What do they really believe? Who knows? (An odd mismatch between rhetoric and policy)

What do they really believe? Who knows?

by digby


Despite the amped-up claims that President Obama is just waiting to crack down on gun owners, a new report reveals that his administration has been pursuing significantly fewer gun crimes than the predeceeding one. Under Obama, federal weapons prosecutions have declined to their lowest levels nearly a decade, according to a new report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research group associated with Syracuse University.

After 9/11, the Bush administration's firearms prosecutions shot up, peaking at about 11,000 cases in 2004. In 2012, the feds prosecuted fewer than 8,000 gun cases

That reminds me of this:

The Obama administration deported some 1.4 million people during his first term, not far off from the number George W. Bush deported over eight years.

Or how about this? The Obama administration came into office saying they weren't going to specifically target medical marijuana --- they had more important things to worry about. (Like say, Wall Street crime?)

Initially [the administration] made soothing noises and announced that they wouldn't target pot dispensaries that complied with state law. Then, last year, everything changed:

The reversal began at the Drug Enforcement Agency with Michele Leonhart, a holdover from the Bush administration who was renominated by Obama to head the DEA…Almost immediately, federal prosecutors went on the attack. Their first target: the city of Oakland, where local officials had moved to raise millions in taxes by licensing high-tech indoor facilities for growing medical marijuana…Two months later, federal prosecutors in Washington state went even further…In isolation, such moves might be seen as the work of overzealous U.S. attorneys, who operate with considerable autonomy. But last June, the Justice Department effectively declared that it was returning to the Bush administration's hard-line stance on medical marijuana. James Cole, who had replaced Ogden as deputy attorney general, wrote a memo revoking his predecessor's deference to states on the definition of "caregiver."…Pot dispensaries, in short, were once again prime federal targets, even if they were following state law to the letter.

These are far from the only issues where the Obama administration has been more, for lack of a better term, right wing than the Bush administration. I was going to say more "law and order" in the old Nixonian sense, but the lax gun prosecutions doesn't fit with that either. But these issues do all fit within a certain right wing concern matrix.

There has been intense speculation as to why the administration has taken these steps, from prosaic political motivations going into the election to genuine belief on the part of the administration that fewer gun prosecutions, more deportations and a marijuana crackdown are the right policies. (Some people have suggested this is is because of fear of the federal police bureaucracy which pretty much does its own thing regardless of the president, which may be the scariest possibility of all.) It's hard to know exactly what has made the administration take these positions because they are rarely asked about it. The campaign ignored it because the Republican approach to all this is so much worse.

But whatever the motive, the most startling aspect of this story (which isn't confined to those issues, by any means) is the extent to which the administration's rhetoric doesn't match its actions --- and the degree to which they get away with it. I think this may be the most successful aspect of this presidency.

And I have to point out that the one group of people one would expect to reward the president for these stances --- the right wing --- is the one group that hates him with a blinding passion and will never even give him credit for waking up in the morning. Perhaps moderates might be impressed, but I doubt they even know about it. (These aren't issues that animate them.) At the very least the left has a bad taste in its mouth --- at worst they are actively hostile. So, who is pleased with these actions? Who exactly is the government serving?

If I had to guess, I think this is a combination of reflexive Democratic desire to be seen as "tough" and the American police apparatus operating on its own logic without regard to the needs and desires of the American people. That's pretty inevitable when you build a huge Department of Homeland Security with dozens of federal agencies on top of hundreds of state and local police departments. They become a political force of their own and they get very, very powerful.

Again, for all I know the Obama administration truly believes that deporting more immigrants bought them something politically that simply being more humane didn't. I cannot see what it was. The Latino community voted for Democrats because they are better on their issues than the Republicans and not one right winger voted for the Democrats because they deported more undocumented workers. Maybe they thought they could appease the gun lobby by prosecuting fewer gun crimes. (I don't think that's worked out.)  Maybe they thought that people think marijuana is a threat to the nation and they had to step in. But the votes in states across the land show that just isn't true.(Arkansas --- Arkansas! --- came within four points of legalizing medical marijuana in 2012.)

So, if it was a political decision it was wrong on every level. And if the administration believes these policies are good ones, they are misleading the American people about who they are. If the police agencies are out of control, they should do something to bring them under control. I don't know the answer. But however you look at it, it isn't good.

At the very least, it explains why so many people are reluctant to trust that the administration is only doing what it has to do in response to a hostile opposition. They didn't have to do any of these things. But they did them.