October 31, 2008

A New America

Justin Katz

Jeff Jacoby notes that Bush haters have been surprisingly unharassed, considering that they often decried the President's "dictatorial" rule. He goes on:

Will we be able to say the same of his successor?

If opinion polls are right, Barack Obama is cruising to victory. As president, would he show the same forbearance as Bush in allowing his opponents to have their say, unmolested? Or would he attempt to suppress the free speech of those whose views he detested? It is disturbing to contemplate some of the Obama campaign's recent efforts to stifle criticism.

When the National Rifle Association produced a radio ad last month about Obama's shifting position on gun control, the campaign's lawyers sent letters to radio stations in Ohio and Pennsylvania, urging them not to run it - and warning of trouble with the Federal Communications Commission if they did. "This advertisement knowingly misleads your viewing audience," Obama's general counsel Bob Bauer wrote. "For the sake of both FCC licensing requirements and the public interest, your station should refuse to continue to air this advertisement."

Similar lawyer letters went out in August when the American Issues Project produced a TV spot exploring Obama's strong ties to former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers. Station managers were warned that running the anti-Obama ad would be a violation of their legal obligation to serve the "public interest." And in case that wasn't menacing enough, the Obama campaign also urged the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation.

In Missouri, an Obama "truth squad" of prosecutors and other law-enforcement officials vowed to take action against anyone making "character attacks" on the Democratic candidate - a threat, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt later remarked, that had about it the "stench of police state tactics."

Perhaps these efforts to smother political speech are simply the overly aggressive tactics of a campaign in its adrenaline-fueled sprint to the finish. But what if they are the first warning signs of how an Obama administration would deal with its adversaries?

During a related conversation that I had the other night, while labeling and stamping thousands of postcards for Tiverton Citizens for Change, somebody asked if I really had that little trust in the American people. It seems to me that, these days, one is compelled to request clarification: which America?

Look, citizens of the United States do not have the long genetic mutuality that one finds in most other countries. What history we have, as a people, has been broadly taught in a dark, divisive light over the last few decades. In other words, the defining quality of "the American people" — more so than is true anywhere else — derives entirely from culture. Our tendency toward independence, ingenuity, respect for liberty, and general toughness aren't imbued with our water or inhaled in the air. We are what we believe ourselves to be.

How long do you suppose the United States can remain a 50:50 nation, with the stark difference being nothing less than the essential meaning of our nationality, before one side decides to press an advantage? I'll go further and suggest that the likelihood of which side will break the truce is not, itself, a 50:50 proposition. One side is defined by the primacy of government in resolving social and cultural problems, and it will be quite natural for that side to define its opposition's views as beyond the pale.

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It takes a particularly twisted world view to watch Obama's campaign and conclude that he is primarily concerned with dividing the nation into a 51:49 split, then taking advantage of his power to silence critics. That is precisely the opposite of his entire campaign.

I suppose you can ignore everything the man says, call it all a hoax, and stick to your fantasy about what might happen. Call that what you will, but it is more than cynical. It is pathological.

As for the campaign letters to TV stations, nearly every major campaign does that. Hell, I've written them. "Candidate X's ad is false and misleading. Candidate Y demands that you stop airing it." And every campaign knows that the ad is not going to be pulled. But you waive the letter to the media as "proof" that the ad is misleading and attach it to your outraged press release.

Even Francis Fukayama of all people endorses Obama in the American Conservative http://www.amconmag.com/article/2008/nov/03/00020//

Of course, like George Will and Peggy Noonan, Fukayama is a thinking conservative who hasn't abdicated his soul to either party or religious fanatics. Maybe there is a glimmer of hope for the right. But not until a long walk in the wilderness.

Posted by: Pragmatist at October 31, 2008 7:49 AM

Pragamist-is it pathological to be concerned about this candidate's previous statements calling for abolition of semiautomatic weapons,which have been freely available since early in the twentieth century,abolition of handguns and concealed carry with a permit?Maybe you're one of those "living Constitution"people who think the 2nd amendment is obsolete.Are you?
Or how about Obama's statement to a racist group like La Raza which I saw on tape where he says ICE raids are "terrorizing"our communities.If this bum thinks federal agents doing their jobs are terrorists,he can go screw himself.
I have the impression he will not tolerate public criticism because he is thin skinned,unproven,and comes across as arrogant if his smirk is any indication.
I never voted for the current occupant of the white House who I consider a pathetic failure,but he hasn't sought to silence those people like the Daily Kos who accuse him of war crimes and call for his removel and trial.
Even Bill Clinton never tried it when he was under non-stop fire from conservative talk radio.
Obama reminds me too much of Jim Jones.

