Both 2012 presidential campaigns advance the legacy of Dick Cheney

Among the most tragic casualties of the war on terror is the separation of powers that our Founders envisioned to help keep America free. Not only has executive power expanded to disturbing – and profoundly dangerous – proportions in the decade since the 9-11 attacks, but Presidents from both major parties have promoted this transformation.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) understands this well enough to have actively defended constitutional rights, introducing important legislation to restore due process after the latest defense authorization act allowed the indefinite domestic military detention of Americans without charge or trial. Yet in the Romney-Cheney Doctrine, he implies a contrast that is more imagined than real. He writes:

It’s no secret that Cheney was the driving force behind the Bush administration’s failed foreign policies…[O]f Romney’s 24 special advisors on foreign policy, 17 served in the Bush-Cheney administration….The last time they were in government, it was disastrous….

We can’t afford to go back to the failed policies of the past…America’s security depends on moving forward to confront the threats of the future.

While the foreign policy visions of the 2012 presidential candidates do indeed differ, the most striking element of Rep. Smith’s article is its silence on what could reasonably be called “the Obama-Cheney doctrine.”0418-romney-obama-squeaker-landslide_full_600

Rep. Smith correctly notes that Mitt Romney has enthusiastically endorsed the views of many Bush-Cheney administration veterans. He does not mention the Obama administration’s alignment with its predecessor’s domestic security agenda: expanding surveillance, suppressing dissent, militarizing police and intelligence agencies, aggrandizing their powers, entrenching their leadership, prosecuting whistleblowers to reinforce secret government, and ignoring the rights of the millions of people impacted by this bipartisan assault on constitutional rights.

Despite campaigning to restore liberty in the face of Bush & Cheney’s blind pursuit of a brutish (and ultimately foolish) vision of security, President Obama has not only continued their constitutional abuses but even pioneered new ones. Two looming especially large are the powers to militarily detain–or even kill–anyone (even American citizens, and their children) with neither evidence nor any judicial review.

But even those dictatorial powers are merely the worst among many. Over the last four years, the Obama administration has reauthorized the Patriot Act no fewer than three times, erased the paper trail documenting National Security Letters to avoid the embarrassment of yet another internal government report establishing widespread systemic abuse of PATRIOT Act powers, driven a government crackdown on whistleblowers to protect executive secrecy even as secret government has expanded to historic proportions, created a humanitarian crisis by deporting record numbers of undocumented Americans while allowing the FBI to use that pretext to create a national ID scheme based on biometric data, and insulated the FBI from accountability by securing the extension of its Director beyond his statutory term for the first time since the Senate caught the FBI conducting “a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association….”

While the 2012 presidential debate has involved many issues of legitimate national concern, those with the most enduring legacy have been excluded entirely from the debate — and with good reason: there is no meaningful daylight between the candidates. Despite an increasingly vicious electoral contest between the presidential campaigns, and wide-ranging conflict between the two major political parties in Congress and the state legislatures, with respect to national security and human rights (and to be fair, a range of other equally ignored issues), America is a one party state.

On the one hand, Romney may bring back into the White House the discredited coterie of advisers that dragged our country into a constitutional abyss under the Bush administration. On the other hand, president Obama has made policy choices in counterterrorism, immigration enforcement, surveillance, and police accountability that outflank the Bush-Cheney administration’s worst abuses.

Dick Cheney never advanced or defended the executive authority to kill US citizens at whim. The Bush-Cheney administration also never proposed (or approved Congress’ endorsement of) military authority to indefinitely detain Americans without trial. These are uniquely Obama abuses.

The Obama administration has also preserved Cheney’s legacy in other ways. Choosing to “look forward, not backwards” on war crimes and human rights violations, like torture, ensures that those crimes will recur in the future. Yet the depth of the Bush Administration’s atrocities remains unknown: the Pentagon continues to suppress the release of thousands of photos, and even videos, documenting still secret abuses. And while waterboarding (which had been universally acknowledged as torture for half a millennium, until Hollywood joined the right wing spin machine to erode fifty years of international human rights norms) has been widely reported, the illegal human experimentation conducted during waterboarding sessions has not.

Whatever choice America makes this November, our ensuing policies will reflect the continuing influence of the Bush & Cheney neoconservative revolution. For figures who will be so reviled by history, they wield a remarkably enduring legacy. It is a shame that neither of the major political parties offers We the People an alternative.