Monday, March 14, 2011

Obama Does It Again

Oops. P.J. Crowley went a little too far.

The State Department spokesman has stepped down after he labeled as "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid" the treatment in solitary confinement of Army Pfc. Bradley, who is suspected of imparting classified information to Wikileaks. He might have been spared the misfortune of being asked to resign if he had served under the same man who, as a presidential candidate criticizing the Bush administration's use of phone companies to help conduct its spying operations, had declared

We only know these crimes took place because insiders blew the whistle at great personal risk ... Government whistleblowers are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal.

Unfortunately for Crowley, the President is one Barack Obama, hardly the same guy who in 2008 valued the support of individuals concerned about civil liberties. The fellow who is President, responding to a question from ABC's Jake Tapper about Manning, replied

With respect -- with respect to Private Manning, you know, I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are. I can't go into details about some of their concerns, but some of this has to do with Private Manning's safety as well.

One of those dedicated to civil liberties is the lawyer and blogger Glenn Greenwald, who writes often, and impressively about the subject (less often, fortunately, about foreign policy). Greenwald notes

The inhumane treatment of Manning plainly has two principal effects: it intimidates future would-be whistleblowers into knowing that they, too, will be abused without recourse, and it will break him psychologically (as prolonged solitary confinement and degrading treatment inevitably do) to render him incapable of a defense and to ensure he provides whatever statements they want about WikiLeaks. Other than Obama's tolerance for the same detainee abuse against which he campaigned and his ongoing subservience to the military that he supposedly "commands," it is the way in which this Manning/Crowley behavior bolsters the regime of secrecy and the President's obsessive attempts to destroy whistleblowing that makes this episode so important and so telling.

Greenwald notes criticism of the President's Manning/Crowley policy from some of Obama's traditional supporters, such as Matt Yglesias, Andrew Sullivan Ezra Klein, Will Bunch, Daniel Ellsberg, and (UCLA professor) Mark Kleiman. Observing support from the far right (which cheered Bush 43 as he shred the U.S. Constitution in the name of counter-terrorism), Greenwald remarks "the news isn't all bad."

But in the world of Barack Obama and Emanuel/Daley, public outrage from supporters of the President is not a bug, it's a benefit. They believe, as does William Galston, that the road to re-election is through Independents and moving to the right, notwithstanding public support (as the chart from indicates) for maintaining levels of Social Security and Medicare and most forms of spending, even at the risk, in most cases, of increasing the deficit.

Galston, Matthews, and others who recommend the President move toward the center (presumably from the left) argue it less on policy, than on political, grounds. Obama needs these fellows- not for their advice but to encourage the belief among liberals that the President panders to the Washington insiders and moderates strictly to be re-elected. It fosters the hope that if and when re-elected, President Obama will revert to the ideological stance of State Senator and U.S. Senator Barack Obama. Nevertheless, some observers understand, as does Will Bunch, who comments

I'm 52 years old, and I'm constantly amazed at how much about human nature I still don't really get. What exactly goes on in Obama's mind? He's a smart and supposedly idealistic guy who came of age during the Reagan years, who surely -- those first times he dared to dream about the Oval Office -- saw himself taking all the obvious hypocrisy. Instead, he is taking presidential hypocrisy to new levels. What switch got turned off, or on, that stops him from ordering a halt to the mistreatment of Bradley Manning?

How does Barack Obama look in the mirror some mornings?

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