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 31, 2008 8:49 AM

Relax, it'll remain 50-50 or thereabouts. The Democrats bounced back, and the Republicans inevitably will if the moderate faction reasserts itself (not the crowd that's claiming Obama's a despot). Each party historically regroups and trims its excesses after losing power.
It's not like Obama embraced MoveOn.org and Michael Moore.

Posted by: rhody at October 31, 2008 12:09 PM


Call me names all you want, but I'm more inclined to judge candidates by their history and by the company that they've kept than by the things they say for general electorate consumption. Obama has done precious little, and even within that limited list of activities he's done next to nothing, that I've seen, to indicate that he'll reach farther beyond the aisle than liberals who happen to be Republicans or that he's observed enough of value in the other side's worldview that he'll seek true compromise.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 31, 2008 12:26 PM

Obama "embrace"Michael Moore?I mean he has long arms and all,but....

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 31, 2008 1:07 PM

Someone should ask McCain and Palin if Reagan's belief in a progressive tax structure (effectively "spreading the wealth") made Reagan a Socialist too.

I'm curious what kind of spin we'd hear to weasel out of that one.

"Um, well... you see... Ronald Reagan was one of our greatest presidents and yada yada yada.... (topic flies off into the ether)"

That's why I wouldn't vote for McCain/Palin, because they engage in deception and evasion with knee jerk regularity, and do it with a straight face, expecting us to believe their evasions and not notice their slippery word games.

They really do believe that we're stupid enough to believe their drivel, and sadly, many Americans really are so dumbed down by sound bite "news" programs and mindless "culture" that they will believe such foolishness, to their, and our, collective despair.

Just think about it logically:

Can we really afford another Three Trillion Dollars spent on more war, when we're already Ten to Eleven Trillion dollars in federal debt?

Can we really afford another One to Two Trillion dollars spent on wall street bailouts?

Can we afford to allow another two to three trillion dollars to go missing from the federal budget as a result of extended Bush tax cuts for the already wealthy?

No, we can not afford more insane expenses and gaps in our federal budget.

If this kind of fiscal irresponsibility is perpetuated and repeated (and it will be by a McCain/Palin presidency), then our federal government will simply go bankrupt, and they will have to borrow or print massive amounts of money to pay our way out of it.

Such moves would reduce the value (and purchasing power) of the dollar drastically, rendering your paychecks, savings and investments, to near worthlessness.

And that's no exaggeration.

We have got to wake up as a nation, and as a people, and refuse to tolerate any more of this destructive right wing corporate/military madness, or we are simply going to cease to exist as recognizable nation, and be reduced to some sort of neo-militarastic slave state... a combination of ancient Egypt and ancient Sparta, to all of our misfortune.

Is that really the kind of future you want for yourselves and your loved ones?

If not, then please open your eyes and see reality for what it is, not for what the new corporate/militaristic fuhrers on the right wing are trying to convince us it is.

They are lying and/or dangerously ignorant.

Stop drinking the kool aid and think about it logically.

Posted by: Erik D. at October 31, 2008 3:41 PM


The company that Obama keeps? Like the faculty of the University of Chicago ... that bastion of wacky leftists! Oh right, you only want to choose those associations that promote your point. Focus on the guy who held a fundraiser for him once years ago and ignore his affiliation for years with the most esteemed group of academic conservatives in the nation. Right, he can't deal with those who disagree with his worldview.

Joe, yes, I do believe, in your words, in the "living constitution" as has nearly every constitutional scholar and practical lawyer in western history -- even if some of them don't admit it -- outside of the fringe elements of the legal profession. Even Scalia does, he just jumps through a few additional hoops and cloaks his method in a few extra layers when he does it.

Posted by: Pragmatist at October 31, 2008 3:51 PM

Pragmatist-I think the "living constitution"is bullshit

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 31, 2008 6:30 PM

Ok then Joe. Point me to the place in the US Constitution that guarantees your right to post comments on a blog. Could Congress in your view pass a law outlawing internet communications? After all, its not "the press". And it's not "speech" under your interpretation of the constitution. After all, the internet didn't even exist in 18th century.

