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Crossing the Rubicon on Civil Rights - Has Obama Gone too Far?

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By Ben Cohen: There's a debate swirling around the blogosphere between progressives and the hard Left in regards to Obama's civil liberties and foreign policy record, specifically his signing of the NDAA, the continuation of Guantanamo, the use of drones and the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US born al-Qaeda terrorist. John Cusack put up an interview he conducted with George Washington University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley on the issue, and referred to Obama's abuses as 'Crossing the Rubicon', a reference to Julius Ceaser's crossing of the Rubicon river that marked the boundary between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the north-east and Italy. Caeser's foray across the river  in 49BC was seen as an act of insurrection and the idiom has remained to this day in reference to 'an act that goes too far'. Both Cusack and Turley agree that Obama's constitutional abuses are unforgivable sins and make him unworthy of their vote this election.

While not rescinding his vote this year, prominent Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan has been equally scathing of the President in this regard. He writes:

It's a disgusting sign of the collapse of the rule of law among Washington's elites - pioneered by the Obama Justice Department. War crimes are forgiven; leaks revealing war crimes are punished. That the CIA won't face any accountability for actually torturing people to death has now been cemented in a bipartisan way by a craven president who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize while proceding to make a mockery of the Geneva Conventions for four years. Not prosecuting torture - not torture-homicides - is a grotesque violation of Geneva and makes the current president a violator of Geneva. He better not complain when an American soldier is captured and tortured to death.

There's a parallel here, I think, with Tony Blair's tenure as Prime Minister. At the time, I thought that Blair's support for the Iraq war and his consistent and flagrant lying made him unworthy of re-election. If he had continued to stand as Labour leader against the Conservatives, I genuinely don't think I could have voted for him or the Labour Party. That's not to say I would have voted for the Conservatives, but I felt Blair's transgressions were so severe that he should be kept out of office at all costs. But now, I'm not so sure about my position, and that's largely because of the choice voters face in the US this year.

Bob Cesca is often accused of being an 'Obama-bot' due to his support of the President, but it's a simplistic label that betrays a far more nuanced understanding of the American political system. Bob has written perhaps the most persuasive argument in support of re-election Obama this year, and I'm inclined to agree. Here's his response to Cusack and Turley's suggestion that progressives should stay at home in November:

When liberal policies and liberal politicians fail, they’re invariably replaced with moderate or conservative policies/politicians. That’s a sad fact of life in American politics. For instance, every time healthcare reform has failed, the next iteration has been more conservative — not less. When the Carter administration failed to be re-elected, the next Democratic president was more conservative. If Barack Obama fails to win re-election, the next Democratic president will absolutely be more conservative, especially if pollsters determine that liberals by-in-large stayed home.....

Imagine if the bulk of the progressive movement attempted Turley’s strategy of staying home until the day when sometime ambiguously in the future the red/blue paradigm vanishes… maybe? Is there really a long term plan for this destruction of the red/blue paradigm? You know, other than: 1. Stay Home, 2. ?????, 3. Progressivism! And how does Turley’s support for the Citizens United decision and corporate “speech” in elections help this plan? I can only imagine the cavalcade of Republican presidents or centrist Democrats who would fill the void. Two decades worth? More? Who knows. One thing is for sure, the progressive movement would have to possess considerably more electoral heft than it does today in order to yank with it the weight of the entire American political system. It’s shockingly delusional and naive. It’s a “Goodbye Cruel World” move — with severe blowback against the very ideas that these activists hold sacred.

The truth is that there is no plan for a third party, no plan to build a serious left wing economic model, no plans for a progressive infrastructure of government, other than those laid out by obscure professors, internet writers and disjointed activist groups. This isn't to say that their plans are bad, its just no one knows about them or takes them seriously.

In reality, most people on the Left screaming to depose Obama won't actually bear the brunt of what happens should Romney get in. They are largely privileged white people from upper middle class backgrounds who are resilient to the economic and political decisions of their leaders. It isn't the same for the majority of Americans who would face cuts in education, health care and welfare on an unprecedented scale and the possibility of more war in the Middle East where their sons and daughters will be sent. Letting a Republican back in now sets what progress has been made under Obama by years and causes untold hardship to millions of Americans who deal with serious poverty on a day to day basis.

We can see the effects in Britain of a Right wing government in power right now. The economy is floundering, poverty is increasing dramatically (particularly affecting children), and the government has gone to war with unions putting workers rights under serious threat. The British Tories are a bunch of socialist pansies compared to the militant brand of corporate capitalism espoused by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and their agenda for America is extremely dangerous to the majority of the population.

There is no doubt that Obama has committed some very, very serious transgressions against the constitution, and anyone with the faintest respect for the law and human rights should be seriously troubled. But what is the alternative? As Bob writes:

A Romney administration would roll back everything the Obama administration has achieved, painfully rewinding the legislative clock back to 2008. Do the list. DADT would return. Conservatives would gain a stranglehold on the Supreme Court. Marriage equality would be held back by another decade. Women’s reproductive organs would become the total purview of the government. Obamacare and all of its benefits would be repealed. New emissions standards would be repealed. We’d return to war in the Middle East — with either Syria or Iran or both, and maybe even Russia, in the crosshairs. The climate crisis would escalate unchecked. And the Bush tax cuts would become permanent. To name a few. Pretty much the worst possible outcome you can imagine. You might disagree with President Obama, say, 20% of the time with 10% being “Rubicon line” worthy. But I guarantee that you’ll disagree with 100% of the Romney agenda and all of the horrendous policies within.

I understand where the hard Left is coming from when it comes to many of Obama's policies - lines have been crossed and to have no ramification shows a very serious state of decline in America's democratic and legal integrity. But by walking away from the electoral process, people will suffer if the Republicans get in, because it can and will get a lot worse. It is sad to argue that it is important to vote in order to prevent the other side getting in - it would of course be better to vote for something, but that is reality and until there is a serious alternative, it's worth getting behind the candidate who's policies result in the best over all outcome.

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