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Why I might vote for Ralph Nader in 2012

What weird traffic this blog gets. Looking at the blog’s “dashboard” of statistics, I see that one of the top searches bringing people to me right now is “Obama hates America” — the result, I suppose, of my frequent use of headlines that tend to cariacature conservative positions. Also, the result of my writing about Rick Santorum.

Still, I’m guessing that people using that search term aren’t exactly looking for what I’m writing.

Another weird item: A blog post I wrote last fall during the presidential campaign — explaining that, yes, I was voting for Barack Obama, but giving reasons not to put too much hope in him — is still one of my top traffic-getters. The post? “Why Barack Obama may not be all that.

As we near the 100-day mark of the Barack Obama presidency, it’s worth revisiting that post, because I was sadly correct about one reason to be suspicious:

Presidential power doesn’t contract itself. The last eight years have seen the Bush Administration repeatedly assert its authority to act as it pleases, without limits from Congress and the courts. The courts have been more effective than Congress in pushing back, but the presidency holds more unilateral power in governmental decision-making than it did when Bill Clinton left office.

And here’s something fundamental about human nature: Presidents don’t tend to give power away. Somebody has to take it away. Congress did a lot of this in the post-Vietnam era, and a lot of those safeguards stood (though they eroded a bit) until the current presidency. Barack Obama has promised to live by the older, less dictatorial limits, but he would be an extraordinary president if he didn’t claim some of the authority the Bush Administration has grabbed for itself. Seems unlikely to me.

It seems unlikelier than ever, now.

Obama opened his administration with actions designed to dazzle people — like me — who felt the previous administration had overreached. He signed orders to close Gitmo within a year and to end the CIA’s use of A) torture and B) secret prisons. I was thrilled. Sure, some Republicans were arguing that there was less there than met the eye, but I was convinced they were speaking more out of sour grapes than anything else. Now I have to concede they might’ve been right.

Why? Here are a few examples from recent weeks:

• First, there’s warrantless wiretapping. Politico:

Earlier this month, the (Justice) department presented an expansive series of arguments urging a federal court in San Francisco to throw out a lawsuit over warrantless surveillance first filed against Bush. The department’s brief not only asserted the state secrets privilege, which has long infuriated civil libertarians, but also made a sweeping assertion that Americans have no rights to challenge surveillance that violates the law unless the information is improperly released.

Let me repeat myself about the state secrets privilege: It’s a way that presidents can shield themselves and their administrations from court scrutiny of wrongdoing by asserting that publicly releasing the information would damage national security. There is, currently, no process in place for a court to verify that assertion. The state secrets privilege, then, forces the courts — and the American people — to trust the government is acting in good faith to shield itself from sunlight in matters where it has been accused of wrongdoing. That defies everything we know about human nature. I’ve said this before: “No president — not in a democratic nation, at least — should be able to declare his actions utterly beyond scrutiny. Ever.”

Still, the state secrets assertions were no worse than what had been done by the Bush Administration. Now, however, the Obama Administration is going one better, also offering up a “sovereign immunity” claim — essentially, you can’t sue the government for illegally eavesdropping on you unless the government has admitted to eavesdropping on you.

Conservatives like to grumble about “activist judges,” but the truth is that the court system remains — along with the voting booth — one of the venues which common people can use to call their government to account. The Obama Administration is trying to take that away. And that should trouble anybody who believes the American government should be accountable to the people.

• Second, there’s the not-small matter of prisoners of war. Again, Politico:

Then, on Friday, the department issued similarly broad arguments against a court ruling giving legal rights to some detainees held by the U.S. military at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The government motion said the decision could aid “enemies of the United States” by allowing them to use “the U.S. court system as a tactical weapon.” The filing led to a New York Times editorial Monday sharply criticizing Obama for positioning Bagram as “the next Guantanamo.”

The Gitmo comparison is correct. Why? Because Guantanamo was created to live outside the bounds of both domestic and international law — freeing the Bush Administration, it believed, to treat the detainees however it chose. Obama’s order to close Gitmo seemed to signal and end to such lawlessness. Instead, it just moves the lawlessness elsewhere.

Understand: The U.S. is free to hold prisoners of war at Bagram without giving them habeas corpus rights. The problem in this particular case is that several prisoners — non-Afghanis — were captured outside Afghanistan and brought to Bagram. The Obama Administration is asserting these prisoners don’t have the right to challenge their detentions either. It is saying, then, that it can arrest people anywhere in the world — not merely a battlefield — and hold them without any kind of due process rights.

Ugh.

Taken as a whole, it would seem that the Obama Administration is only a little better — at best — than its predecessor at adhering to the usual norms of government accountability and due process that characterize a democratic government under the rule of law. And let’s be frank here: A little better isn’t good enough. As it stands, it now looks very much as though the Obama Administration made political and cosmetic decisions about the future of Gitmo without throwing away the wrongheaded ideas that were the foundations of its creation. It was a classic case of misdirection.

George W. Bush took the presidency in 2000 in part because many liberals looked at Democrats and Republicans and decided — much like the end of Animal Farm — that they couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Back then, the similarities were on economics issues; today, it may be the case that the two parties are simply too similar on civil liberties issues.

Since 2000, many liberals repented that they cast votes for Ralph Nader and (perhaps) accidentally gave the presidency to Bush. The lesser of two evils they (and I) came to believe might be evil, but it is still less evil. Right?

Perhaps.

But it seems that partisans on both sides of America’s political divide ought to uphold minimal standards of not-evil-at-all. Perhaps Democrats look at the deep unpopularity of the Republican Party and figure they can get away with betraying their base on these matters. They shouldn’t be so cavalier. Ralph Nader could always make a comeback.

  1. d.eris Says: Apr 17 2:44 PM

    Trackback to the global warfare and corporate welfare state.

  2. tom chastain Says: Oct 14 3:03 PM

    ralph nader is getting ready for 2012 he is currently on his national book tour for his bestseller only the super rich can save us and his other new book direct demcocracy will be out shortly both can be pre ordered online or from your favorite book store. this is his time right now to get his platform out of lower taxes and less spending people are getting tired of spending more more money and losing more jobs we need a real president who will get the econamy back on track ralph naders books only the super rich can save us and direct democracy would make great gifts for your friends and family

  3. Aaron Says: Jan 29 9:43 PM

    I will vote for Ralph.

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