Friday, November 21, 2008

Same as the old boss, part 2: Civil liberties

When speaking with libertarians who supported Barack Obama for president, I've generally heard two arguments:

First, that the Republican Party needed to be soundly spanked for its misrule. Check -- that certainly got done.

Secondly, that while the GOP and the Democrats have become virtually indistinguishable when it comes to economic policy (the only difference being that the Republicans "borrow and spend" while the Democrats "tax and spend"), Obama is likely to roll back the Republican war on civil liberties. So far, not so good.

Two key leaked/announced/prospective appointments -- Eric Holder for Attorney General and Janet Napolitano to head the Department of Homeland Security -- paint an ugly picture of our likely future. Obama seems far more likely to hitch the anti-freedom agenda of the Clinton administration to the rogue wagon of Bush "unitary executive" doctrine than to substantially change the US government's approach to habeas corpus, detention without trial, torture and illegal wiretaps. And on the "it may get even worse" side of the ledger, scratch in the War on Drugs, immigration and the Second Amendment.

The matter of the War on Drugs is particularly saddening, because the indicators were there for anyone who cared to look. Obama supported bogus "anti-meth" legislation in the US Senate. Among his promises as a presidential candidate was the establishment of a new DEA office in New Orleans. And he picked Joe Biden, author of the noxious RAVE Act, as his running mate. Sure, he made some weak gestures in the direction of easing up on medical marijuana (arresting doctors and patients would "not be one of [his] highest priorities") ... but he didn't go out on any limbs.

There's no reason to be surprised, therefore, that he'd pick an advocate of tougher marijuana sentencing and returning to "mandatory minimums" for the AG slot.

As for immigration, well, Napolitano is the Arizona governor who signed legislation requiring all Arizona business owners to work as uncompensated Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. If she takes the DHS post, it's probably because she wants to get the hell out of the American southwest before her handiwork finishes the job of collapsing its economy.

Holder and Napolitano are both gun-grabbers -- Napolitano less so from necessity, given her state, but the tendency is pronounced enough to notice. For example, she vetoed a bill which would have ended prosecution of citizens who displayed (not fired, just displayed) a firearm in self-defense. Holder is more brazen -- he even signed an amicus brief in support of the draconian DC gun ban overturned earlier this year in DC v. Heller.

I suspect we'll see some cosmetic changes in the "war on terror" component of the overall anti-freedom package. Gitmo may be closed ... but its abductees will find themselves trapped in some new kangaroo court maze rather than being released or charged in the regular US criminal system with the full panoply of constitutional protections. Torture will be roundly condemned (and the CIA will continue it while moving it deeper into black bag territory). Instead of just asserting the authority to declare anyone an "enemy combatant," Obama may well seek unconstitutional "preventive detention" authority from Congress.

Real change? Unlikely. As a matter of fact, America versus its government is in a position not unlike that of an animal trapped in the embrace of a boa constrictor. The desire to breathe a sigh of relief after this election is entirely natural ... but remember, the snake is going to clamp down tighter when that happens, and the process will repeat until the victim suffocates.

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