During his Senatorial career and the earlier parts of his Presidential tenure, Barack Obama was an outspoken advocate of government transparency and whistle-blower protections. Sometimes, the President still makes feeble attempts to claim he holds the same views today. But most Americans agree that one thing is certain: If Obama’s White House is the “most transparent in history,” as he claimed it would be, America has been in serious trouble for a long time… and there’s no end in sight.
It would require an outrageous amount of willful partisan ignorance to claim that the current President is solely responsible for the surveillance state that gives off increasingly sinister vibes or for the Federal bureaucracy’s unforgiving and increasingly common attacks against any insiders who dare attempt to reveal secrets in the interest of the public. In fact, Federal veins of secrecy run deeply through the Nation’s relatively short history.
Unfortunately for Obama (whether he simply told a lie he had no chance of covering or — betrayed by lofty idealism — has fallen victim to changes he failed to understand as a tech-savvy, information-hungry public and a post-9/11 paranoid state began to engage in proxy war in the Internet age), he is at the helm of what is likely the least transparent Administration in history.
The President makes a convenient target for scrutiny, as he stands at the forefront of Federal action. And, for his part, Obama has not been the sort of President capable of delivering any of the lofty promises he made during either of his campaigns — especially the first — with regard to restoration of Constitutional safeguards or the dissolution of the government’s most ambitious surveillance efforts.
Following the terror attacks on 9/11, a shell-shocked American public, distracted by patriotic fervor, ensured its own culpability in green-lighting the unConstitutional tactics currently employed by Federal agencies. A perverse notion that conservatism was synonymous with support of the military pursuit of “evildoers” at any cost to civil liberties at home and human rights abroad became evident in some circles. President George W. Bush and a number of Republican henchmen in Congress were able to capitalize on the terror attacks to lull many of the same conservatives who are barking mad today into believing that the Patriot Act initiatives were necessary, safe and temporary.
At the same time, Americans leaning to the left of the political divide were spending most of their time calling Bush a civil-liberties-abrogating war criminal. Just as conservatives were quiet then, many on the left have remained quiet today. But the gap between conservative and liberal may become less defined in coming months than it has been in decades, due to the widening divide between public and government interest.
Polemicist Noam Chomsky described the current state of the executive branch in April as follows: “What it is is the same kind of commitment to expanding executive power that Cheney and Rumsfeld had. [Obama] kind of puts it in mellifluous terms and there’s a little difference in his tone. It’s not as crude and brutal as they were, but it’s pretty hard to see much of a difference.”
Try as he might, harkening back to social issue pandering hasn’t even given Obama the tools to reverse the tide of public discontent over government actions. And barring extraordinary circumstances, the President can hope to serve the remainder of his term on the defense.
Perhaps Obama, for the first time, has a legitimate opportunity to pull the “blame Bush” card. He should fault Bush for putting into place unConstitutional measures, justified only by fear, which the current President simply couldn’t resist getting his own turn to abuse. It’s sort of like the idea of a drug addict blaming the pusher on the corner for all of his life problems and failures.
And when he finishes blaming Bush for the gift of surveillance state tools, former Representative Ron Paul has a suggestion: The President ought to sit down and write thank you cards to all of the whistle-blowers he wants to skewer.
Paul said during a recent interview:
The American people are starved for the truth. And when you have a dictatorship or an authoritarian government, truth becomes treasonous. And this is what they do. If you are a whistleblower or if you’re trying to tell the American people that our country is destroying our rule of law and destroying our Constitution, they say they turn it on and say, “Oh, you’re committing treason”….
…And I think the large majority of the American people are sick and tired of hearing how many people are having surveillance on them, whether it’s their phones, their internet, and e-mail and everything else. Matter of fact, I think the president ought to send him a thank you letter, because the president ran on transparency, and we’re getting a lot of transparency now. So, finally we’re getting the president to fulfill his promise about transparency. So that’s pretty exciting for me, because I believe in transparency.
Obama’s promises of Constitutional respect, if public interest remains heightened, can be fulfilled. It will take more whistle-blowers and more scandals, but Obama really does have the opportunity to bring about change — albeit probably not in the manner he intended. He simply just has to keep doing what he’s doing and, by 2016, a large number of Americans on both sides of the aisle will likely be tired of big-government politicians who believe government is always right. This could pave the way for a transformational Presidential candidate with broad political appeal. Feels a lot like gearing up for 2008, huh?