No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
The revelation last week that the president authorized the assassination of a US citizen created a surprisingly small splash. I try not to engage in speculative “imagine if” games, but if the president had done such a thing in 2005 it is hard to think there would not have been near apoplexy on the left. It is a nakedly thuggish act, and I can easily envision pictures like this with the faces of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gonzales superimposed on them. It would have raised an enormous outcry.
Writing on the relative quiet from liberals Avedon Carol wrote “early on when people asked, ‘Would you rather McCain had won?’ someone said, ‘At least then you’d know you were in a fight.’” Do progressives truly care that the president has made such an expansive claim? Do they realize that their silence does not just make them look hypocritical, but will completely cripple any argument they make against a future Republican president who does anything even remotely that provocative? Conservatives are already happily batting around the idea and soberly debating the pluses and minuses of executive hit squads. Some on the right are already gleefully noting the apparent abandonment of principle among Democrats and their supporters.
The response from the right has been largely muted, though. In a way it makes sense that all sides would rather the issue go away, because it does not run on established political fault lines. Democrats do not want to take a hard line against a Democratic president; they already have enough of a self-destruct narrative to want to avoid high level internecine conflict.
Republicans, meanwhile, would have an equally hard time coming out forcefully against the president. Aside from the fact that Obama’s actions are very much in the strong, decisive and brutal approach towards foreign enemies that they seem to gravitate to naturally, they have to know any investigation would likely reach back into the Bush years very quickly, a chapter in their history they would just as soon not revisit.
Still, this is an election year, and even though their numbers look good right now that may just be a mirage. If they base their electoral strategy on reflexive obstructionism and pandering to the base (neither of which, you’ll note, has anything to do with addressing the problems facing America) it is hard to see how they sustain any kind of momentum through campaign season. They might get some traction running against health care, though, particularly if voters do not see enough meaningful, tangible benefits before election day.
(I cringe whenever I hear Democratic leaders talk about the need to educate voters on the new law; aside from the whiff of elitism it carries - which has been a useful club to beat them with in the past - it raises the question of why the huge reform they are touting cannot be directly felt. If it is so great, why does it have to be sold? Just step back and let people begin enjoying the wonderfulness!)
The GOP seems determined to not get any advantage whatsoever on financial reform, however. On what may the the biggest issue of all - unemployment - there is radio silence from the party. Presumably they just want for us to wait for the invisible hand to stop giving us the finger and start working its magic again. Democrats may not have a much greater sense of urgency than that, but the minority party needs to distinguish itself if it hopes to not remain the minority.
Executive power may not be a sexy peg for Republicans to hang their hats on, but since they are already ceding the most popular issues to the Democrats, they may as well make as much hay on this one as possible. The Democrats’ refusal to stand up to Obama is depressing but not really surprising. It would be nice to see them stand on principle and to put institutional obligations over party objectives. That most likely is not in the cards, though. The Republicans’ reluctance to make this an issue is a little more surprising. At least, it is surprising to the extent that I am still amazed to see a major political party continue to show no instinct for self-preservation.
What Obama has done is a dangerous and outrageous precedent. One of the reasons the GOP has been unable to sway the public for the past year is because it is clearly lying on big issues like health care and financial reform. If it directed that same energy and persistence in the service of truth it might start to bring the electorate along, provided it has retained some vestigial interest in such a thing.