The Nation's John Nichols has an interesting look at Barack Obama's purported Attorney-General-Designate Eric Holder, whom many might remember as a Bill Clinton stooge at the USDOJ in the 90's.
That Obama would choose a political operator of Clintonian ilk, with a knee-jerk authoritarian streak, comes as no surprise. It shouldn't to any one else either, especially not his rabid supporters and apologists who dub themselves "liberals".
One thing is quickly becoming clear : Barack Obama is no liberal, even in the good ways. And quite obviously he hasn't a libertarian cell in his pampered body.
I dare say my liberal friends (the ones who really meant what they said about Bush Administration authoritarianism versus the ones who are merely anti-Republican/anti-conservative poseurs) will find nothing but disappointment after disappointment in the long Obama road ahead.
Quick! Name the veteran Department of Justice insider who, shortly after the USA Patriot Act was signed into law and at a point when the Bush administration was proposing to further erode barriers to governmental abuses, argued that dissenters should not be tolerated?
Who invoked September 11, explicitly referencing "the World Trade Center aflame," in calling for the firing of any "petty bureaucrat" who might suggest that proper procedures be followed and that the separation of powers be respected?
John Ashcroft? No.
Alberto Gonzales? No.
It was Eric Holder, the man who has reportedly been selected by President-elect Barack Obama to serve as the next Attorney General of the United States.
Appearing on CNN in June, 2002, the former Clinton administration Justice Department aide sounded as if he had just stepped out of the Bush camp: "We're dealing with a different world now. Everybody should remember those pictures that we saw on September the 11th. The World Trade Centers aflame, the pictures of the Pentagon, and any time some petty bureaucrat decides that his or her little piece of turf is being invaded, get rid of that person. Those are the kinds of things we have to do."
[Yeah get 'em, tough guy. George W would be proud!]
If that's unsettling, consider the fact that Holder was part of the legal team that in 2005 developed strategies for securing re-authorization of the Patriot Act.
[Wonderful, Eric! Thanks for your service to liberty!]
Much will be made of Holder's role as a deputy attorney general in helping former President Clinton arrange for the last-minute pardon of fugitive/Democratic campaign contributor Marc Rich.
And it will also be noted that Holder, as a corporate lawyer in private practice after leaving the Clinton team, played a key role in negotiating an agreement with the Justice Department that got Chiquita Brands International executives off the hook for paying protection money to right-wing death squads in Colombia.
[Pardoned crooks, "right wing" death squads....what a mensch!]
But the first questions for Holder should go to the issue of his attitude toward the role of the attorney general in defending the Constitution. Holder's defenders will point to some eloquent speeches he has given, including one he delivered in June to the American Constitutional Society.
In that speech, the former deputy attorney general condemned the Bush administration's "disastrous course" set by the Bush administration on issues such as torture and the practice of rendition.
[Translation : LIP SERVICE]
"Our needlessly abusive and unlawful practices in the ‘War on Terror' have diminished our standing in the world community and made us less, rather than more, safe," Holder said, correctly. "For the sake of our safety and security, and because it is the right thing to do, the next president must move immediately to reclaim America's standing in the world as a nation that cherishes and protects individual freedom and basic human rights."
That's a good message, to be sure.
But it must be juxtaposed against past statements made by Holder, such as this one: "The Attorney General is the one Cabinet member who's different from all the rest. The Attorney General serves first the people, but also serves the president. There has to be a closeness at the same time there needs to be distance."
What we need to know is this: How close would Holder, as attorney general, get to obeying his oath to defend the Constitution?
The place for that to happen is in a very serious, very aggressive confirmation process that should not simply presume that Holder will "get it" when questions about the Constitution arise.
Like the rest of the mounting instances of Obama's backtracking from his rhetoric against Bush Administration judicial and legal abuses - starting with Obama's FISA immunity backstab - none of us has any reason yet to believe any of the fundamental constitutional erosions of the last 8 years will be fixed (i.e. "changed") by Obama.
This is only the beginning of (what I believe) will be a high-statist presidency with as little regard for civil liberties or the Constitution as Bush's tenure, if not worse since Obama appears only to want to build on Bush's consolidation of excessive national state power.
Such triflings as civil liberties, constitutional protections, the rule of law, and a de-politicized legal process are mere disposable inconveniences to uber-statist power brokers carrying out murky big government agendas.
U.S. Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr. said in an interview that he is considering not only prosecuting more marijuana cases but also asking the D.C. Council to enact stiffer penalties for the sale and use of marijuana.
"We have too long taken the view that what we would term to be minor crimes are not important," Holder said, referring to current attitudes toward marijuana use and other offenses such as panhandling.
Now, people arrested in the District and charged with distributing marijuana, even large quantities, face only misdemeanor charges, a standard that has sparked repeated complaints by police officers.
He should be nice and cozy with Rahm Emanuel :
"We are going to continue to find ways within the administration to fight legalization and the notion of legalization," Rahm Emanuel, a key Clinton drug-policy adviser, said yesterday. "We're against the message that the initiative sends to children. Marijuana does not come cost-free. It is illegal and it is dangerous."
Thankfully the unconstitutional Clinton-Emanuel policy (that prompted Emanuel's tough talk) was ultimately overturned by a federal appeals court.
People change over time. Bob Barr was once a drug warrior. I hope the Clinton-Obamites see the light in the 21st Century. But knowing they are endlessly political I suspect they will never permit Obama to be portrayed as "soft on drugs".
The people rotting in prison for non-violent drug crimes, the collateral deaths and casualties, the inner city devastation from a black market street drug war, and civil liberties will be unimportant weighed against Obama's continued political viability and the continued power of his junta.
(For more on Obama's possible drug policy direction see Jacob Sullum's article at Reason.)