Benjamin Wittes' excellent article "NDAA: A Guide for the Perplexed" begins: "The volume of sheer, unadulterated nonsense zipping around the internet about the NDAA boggles the mind." It does. (Wittes' article is, I think, a necessary antidote.) But the question of why it's so hard for the blogosphere to get the basic details right cuts to the heart of why civil liberties is becoming an issue in the 2012 election, and in several distinct ways:
- It reveals Obama's betrayal of his original platform. Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 as somebody who was going to end extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention, shut down the gulag at Guantanamo Bay, reduce immigrant deportations, end raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, and limit the power of the executive branch. He has done none of these things, and it's understandable for some of his supporters to become angry enough about this betrayal that they're likely to read things into the NDAA that aren't actually there. (Glenn Greenwald, who has his own take on NDAA, seems to be reframing his entire career around this.)
- It provides an opportunity for Republicans. While the Bush administration pioneered unconstitutional post-9/11 antiterrorism policy, GOP candidates can now cite Obama's unwillingness to reverse them as a campaign issue. So far, only Ron Paul has done so--though, as I'll explain in tomorrow's blog entry, Rep. Paul has problems of his own--but the more Obama is associated with post-9/11 indefinite detention policies, the easier it is to present "big government" as an all-encompassing issue involving both fiscal policy and civil liberties.
- It allows Occupy supporters, and others on the left who are apprehensive about Obama, to clearly distance themselves from the political establishment. This is necessary in order for a broader, independent progressive policy agenda to emerge as a force in 2012--and Obama does need to encounter resistance from within his own party, or NDAA-style concessions will become more frequent and more severe. That's not a slam on Obama in particular; it would be foolish to expect more from a politician.
Some of the best coverage of NDAA has come from Amnesty International's blog, which is well worth bookmarking. They've dealt with these issues globally for decades, and this is a case where the international human rights community can probably bring meaningful pressure to bear on the U.S. government.