In my latest reading of To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine, Newt Gingrich essentially portrays President Barack Obama as someone who heavy-handedly shoves his liberal agenda down the country’s throat, as Obama employs signing statements to circumvent laws passed by Congress, punishes Fox News by calling on news organizations to “shun Fox” and refusing “to provide guests to FOX News Sunday” (Newt’s words on page 80), has the EPA consider carbon emissions to be a pollutant right when the Congress is considering a climate change treaty, excludes Republicans when crafting a health care policy, etc. This picture conflicts with how some on the Left see Obama—-as a wimp who caves in to the Republicans. Bruce Bartlett is not a leftist, but he talks here about how Obama agreed with the Republicans to extend all of the tax cuts (including the ones for the rich). Does Obama roll over and allow Republicans to walk all over him, or does he use strong-arm tactics to ramrod his agenda down the country’s throat? Maybe it depends on the situation!
I think of Huey Long, who used strong-arm tactics to effect his agenda when he was the governor of Louisiana. The thing is, so did his political opponents! At least Huey was using his tactics to serve the people. But I can understand Newt’s concern that Obama has overstepped bounds. If a President does this—-and people on the Left and Right, as well as libertarians, made the case that George W. Bush and Richard Cheney did so as well—-does this set a bad precedent? I may like Obama getting things done, but what would prevent authorities from using their power for evil rather than for good? Perhaps elections can serve as a check on this, but there are limits to that, for bureaucrats who abuse power are not subject to election.
I’d like to turn to another issue that Newt raises in this book. On page 70, Newt says:
“One of the lawyers now working in the Department of Justice’s security division is Jennifer Daskal, formerly of Human Rights Watch, who in 2006 campaigned for the UN Human Rights Committee to condemn the United States for its actions in ‘the so-called ‘war on terrorism.” Daskal has also argued for closing Guantanamo and releasing those terrorists we cannot try in civilian courts, despite acknowledging ‘these men may…join the battlefield to fight U.S. soldiers and our allies another day.”
Newt here reminds me of Joe McCarthy and right-wingers in the 1940’s-1960’s, and I’m not necessarily saying this in a pejorative sense. In the 1940’s-1960’s, there was concern that Communists or people who were not sufficiently committed to the security of America were in sensitive government positions and were influencing American policy. That was a legitimate concern then, and I’d say that Newt does well to raise a similar concern now when it comes to people in the Obama Administration. At the same time, I question any notion that people on the Left are rooting for our enemies and lack commitment to American security. If you read Jennifer Daskal’s remarks on releasing people from Guantanamo (see here), you’ll see that she argues that holding people indefinitely does not keep the U.S. secure but rather costs the U.S. support and moral authority as well as further inflames her enemies. Is she right on this? That’s a debate. I certainly hope that there are also people with another point-of-view in Obama’s Administration. I don’t think it’s wrong, though, to question Guantanamo, especially since there’s question that some of the people detained there are even terrorists (see here, but see also this article, which discusses why some are against trying Guantanamo detainees in civilian courts).
Incidentally, many who criticize Guantanamo and favor trying detainees in civilian courts have a similar concern to that of right-wing critics of Obama: that powerful interests overstepping bounds can set a bad precedent and lead to abuses of power.