One of the most surprising aspects of the Obama presidency is the way he has ended up talking down to us. His famous speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, the one that brought him to national attention, exemplified the opposite approach, calling us to lift our collective vision above the moral and intellectual fog of the Bush years and imagine a better and fairer world. The whole thing seemed real, it seemed legitimate, there was all the verisimilitude required to convince many that a Democratic candidate who ran to the right of Hillary Clinton — a feat previously considered impossible — was in truth that honest-to-goodness liberal we’ve been waiting for ever since LBJ chose the war in Vietnam over the Great Society.
But whether or not one bought into that pleasing fiction it was still possible to imagine that at least the conversations between the President and the people would be conducted at an adult level. Complete grammatically correct sentences using actual English words and identifiable ideas seemed to be on offer.
Then Obama was elected and he became George Bush III, outdoing his predecessors in illegal and immoral acts, daily violating the Constitution he used to know well enough to teach. When Edward Snowden’s first documents were published and administration assurances about the protection of Americans’ privacy turned out to be lies, Obama first attacked Snowden’s character, then announced that he had long wanted this conversation over the balance between security and privacy. So why, the world immediately responded, did you prevent that conversation from happening by withholding the information necessary for it, and prosecuting government whistleblowers more drastically and ruthlessly than any of your predecessors including the paranoid Nixon? Obama had no answer for that, so he needed something shiny. How about a blue ribbon commission? Those are always good for buying time and releasing steam slowly enough to prevent change.
Sure enough, Obama announces he’s creating a top-level group to examine the situation and report to him, a group of outside experts not beholden to those they’ll inspect and report on. And the group will be headed by James Clapper, who’s already admitted lying to Congress under oath. Oh, someone’s concerned that might lead to interference? Okay, here’s a new group, much more independent and credible! It will be headed by a former interim director of the CIA, so he’ll have no axe to grind or friends to protect. He’ll be joined by three former White House aides in the areas of national security and intelligence. So the entire spectrum of acceptable opinion will be represented.
One member in particular has outstanding qualifications to represent the civil liberties viewpoint.
[Cass] Sunstein, a Harvard law school professor who has been described as an intellectual inspiration for Obama, only left his job as White House’s “regulatory czar” last year.
Sunstein is a particularly controversial appointment. In a paper in 2008, he appeared to propose the US government employing covert agents to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and activist websites that advocate theories that are considered false and conspiratorial.
He has also proposed reformulating the first amendment, arguing that in some instances it goes too far in protecting damaging forms of speech.
He is married to Samantha Power, the former White House adviser whom Obama recently appointed as US ambassador to the United Nations.