Several weeks ago, I noted that unlike the Right -- which turned itself into a virtual cult of uncritical reverence for George W. Bush especially during the first several years of his administration -- large numbers of Bush critics have been admirably willing to criticize Obama when he embraces the very policies that prompted so much anger and controversy during the Bush years. Last night, Keith Olbermann -- who has undoubtedly been one of the most swooning and often-uncritical admirers of Barack Obama of anyone in the country (behavior for which I rather harshly criticized him in the past) -- devoted the first two segments of his show to emphatically lambasting Obama and Eric Holder's DOJ for the story I wrote about on Monday: namely, the Obama administration's use of the radical Bush/Cheney state secrets doctrine and -- worse still -- a brand new claim of "sovereign immunity" to insist that courts lack the authority to decide whether the Bush administration broke the law in illegally spying on Americans.
The fact that Keith Olbermann, of all people, spent the first ten minutes of his show attacking Obama for replicating (and, in this instance, actually surpassing) some of the worst Bush/Cheney abuses of executive power and secrecy claims reflects just how extreme is the conduct of the Obama DOJ here. Just as revealingly, the top recommended Kos diary today (voted by the compulsively pro-Obama Kos readership) is one devoted to attacking Obama for his embrace of Bush/Cheney secrecy and immunity doctrines (and promoting the Olbermann clips). Also, a front page Daily Kos post yesterday by McJoan vehemently criticizing Obama (and quoting my criticisms at length) sparked near universal condemnation of Obama in the hundreds of comments that followed. Additionally, my post on Monday spawned vehement objections to what Obama is doing in this area from the largest tech/privacy sites, such as Boing Boing and Slashdot.
This is quite encouraging but should not be surprising. As much as anything else, what fueled the extreme hostility towards the Bush/Cheney administration were their imperious and radical efforts to place themselves behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy and above and beyond the rule of law. It would require a virtually pathological level of tribal loyalty and monumental intellectual dishonesty not to object just as vehemently as we watch the Obama DOJ repeatedly invoke these very same theories and, in this instance, actually invent a new one that not even the Bush administration espoused.
To be clear: there are important areas in which Obama has been quite commendable, and I've personally praised him fairly lavishly for those actions (see, for instance, here, here and here), but it is simply unacceptable -- no matter what else is true about him -- for Obama to claim for himself the very legal immunity and secrecy powers which characterized and enabled the worst excesses of Bush lawlessness. Yet in a short period of time, he has taken one step after the next to do exactly that.
The Olbermann segments, which are really worth watching, highlight the exact passages of the Obama DOJ's brief which I excerpted and posted on Monday, and underscore how intolerable the Obama administration's conduct in the area of transparency and civil liberties has increasingly become. Credit to Olbermann for highlighting this issue and commenting on it with such unrestrained candor. This should help galvanize greater action to make clear to the Obama administration that this conduct is completely unacceptable, and -- with Accountability Now, FDL and others -- I expect there to be some specific actions announced very shortly to begin pushing back, hard, against these serious transgressions:
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See also: this post, posted immediately prior to this current one, on drug policy debates.