Obama’s Signing of NDAA is a Challenge to My Constitutionby GG on Jan 13, 2012 • 6:02 am 5 Comments
I ❤ Obama. No. I ❤ Obama. My political constitution is wavering.
By most metrics, I am a liberal. I want equal rights and opportunities for all regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, politics or sexual orientation, and I believe the government should be able to intervene to enforce this equality. I don’t mind paying taxes to support social services (though I think the execution of our current tax system is laden with waste). I think a woman has the right to control her body (the political hot button here being pregnancy, preventing it, and ending it).
At the same time, I am a Constitutionalist, which I don’t believe negates my liberal leanings. I hold the freedoms listed in the U.S. Constitution paramount to liberty; I hold these freedoms as indispensable to American citizenship; I hold these freedoms should come before all other allegiances. In the wake of George W. Bush — with his poor public speaking, his botched weapons of mass destruction premise, and his (unconservative) expansion of government — Barrack Obama presented himself as someone I would be glad to call Mr. President. Especially because Obama denounced the flagrant use of executive power via unchecked executive authorization of wiretapping Americans during his campaign. Heck yeah, Obama! Swing that pendulum and restore our civil liberties!
Or not. Just a few months after he denounced Bush’s wiretapping (and still during his 2008 campaign), he voted for legislation that granted immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with federal agencies surveilling terrorist activities. At the time, I bought the argument that legislation was the lesser of two evils.* But really, it was just downhill from there. My civil liberties, and along with them my Constitution, went sliding down a slippery slope. But we weren’t alone. You were on that ride, too!
And then last month, we — my civil liberties, my constitution and I (and you) — bruised our butts on the way down. Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a wide margin, 283 to 136.** Then President Obama signed it into law. W.T.F.?! You may be asking, “WTF is up with your “WTF,” GG? The NDAA is signed every year. It’s the bill that funds the military for goodness sake!” For goodness sake my bruised patootie. I say goodness is at stake!
And here’s why.
Before I explain why I think NDAA 2012 is bullshit, let me first explain why it is not. There is a lot of hype about this bill as many claim it expands executive power such that the president can indefinitely detain U.S. citizens in military custody. I do not believe the president’s powers were expanded in this way.*** You can certainly argue that NDAA 2012 makes it easier, but that power was already afforded the president (via vague language) in the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) Against Terrorists resolution of 2001.
Believe me, I was all ready to open a can of princess whoop-ass because I initially thought presidential powers beyond precedent and beyond reason. But then I read several articles (some “liberal” and some “conservative”) that made me rethink this belief. I am not a lawyer, so I am depending on legal experts to form my opinion. And I believe this guy when he writes:
“They [the language used in the administration’s claims of detention authority, based on AUMF, and the language used in NDAA 2012] are almost verbatim the same. The NDAA is really a codification in statute of the existing authority the administration claims. It puts Congress’s stamp of approval behind that claim for the first time, and that’s no small thing. But it does not–notwithstanding the widespread belief to the contrary–expand it. Nobody who is not subject to detention today will become so when the NDAA goes into effect.” — Benjamin Wittes at lawfareblog.com
The way I see it, Congress punked out by codifying powers the president already believed he had. The way I see it, NDAA 2012 makes explicit what was already possible via loophole in AUMF 2001.
And that’s why the NDAA 2012 is bullshit.
What? Am I suppose to do a happy dance because the media hype around NDAA is (IMO) largely incendiary? Am I supposed to be glad Obama hasn’t expanded his executive powers at the cost of the remnants of due process? Am I supposed to rejoice that my president has done nothing to restore civil liberties post George W. Bush?! Hell no. [That’s “-ohl,” with two syllables.]
I’m glad there was media hype around this legislation. I’m not glad it spread half truths (or truthiness, if you will), but if it hadn’t been for the media blitz, I wouldn’t have done my own research and discovered how little this president and his administration have done for us — my civil liberties, my constitution and I. And it’s not like he hasn’t had the opportunity. Heck, there was a real and present opportunity last month! Colorado Senator Mark Udall introduced an amendment to NDAA 2012 that would have explicitly protected U.S. citizens from indefinite military detention, but lacking political support the amendment was shot down by the Senate. (Thanks for trying Senator Udall!) Indeed, President Obama had reservations about signing NDAA 2012 not because it threatened civil liberties but because it didn’t grant the executive branch enough leeway in regards to detention. I can’t believe I have let myself remain so ignorant of this administration’s disregard of the U.S. constitution.
But no more, Obama. No more. I see now I was seduced by your composure, bamboozled by your power of speech and belied by your Democratic membership card. My 2012 vote — my cherished, immutable (once cast), single vote — is up for grabs.
Look, I am no model citizen.§ I know the high horse from which I speak is a hobby horse because I can play at understanding politics without having to execute policy. And I further recognize it is the nature of the executive branch to expand its power. But in return, the powers that be (TPTB) must understand that citizens like me have to push back. We must embrace this dark ballet where TPTB reach for my civil liberties and I leap out of the way.
So what do you say, President Obama? Shall we dance?
And you readers? Even if you don’t agree with my interpretation of NDAA 2012 (and that it doesn’t expand executive power), we can still be collectively outraged at the beat-down our civil liberties have taken in this administration. Is the restoration of freedoms — and liberty and justice for all — a realistic goal in this day and age? Is my fretting over the (and my) Constitution valid?
* The bill passed; the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 preserved the authority of the FISA court (FISA = Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act). Obama defended his signature on FISA 2008 by arguing it was better than the previous policy, the Protect America Act, which allowed the president to forgo the FISA courts.
** Way to go Texas representatives. Not! Only two out of 32 voted against the NDAA.
*** I tried to make sure this site, lawfareblog.com, is not a mouth piece for one political party or another. As far as I can tell, it isn’t. Sites considered “liberal” reference them (such as Keystone Politics and Mother Jones) and sites considered “conservative” reference them, too, (such as Conservative News and Views and Red State).
§ I’m really good at voting in national elections, but don’t always take note of my local ones. And I drive over the speed limit…sometimes.
+ Featured image, Nadja Sellrup as Esmeralda in “Ringaren i Notre-Dame” (“The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”), a 2009 ballet at the Royal Swedish Opera.