Where Does Obama Stand on Civil Liberties?

Everyone should probably read The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.  It’s a great political blog that seems to be made up of progressives, liberals and libertarians.  I don’t agree with everything that is written there (far from it), but it is generally well written, well reasoned and, well, good.  Liberals and libertarians won’t always agree, but they tend to come together when they start talking about civil liberties.  On that note, Mark Thompson has a great post on the worries that we should have about the Obama administration.

What has frustrated me far more about the Obama Administration, however, has been its performance on civil liberties issues that are less important to the liberal base of the Democratic Party.  This performance suggests that the Obama Administration’s interest in Constitutional liberties goes little further than is needed to keep the liberal base happy.What are these small incidents?  In no particular order:

1.  The NEA political art hubub.  The Right’s reaction to this largely seemed to me to be making a mountain out of a molehill – we’re talking after all about a conference call orchestrated by a very minor government agency primarily dedicated to soliciting artwork for a National Day of Service.  Still, there is something at least unseemly about the government telling artists to make more art similar to the “Hope” campaign poster.

8.  Perhaps most significantly – the co-sponsoring of a UN Commission on Human Rights resolution (via Radley Balko) with Egypt.  On this, Professor Turley writes:

The Egyptian ambassador to the U.N., Hisham Badr, wasted no time in heralding the new consensus with the U.S. that “freedom of expression has been sometimes misused” and showing that the “true nature of this right” must yield government limitations.

His U.S. counterpart, Douglas Griffiths, heralded “this joint project with Egypt” and supported the resolution to achieve “tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” While not expressly endorsing blasphemy prosecutions, the administration departed from other Western allies in supporting efforts to balance free speech against the protecting of religious groups.

This put me in mind of a post I wrote a few months back.  Like Mark, I’m not too worried about a Barack Pinochet suddenly executing dissidents, but the president seems to have priorities that trump basic freedoms.

I mean, it’s not like they’ve ever set up an online propaganda tool to try to avoid political debate… oh wait.

Okay, I know, everyone propagandizes a bit, but it’s not like they’ve ever sent out talking points and marching orders to try to get people to bully and silence political opponents… oh wait.

Well, astroturfing isn’t great, but it’s not like they’d ever try to get the Department of Justice to silence political opponents… oh wait.

Granted, that one’s bad, but it’s not like they actually got law enforcement officers to form truth squads in order to ‘dispel’ misinformation… oh wait.

Basic civil liberties should never be ignored.  We shouldn’t assume that our leaders would never do anything that would really be an affront to freedom.  Liberty and personal autonomy are the backbone of western democracy, and we should never allow our governments to trample them just because it doesn’t seem like a big deal.


  1. says

    Surveillance of law abiding citizens is disconcerting. No doubt. But citizens are necessarily subjects, subjects of the power of the state over their lives. That is why having robust institutions to check and balance the use of that power, be it Parliament, in this country, or congressional oversight of executive authority in the US, is so crucial.

    That being said, lack lustre leadership in Parliament and the US Congress is a significant problem. Much of the criticism of the Bush administration, for instance, either forgets the extent to which Congress co-operated with the administration right from the start or the capacity of Congressional leadership to compete with an old hand like Dick Cheney when it came to political hardball.

    History will record what transpired, which explains why Cheney is hastily writing his version of events. :-)


    Thanks for the heads up on The L. of O.G..