Friday, January 23, 2009

Devils and details

I am not in favor of absolutist standards. Most of the statements that I have grown to regret personally included the words "never" or "always."

That having been said, having spent the entire campaign season taking the high ground on issues like Gitmo, torture, and lobbyists in government, the Obama administration is showing some disturbing early signs of making grand pronouncements backed by entirely too much wiggle room.

Take Gitmo. I do believe, and have said so here, that Obama is committed to a more constitutional method of handling detainees, yet--as Shirley was first in the Delaware blogosphere to point out--his Executive Order left plenty of latitude to, for example, transfer the Gitmo inmates to other US faciltiies on foreign soil or to the prisons of allied nations who (guess what?) torture their prisoners.

As for torture, Bowly point to this NYT article in the comments, which suggest that the line on torture isn't quite so firmly drawn in the sand as the early press releases would suggest:

But the orders leave unresolved complex questions surrounding the closing of the Guantánamo prison, including whether, where and how many of the detainees are to be prosecuted. They could also allow Mr. Obama to reinstate the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation operations in the future, by presidential order, as some have argued would be appropriate if Osama bin Laden or another top-level leader of Al Qaeda were captured.

The new White House counsel, Gregory B. Craig, briefed lawmakers about some elements of the orders on Wednesday evening. A Congressional official who attended the session said Mr. Craig acknowledged concerns from intelligence officials that new restrictions on C.I.A. methods might be unwise and indicated that the White House might be open to allowing the use of methods other than the 19 techniques allowed for the military.

As for lobbying, I already pointed out here that some lobbyists are apparently OK, even though others are not. Here's what Robert Schlesinger at USNWR says about Obama's decision to place former lobbyists in senior sub-cabinet positions at Defense and Human Services:

I'm deeply ambivalent about this whole thicket of issues, as I have at times contradictory feelings about it.

I thought Obama's sweeping condemnation of lobbyists was better campaign rhetoric than policy. The reality is that some lobbyists are as nefarious as advertised and some are not. Some want to turn their public service into big bucks and some turn around and help what we liberals would call good causes. And oh yeah: Many have experience that could be helpful for a new administration trying to enact its agenda.

I think that some substantial number of people who go through the so-called "revolving door" are a problem, and so I have some sympathy for tougher restrictions on that kind of back and forth.

But if you're going to campaign on sweeping condemnations about the evil of lobbyists and then, with great fanfare, ban them from your administration, you need to live by your own rules; or at least you shouldn't start making exceptions for them on Day 1.

Else the message is: It is important to prevent other administrations from doing business with lobbyists; but we are of such moral character that the rules need not apply to us. That's a slippery slope and leads to problems (and specifically could lead to the ex-lobbyists not getting confirmed, as Spencer Ackerman notes).

More troubling in some ways that these deviations themselves are the extent to which Mr Obama's supporters are willing to give him a pass--even to obscure the record. Take the Delaware blogosphere and the issue of lobbyists. The extent to which our liberal and progressive friends have discussed the issue (even though it has been known for two weeks that Obama intended to appoint a Raytheon lobbyist to run the Pentagon) has been limited at Delawareliberal to a nemski post about how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may prove to be a disappointment to Obama's high morals:

If it wasn’t obvious to you before that Harry Reid, whose ancestor may have been horse thief and a train robber, was going to be a problem for President Obama, no matter, Harry is here to remind us. Firedoglake points us to an ABC News report that informs us that Reid invited top lobbyists to an inaugural brunch on Monday. Said Reid:

People should understand that lobbyists, per se, are someone’s father, mother, son, daughter.They work for a living.

And to this should be added the following cassandra comment:

I don’t think that Reid is going to be the only legislator who is going to be a problem on the lobbying front. Too many of all of them are too wed to the money and to the favoritism it gets them.

[Let's also note here that there are not just evil, greedy corporate lobbyists out there. The legions trolling the halls of Congress and the White House include lobbyists for non-profit organizations and lobbyists hired by State and municpal governments to insure that they get their own pieces of the pork. Many of our more Statist brethren had this intriguing tendency to condemn the corporate lobbyists while simply ignoring the others.]

The clear implication here is that some Democrat opportunists may sell out the high moral standards of Barack Obama in his attempts to clean up government and make it more efficient. This is naive at best, and disingenuous at its worst.

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