The headline introducing a new poll conducted on behalf of The Hill newspaper reads: Voters: Obama no better than Bush on security vs civil liberties.
But is that the real takeaway from the survey?
"Progressive willingness to acquiesce to or even outright support Obama's radical policies - in the name of partisan loyalty - is precisely what ensures the continuation of those policies. Obama gets away with all of this because so many progressives venerate leader loyalty and partisan gain above all else." —Glenn GreenwaldFor long-time critics of Obama's handling of numerous policies left over from his predecessor George W. Bush, that assessment won't be especially shocking. From his failure to close the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, to his signing of the controversial National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the recent alarm caused by a leaked "white paper" summarizing aspects of key Office of Legal Council memos that describe the legal basis for targeting individuals for assassination by drone (both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens), the Obama administration has little to boast about regarding its record on civil liberties.
Perhaps more troubling than the disappointment of once hopeful Obama supporters, however, is the degree to which the poll reveals how comfortable many US citizens are with some of the most aggressive techniques that the government now justifies as being necessary to fight the so-called and ongoing 'global war on terror.'
As The Hill reports, of the 1,000 Americans polled (a bipartisan group of likely voters) most were "inclined to support the government in its lethal attacks on citizens and non-citizens it deems to be terrorists."
The poll found that 53 percent of likely voters said it should be legal for the U.S. government to kill non-U.S. citizens who meet that description. Meanwhile, 44 percent said it should be legal for the U.S. government to kill American citizens who it believes are terrorists and present an imminent threat.
By contrast, 21 percent of respondents thought such an action should be illegal if the target is a non-U.S. citizen. A slightly higher percentage of voters, 31 percent, thought killing individuals whom the government believes are terrorists should be illegal when the target is an American citizen.
A significant proportion of respondents — 26 percent and 24 percent, respectively — said they were not sure if such attacks should be legal, regardless of whether the target was an American or not.
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When asked whether they oppose or back the administration’s drone program, however, a significantly higher percentage of voters voiced their support. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they support the use of unmanned drones to kill “people in foreign countries whom the US government says are terrorists and present an imminent threat,” while just 19 percent of voters said they oppose the policy.
So what's most troubling is not perhaps that Obama is "as bad as Bush" but that for a growing number of US citizens, the definition of "bad" has become as elastic as the Office of Legal Council's use of the phrase "imminent threat".
As Glenn Greenwald, legal blogger for The Guardian, wrote following the release of the assassination "white paper" obtained by NBC News last week:
If you believe the president has the power to order US citizens executed far from any battlefield with no charges or trial, then it's truly hard to conceive of any asserted power you would find objectionable.
And in a new column on Monday, Greenwald explores the issue even further, making the point that though public opinion is tracking in a terrible direction when it comes to these policies, it is too simplistic to derive that such policies thrive because the public endorses them. In fact, Greenwald argues, the true cause is fielty to the established parties that make a series of previously unconscionable policies acceptable only because Republican and Democratic leaders have used their own authority to abrogate legal norms and a media system -- that coddles power and enables uncritical thinking on such matters -- has largely pushed out opposing views.
In particular, whenever the two political parties agree on a policy, it is almost certain that public opinion will overwhelmingly support it. When Obama was first inaugurated in 2009, numerous polls showed pluralities or even majorities in support of investigations into Bush-era criminal policies of torture and warrantless eavesdropping.That was because many Democrats believed Obama would pursue such investigations (because he led them to believe he would), but once he made clear he opposed those investigations, huge numbers of loyal Democrats followed their leader and joined Republicans in opposing them, thus creating majorities against them.
Obama didn't refrain from investigating Bush-era crimes because public opinion opposed that. The reverse was true: public opinion supported those investigations, and turned against them only once Obama announced he opposed them. We see this over and over: when Obama was in favor of closing Guantanamo and ending Bush-era terrorism policies, large percentages supported him (and even elected him as he advocated that), but then once he embraced those policies as his own, large majorities switched and began supporting them.
Progressive willingness to acquiesce to or even outright support Obama's radical policies - in the name of partisan loyalty - is precisely what ensures the continuation of those policies. Obama gets away with all of this because so many progressives venerate leader loyalty and partisan gain above all else.