Transparent Obscurity

by digby

last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart did a nice little rundown on all the cases where the Obama administration's promises of "transparency" and adherence to constitutional norms have turned out to be shall we say, a bit opaque.

There were those who saw the writing on the wall on these issues through the haze of hopenchange. Virtually all presidents want as much power as they can get. Relying on any politician to deny himself the ability to exercise it freely is to fail to understand the power of power.

Glenn writes about the trial balloon being floated that Obama is considering issuing an executive order for preventive detention. He points out that the main difference between this administration and the last is that this administration is pretending to care about what the congress wants (and the constitution requires) but goes ahead and does what they intend to do anyway if the congress fails to act as they wish it to. I often wondered whether we were doing a bit of a disservice to Bush and Cheney for constantly criticizing them for implementing the unitary executive theory so openly. For such a secretive regime, they were surprisingly honest about what they were doing. They said they believed the constitution meant for the president to be all powerful and above the other two branches and they acted on that premise. And the debate over that, once engaged, was pretty robust and very public.

This was in contrast to previous presidencies which pretended, as Obama is doing now, that they believed in the balance of power between the the branches even as they subverted it as often as they deemed necessary. It's not a partisan thing. Presidents of both parties have done this. Bush and Cheney were actually quite unique in their rare "principled" approach to the American security state dictatorship. Most presidents adhere to the Rush Limbaugh creed, which he articulated yesterday in terms of Mark Sanford, but which can be just as easily applied to the American executive's common approach to the civil liberties portion of your constitutional program: "Hypocrisy shows that there are moral values in a culture."

The irony, of course, is that the man who ran on transparency is actually turning out to be less transparent than the president he excoriated on the campaign trail for his secrecy. Bush and Cheney were pretty upfront about the fact that they believed they had the constitutional right to act in any way they saw fit, regardless of the accepted understanding of the constitution or congressional and judicial prerogatives. Bush declared "I'm the decider" and he meant it. This administration obviously believes it has that right as well --- it just pretends otherwise.

I suspect they understand that keeping the folks from losing that freedom loving, patriotic illusion of American exceptionalism is an important part of exercising American political power. And they're probably right. Bush and Cheney's biggest mistakes were in being honest about something nobody wants to know.