Posted by: Pragmatist at October 31, 2008 6:57 PM

It is speech.You write something or speak something to distribute it on the internet.The medium is not what matters,but the content."Speech" has generally been considered by the courts as any form of expression.Paintings have been considered as speech.
The point is to me that firearms existed when the Constitution was written and whether they are semiauto or muskets doesn't mean a tinker's damn.And don't insult my intelligence like so many gun control advocates do by asking if it's okay to own a nuclear weapon.No.Nor a bomb,or an artillery piece that requires a crew.
A machinegun?Absolutely.Obama will make a serious miscalculation if he tries to disarm 80 million Americans.Many,many gun owners also have military experience.I would much prefer being dead to living under constant threat by an oppressive government and being unable to resist.I don't think some of the elitists realize the depth of the waters.And for more practical reasons,I want the ability to defend myself and my family against garden variety scumbags.I saw a neat bumper sticker:"911-20 minutes/Glock-3 seconds"

Posted by: joe bernstein at October 31, 2008 8:24 PM


Look who's being chronologically selective! Obama was briefly a part-time professor in the '90s — around the same time he was hanging out with Ayers, absorbing Wright's vitriol, and working as a liberal activist. (And that's not taking into account that being a conservative bastion in academia is a bit like being the best softball team in the NFL.)

Be that as it may, I didn't say that Obama can't deal with those who disagree, but that he doesn't.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 31, 2008 10:56 PM

"The point is to me that firearms existed when the Constitution was written and whether they are semiauto or muskets doesn't mean a tinker's damn"

Yes, I heard that recently - that the Second Amendment only permits us to keep and bear anachronistic firearms. The problem with this theory is that the bad guys - criminals and, in some instances, government - have not permitted their weaponry to get outdated.

Posted by: Monique at November 1, 2008 8:03 AM

Monique-there is another important reason to stand fast on the 2nd amendment.Obama has proposed an "independent"civilian national security force of 250,000 as well-equipped as the military.Why does he need this?Certainly not to look for illegal aliens like his aunt,who lives in public housing while ducking a deportation order issued by an Immigration Court.
Why,then?The US has never had a national police force-the FBI and other Federal LE agencies have specific areas of jurisdiction.The only paramilitary agency in the US is the Border Patrol,and they are an agency with specific limited authority-I know because I was a Border Patrol Agent decades ago.
Here's the unsettling answer:I cannot think of a single authoritarian regime in recent(ca.100 years)history-right wing,left wing,whatever,that didn't have a paramilitary force answerable to the head of state separate and apart from the military forces.The Blackshirts,SA,SS,NKVD,Gestapu(Indonesia-nice name derivation,no?),the myriad paramilitaries in Latin America and Africa set up to enforce the leader's will.
Now,I'm not saying Obama necessarily is following that model,but what is the reason?He hasn't given a convincing justification for imposing a national paramilitary police force on a free people.If he does accomplish this,and they try to disarm the population,they better have a lot of replacement personnel available,because legally armed Americans will not go quietly into that good night,paraphrasing Brendan Behan.
BTW did you know that the ubiquitous Obama red/blue poster was designed by Shepherd Fairey,whose speciality is pro-communist,anti-American propaganda graphics?
Get ready to endure four years of night if Obama wins and the Dems get 60 Senate seats.

Posted by: joe bernstein at November 1, 2008 9:44 AM


Thanks for your defense of the living constitution. Your assumption that:

"It is speech. You write something or speak something to distribute it on the internet.The medium is not what matters,but the content."

is correct only because courts interpreted the rather sparse language of the first amendment to give it a scope far beyond its literal meaning. The textual literalism you support for the second amendment would permit the government to ban your comments on this blog. Thankfully, even for the sake of your generally outlandish arguments, that is not the view of the constitution that the Supreme Court has taken.


Nice sliming of Obama there with the "hanging out with Ayers." I suppose if attending a single fundraiser and serving on a non-profit educational board count as "hanging out", you're right. They were probably plotting world domination by the baby-killing, black supremecist-loving, communist transgender oligarchy that secretly controls the media.

Run for your bunker Justin.

Posted by: Pragmatist at November 2, 2008 8:48 PM

Pragmatist-the abuse of the "living Constitution"concept you seem to believe in is exemplified in Roe vs.Wade.
You may think my attitude is outlandish,but I studied constitutional law during my pursuit of a degree in criminal justice.I don't pretend to be a legal scholar,but neither am I someone who gets his ideas from dicey extremist web sites.My opinions are shared by some significant degree of people who can actually call themselves legal scholars.

Posted by: joe bernstein at November 3, 2008 10:00 AM
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