It's clear that a good number of activists who were not terribly bothered by President George W. Bush's post-9/11 civil liberties abuses are less comfortable with President Barack Obama's. Most of this is simple partisanship, and I don't think partisanship is interesting enough to discuss, but I do see one factor that makes Obama's civil liberties abuses potentially more dangerous than Bush's, and that will no doubt make the next president's civil liberties abuses more dangerous than Obama's: the state of technology.
Take the anti-drone argument, for example. There's nothing we're saying about drone strikes in the Obama administration that wasn't equally true of cruise missile strikes in the Clinton and Bush administrations, but there's something about the idea of drones that's vaguely unsettling for those of us who remember The Terminator, RoboCop, and other robotics-based dystopias. The same is largely true of the recent NSA scandal. In practice, this is Spygate redux - but it's being done better, thanks to technological advances we've seen over the past six years, and that's reason enough for civil libertarians to get nervous and buy up another printing of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. This is all independent, of course, from the Tea Party's tendency to see Bush-era civil liberties abuses in a more sinister light when they're carried over to Obama. What I'm telling conservatives right now is the very same thing I told liberals in 2007:
...(J)ust as the solution to monarchy is representative government, not better kings, the solution to an overreaching executive is checks and balances, not just a different executive. An ideal scenario, to my vantage point, would be to revise the Constitution to permanently reduce the power of the president to a level comparable to that of a prime minister. The strong-executive model places entirely too much power in the hands of one person, and I would love to see it revised and replaced with a more parliamentary model that gives citizens and their elected representatives more control over the government's decisionmaking progress. Certainly, at the very least, the president's authority to wage war without congressional approval needs to be curtailed.
But those changes are unlikely because presidential candidates of both parties oppose them, so I'll settle for the next best thing: Not expanding the unwieldy power of the presidency even more. To that extent, I need to oppose--and we all need to oppose--the line-item veto, which gives the president unparalleled power to intervene in the legislative process, unbalancing legislative compromises and creating more unfunded mandates.
It was true of Clinton, it was true of Bush, it's true of Obama, and it will no doubt be true of his successor: the imperial presidency is a problem created by the presidency, not the person who happens to occupy that office at the time. Electing a perfect president, even if such a candidate exists, would only solve the problem for - at most - 8 years. What we really need is a longer-term, policy-focused solution.