Friday, September 14, 2012

Obama's night in metaphorical Bangkok

One of the biggest liberal criticisms of President Obama is that he's been lax, if not resistant, in rolling back the most egregious offenses of the Patriot Act. Although I don't conflate that with the Bush administration's aggressiveness in signing it into law, I've otherwise agreed with the criticism. But I realize the president has to compromise and prioritize, and that legislation with so many regulatory tentacles can't just vanish overnight. So being an overall supporter of Obama, I don't consider that a deal-breaker — just something I wish he'd handle differently.

Indefinite detention in particular is one of those things I didn't care to see the administration defend — but as this article from Addicting Info argues, said defense is actually a ploy to discard it for good, so maybe he shouldn't handle it differently:

What we are looking at here is a strategic maneuver by the President to strip away these provisions. The USA PATRIOT act put them where the courts could not easily touch them, so he worked hard to make sure that they were attached to the NDAA in just the right way to open up the door. He cut a deal to get certain judges in on certain dates, which put a judge he selected in to the correct court at just the right time for the NDAA signature. Then, he gave a strong enough defense to make sure that Congress could not go after him for failing to do his job as President, but not strong enough to drag out the case. Then the administration prematurely executed their appeal, ensuring that getting another appeal opportunity would be more difficult, and even then it would not be in the hands of any successor. 

This is playing political chess. Without ever exposing himself to liability, the President, a constitutional lawyer before entering into politics, used the system in order to overturn one of the most easily abusive and abhorrent provisions which has ever been signed into law, the suspension of Habeas Corpus.

If this is accurate, then President Obama might be the greatest genius ever to hold the presidency. His approach — which we've seen before — is to make any changes as permanent as possible, in a way that appeals both politically and in practice. In the short term, it makes him appear to some that he isn't sufficiently flexing his executive muscles, or that he isn't acting fast enough. But in the end, by going through the system rather than via executive order or another expedient route, he makes it harder for the next leader to overturn his accomplishments. He helps employ, and set, legal precedents. Even when it seems like he's on the wrong side of an issue, he ultimately sets all the pieces to play out as it should.

Calling it chess is an understatement. This is 3-D, blind, simultaneous chess played underwater in Morse Code. And Barack Obama is the Bobby Fischer of presidents (minus the anti-Semitism and overall lunacy).

We're lucky to have this man in the White House. We're lucky to have him, period.

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