How Partisanship Enables Government Criminality

Democrat/Republican    noun
1: one who selectively applies stated values

From the moment Barack Obama was elected, he resolved to immunize Bush officials from all legal retribution and public accountability for the crimes they committed. As it has become almost trite to point out, he never lived up to the political rhetoric that got him elected.

But Obama did not stop at simply protecting Bush criminals from penalty. He went a step further by appointing several Bush-era officials intimately involved in the war crimes, torture, and warrantless surveillance to his own administration. This happened most prominently when Obama nominated John Brennan to White House counter-terrorism adviser and then CIA chief.

And it’s happening again: Obama has picked James Comey, who signed off on the Bush administration’s secret warrantless surveillance program, to be the next director of the FBI.

Glenn Greenwald, in his usual fashion, nails it:

Comey will run the FBI alongside Obama’s chief of the CIA, John Brennan, who spent the Bush years advocating multiple torture techniques and rendition. The Agent of Change reaches deep into the bowels of the Bush National Security State and empowers them to run two of the most powerful agencies. Then again, the Bush NSA program is hardly controversial in the Age of Obama: it was Obama who first voted to immunize the telecoms from all legal liability for their illegal participation in that program, then the Obama DOJ succeeded in having all lawsuits over that program dismissed on secrecy and immunity grounds, and then Obama himself succeeded in first enacting and then renewing the law that legalized most aspects of that Bush NSA eavesdropping program.

What was once deemed radical is now normal. Bush officials who formally authorized programs once depicted by progressives as radical and criminal are now heralded by those same progressives as Champions of the Constitution. The politician elected on a pledge of Change and Restoration of Our Values now routinely empowers exactly those Washington officials who championed the policies against which he railed.

Mind you, this isn’t a matter of just appointing officials with a checkered past. Obama has embraced the Bush administration’s approach to warrantless surveillance of Americans’ communications.

In December of last year, Obama renewed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which essentially attempted to legalize what several federal judges concluded was an illegal Bush program of warrantless surveillance.

Justice Department documents released in September in litigation brought by the ACLU showed “that federal law enforcement agencies are increasingly monitoring Americans’ electronic communications, and doing so without warrants, sufficient oversight, or meaningful accountability.”

This is what surveillance of Americans’ international communications looks like under Obama:

The way this charade is kept going is that the Obama administration has blocked any judicial scrutiny by stopping lawsuits in their tracks, insisting any legal challenges to the program threaten national security.

This kind of brazen imperiousness generated howls from the left when they occurred under Bush. Now, everybody just nods.

This is the central feature of our political system: “crimes and abuse committed by politicians on my team are acceptable and even praiseworthy, but those same acts committed by the opposing team are horrific atrocities.” We’re seeing this now on the right as well, as Republicans and prominent Fox News pundits wail about the rampant Obama administration abuse in several scandals including the Benghazi consulate attack, snooping on Associated Press journalists, pursuing criminal charges against a reporter for the offense of performing journalism, and IRS scrutiny of certain political groups.

There isn’t a doubt in my mind that if Benghazi happened under the Bush administration, Republicans would have defended the honor, honesty, and handling of the whole incident, and probably even denounced Democrats pushing for accountability as anti-American hinderers of the war on terrorism.

And how about the Obama administration’s crack down on all kinds of national security reporting? In trying to enforce its own secrecy, the Obama DOJ has spied on and pursued dozens of AP journalists and at least one Fox News reporter for publishing stories on national security (in the former case, the White House was planning on publishing the information anyway, and in the latter, nothing secret or unknown was included in the report).

But when the Bush administration tried to pursue James Risen of The New York Times because he reported on the Bush surveillance program, where were Republicans crying foul? Nowhere, in fact, they joined the Bush administration in condemning Risen’s First Amendment rights to practice journalism.

Governments are able to break the law with impunity in part because they have power. Power tends to deliver abuse and corruption. But just as important, the rank partisanship in America’s two-party system reinforces the bipartisan commitment to official criminality. It is always hailed as democracy: if you support and vote for politicians on at least one of the two available teams, you are a stand up citizen who cares for your country; if you condemn both parties equally, you are a cynical hack or extremist.

If anywhere close to a majority of Americans made a commitment to political principles instead of political parties, the prerogative of elected politicians to break the law because their partisans will always defend them would dissolve pretty quickly.

  • I really don't think there's any "partisanship" in Amerikan politics. There is only the one political party. The War Party. Democrap/Republicon bickering is mere distraction. Keeps up the pretense and 'we the sheeple' continue merrily along the road to oblivion.

  • Ben_C

    "If anywhere close to a majority of Americans made a commitment to political principles instead of political parties,"

    http://youtu.be/Pt13OAYXhPU

    Glaser,

    You clearly don't understand how the "game" is played… This is what our domestic national political system has essentially been reduced to when it comes to 'deciding' "executive powers":

    http://youtu.be/VQQfO3oU5OI

    Essentially followed by a 2 year touchdown dance by the 'winning side', only to start all over again…

    Any actual 'policy' "issues" which periodically occur before, during, and after the life-cycle of this juvenile dog and pony show essentially boils down to a inane inconsequential: "I know you are but what am I" so-called "debate" among various political pundits, for various audiences and for various reasons.

    Libya/Benghazi is a perfect example of how "partisanship" means nothing. 'Issues' mean nothing. It's just about certain interests picking a side (or picking both) and gloating when you 'win' and trying to make the 'other side' look stupid when you lose (or both at the same time)…

    If the Republicans seriously wanted to go after Obama, even for simply political 'partisan' reasons, I think Obama bombing another country which posed no "threat" to the US without Congressional approval, or even mentioning it, or even manufacturing a lame excuse/pretext as to how/why the Nation of Libya threatened US National Security and needed to be bombed…and subsequently continuing on with with the Libya "operation" (when over 70% of the "American People" were against it by virtually all the polls) by way of NATO and mercenary terrorists by simply writing a letter to Congress calling it "non-hostilities" and/or "non-lethal aid"…doing all of this seems like it would have been the perfect opportunity for the "Republicans" to "get Obama". Instead, the Republican controlled US House of Representatives voted "against" the War in Libya, only to literally 'reconvene' some some ~2 hours later and vote to actually continue to fund the war in Libya…

    This entire thing (US "democracy") is a complete joke…

  • My friend mentioned to me your blog, so I thought I’d read it for myself. Very interesting insights, will be back for more! ,,,,

  • I really don't think there's any "partisanship" in Amerikan politics. There is only the one political party. The War Party. Democrap/Republicon bickering is mere distraction. Keeps up the pretense and 'we the sheeple' continue merrily along the road to oblivion.

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