Objective Analysis: Obama Versus Nixon
In the wake of the twin scandals of the IRS targeting conservative groups and the Department of Justice spying on AP reporters, the comparisons between Obama and Nixon are everywhere.
But what do experts say?
Former New York Times general counsel James Goodale – who represented the paper during its Pentagon Papers fight with the Nixon administration – said in an interview yesterday that Obama is worse than Nixon when it comes to press freedoms. And see this.
Former constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald noted last year:
We supposedly learned important lessons from the abuses of power of the Nixon administration, and then of the Bush administration: namely, that we don’t trust government officials to exercise power in the dark, with no judicial oversight, with no obligation to prove their accusations. Yet now we hear exactly this same mentality issuing from Obama, his officials and defenders to justify a far more extreme power than either Nixon or Bush dreamed of asserting: he’s only killing The Bad Citizens, so there’s no reason to object!
The painful fact is that Barack Obama is the president that Nixon always wanted to be.
Four decades ago, Nixon was halted in his determined effort to create an “imperial presidency” with unilateral powers and privileges. In 2013, Obama wields those very same powers openly and without serious opposition. The success of Obama in acquiring the long-denied powers of Nixon is one of his most remarkable, if ignoble, accomplishments. Consider a few examples:
Nixon’s use of warrantless surveillance led to the creation of a special court called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). But the reform turned out to be more form than substance. The secret court turned “probable cause” into a meaningless standard, virtually guaranteeing any surveillance the government wanted. After hundreds of thousands of applications over decades, only a couple have ever been denied.
Last month, the Supreme Court crushed any remaining illusions regarding FISA when it sided with the Obama administration in ruling that potential targets of such spying had to have proof they were spied upon before filing lawsuits, even if the government has declared such evidence to be secret. That’s only the latest among dozens of lawsuits the administration has blocked while surveillance expands exponentially.
Unilateral military action
Nixon’s impeachment included the charge that he evaded Congress’ sole authority to declare war by invading Cambodia. In the Libyan “mission,” Obama announced that only he had the inherent authority to decide what is a “war” and that so long as he called it something different, no congressional approval or even consultation was necessary. He proceeded to bomb a nation’s capital, destroy military units and spend more than a billion dollars in support of one side in a civil war.
Nixon ordered a burglary to find evidence to use against Daniel Ellsberg, who gave the famed Pentagon Papers to the press, and later tried to imprison him. Ellsberg was later told of a secret plot by the White House “plumbers” to “incapacitate” him in a physical attack. It was a shocking revelation. That’s nothing compared with Obama’s assertion of the right to kill any U.S. citizen without a charge, let alone conviction, based on his sole authority. A recently leaked memo argues that the president has a right to kill a citizen even when he lacks “clear evidence (of) a specific attack” being planned.
Nixon was known for his attacks on whistle-blowers. He used the Espionage Act of 1917 to bring a rare criminal case against Ellsberg. Nixon was vilified for the abuse of the law. Obama has brought twice as many such prosecutions as all prior presidents combined [and see this]. While refusing to prosecute anyone for actual torture, the Obama administration has prosecuted former CIA employee John Kiriakou for disclosing the torture program.
Other Nixonesque areas include Obama’s overuse of classification laws and withholding material from Congress. There are even missing tapes. In the torture scandal, CIA officials admitted to destroying tapes that they feared could be used against them in criminal cases. Of course, Nixon had missing tapes, but Rose Mary Woods claimed to have erased them by mistake, as opposed to current officials who openly admit to intentional destruction.
Obama has not only openly asserted powers that were the grounds for Nixon’s impeachment, but he has made many love him for it. More than any figure in history, Obama has been a disaster for the U.S. civil liberties movement. By coming out of the Democratic Party and assuming an iconic position, Obama has ripped the movement in half. Many Democrats and progressive activists find themselves unable to oppose Obama for the authoritarian powers he has assumed. It is not simply a case of personality trumping principle; it is a cult of personality.
Long after Watergate, not only has the presidency changed. We have changed. We have become accustomed to elements of a security state such as massive surveillance and executive authority without judicial oversight. We have finally answered a question left by Benjamin Franklin in 1787, when a Mrs. Powel confronted him after the Constitutional Convention and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” His chilling response: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
We appear to have grown weary of the republic and traded it for promises of security from a shining political personality. Somewhere, Nixon must be wondering how it could have been this easy.
Nixon’s “Enemies List” is famous, and the former head of the National Security Agency’s global digital data gathering program says that Obama also has an enemies list … which has been used to take down a wide variety of people, including the head of the CIA. The Washington Post’s Ed Rogers notes:
Obama doesn’t need a traditional Nixonian enemies list. In the digital age, with the Obama machine’s much-celebrated technological capabilities, the president can sort his enemies by keywords.
You’ve heard about the AP spying scandal, and the head of the Department of Justice implies that the government has spied on many other reporters.
Indeed, the Obama administration is treating real reporters as potential terrorists.
After Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, journalist Naomi Wolf, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and others sued the government to enjoin the NDAA’s allowance of the indefinite detention of Americans – the judge asked the government attorneys 5 times whether journalists like Hedges could be indefinitely detained simply for interviewing and then writing about bad guys. The government refused to promise that journalists like Hedges won’t be thrown in a dungeon for the rest of their lives without any right to talk to a judge.
Daniel Ellsberg notes that Obama’s claimed power to indefinitely detain people without charges or access to a lawyer or the courts is a power that even King George didn’t claim. Former judge and adjunct professor of constitutional law Andrew Napolitano points out that Obama’s claim that he can indefinitely detain prisoners even after they are acquitted of their crimes is a power that even Hitler and Stalin didn’t claim.
Indeed, Obama has turned America into the most spied upon nation in world history, and has rolled back liberties to the time of the enactment of the Magna Carta in 1215.