libertarians as very hostile toward civil liberties.

Senators and members of the House, it turns out, were aware of many of these abuses and never informed people.

This is really good radio, and I know that "Talk of the Nation" is typically like this, with good, measured guests and dialogue, beyond the soundbytes. I've generally had a hard time listening to it, because it is so regularly left-of-center. It's not that I need confirmation bias in all things, it's just that I similarly don't need to listen to predictably oppositional radio. I mean, I could listen to Limbaugh as easily, and don't. But the best political radio (or other media) is oppositional in nature, taking on the watchdog role. It's good to see and hear NPR start to do this a bit more. It excelled at it when Bush was in office.

Well, into the 3rd year of Obama's term is better late than never.


Todd S. said...

Glenn Greenwald has also been consistently critical of Obama's civil liberties record.

Mike Kole said...

It's telling that we can name two critics between us.

Doug said...

I'd prefer that Obama had a better record on civil liberties; just like I wish he were further left on all kinds of issues.

But, being tepid in criticism isn't due to some kind of ideological blindness. It's fairly simple political calculus. Whoever the GOP is likely to nominate will be even worse on these issues. The electoral college and winner-takes-all Presidential voting means that a vote for a 3rd party candidate doesn't do much more than hurt whichever one of the major party candidates you would have otherwise voted for (if any).

I'd say it's more a symptom of political helplessness than ideological blindness.

Doug said...

But, then again, criticizing isn't voting. Maybe the way to go is not to pull punches when you criticize Obama so long as you, at the same time, offer full recognition of what the Republican alternative is likely to be.

Mike Kole said...

I don't take it as blindness so much as willful ignorance, among critics and pundits. The one I think of most often, actually, is Rachel Maddow. She has these flashes of upset with the President, and then carries on bashing the Tea Party and the GOP. Well, that's probably the red meat that drives ratings.

And sure- the GOP candidate is likely to be worse...rhetorically. At the same time, it's not hard to show that we're still in Iraq, still in Afghanistan even though bin Laden is dead, still have Gitmo, still have indefinite detention. And, we can show that Obama has been worse than Bush- ordering assassination, in particular. What good is having power if it isn't going to be used to achieve political goals?

My thinking is that the right can criticize Obama all it wants, and it really has no opportunity to move the President further to the left on civil liberties, foreign policy, etc. It's expected of the primary opposition party, and rings hollow when that party was promoting similar policy. I believe only the left itself can promote policy that we really move the President to the left. He can discount the right's vote, but he can't discount the left's. If he loses the left, he's a one-term President.

It's a dicey proposition for the left, I concede. I argued this for several years as the right held power, and they never really stood up to the president on fiscal irresponsibility, so fiscal conservatives never got their way. They kept being told, "At least we aren't Democrats. Then it would be baaaaad". But if any elected official believes nothing is at stake, they offer nothing in particular. Those votes are in the hip pocket. Where else are they going to go? To the Republican? To the Libertarian? Har har! To the Green? Rosanne Barr, perhaps? Hahaha!

You can tell I've observed elected officials make these kinds of remarks.