The Tribune's lead editorial Wednesday touched all these bases and was headlined "Obama and overreach: Americans see evidence of truth-shading, arrogance and intrusion." Scott Stantis labeled his accompanying cartoon "Richard Milhous Obama." On Thursday, a New York Times story on Obama's troubles observed that "the latest furors could harden an impression of an Obama presidency that has expanded the reach of government further than many Americans would like."
But what we've been seeing over the past week is the second wave of attacks on the Obama presidency as authoritarian and presumptuous (Nixonesque, if you will). It's driven by political enemies. The first wave was not. Many of those critics might loosely be described as troubled friends.
Jack Goldsmith in the New Republic, on drone warfare: "For official secrecy abroad to work, the secrets must be kept at home as well. In speeches, interviews, and leaks, Obama's team has tried to explain why its operations abroad are lawful and prudent. But to comply with rules of classified information and covert action, the explanations are conveyed in limited, abstract, and often awkward terms. They usually raise more questions than they answer—and secrecy rules often preclude the administration from responding to follow-up questions, criticisms, and charges.
"As a result, much of what the administration says about its secret war—about civilian casualties, or the validity of its legal analysis, or the quality of its internal deliberations—seems incomplete, self-serving, and ultimately non-credible."
And Kenneth Roth on drones in the New York Review of Books: "The recent Justice Department 'White Paper' . . . is meant to give the impression that, at least for US citizen targets, the program has been carefully reviewed by lawyers, but it seems written to maximize the program's latitude. That is obviously troubling for people who believe that the United States should conduct its counterterrorism operations in accordance with international law."
And Katha Pollitt on drones in the Nation: "Whatever happened to arresting people, extraditing them, giving them lawyers, putting them on trial—all that? Even in the hottest days of the Cold War, when millions believed communism threatened our very existence as a nation, Americans accused of spying for the Soviets had their day in court. No one suggested that President Eisenhower should skip the tiresome procedural stuff and just bomb the Rosenbergs' apartment. . . . Even giving Obama the benefit of every doubt, do we want the president to be a one-man death panel?"
The New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen on Miranda rights: "The Obama administration has already gone further than George W. Bush's administration in blurring the lines between the criminal and military justice systems. . . . Boston is the place where civil libertarians' legitimate fears about the militarization of American criminal justice after 9/11 have come home to roost. . . .The administration . . . doesn't only encourage the police to interrogate suspected terrorists about imminent threats; it adds that 'the circumstances surrounding an arrest of an operational terrorist may warrant significantly more extensive public safety interrogation without Miranda warnings than would be permissible in an ordinary criminal case.' [A 2010 Justice Department memo] stretches the idea of imminence beyond recognition."
And, for good measure, here's the Economist weighing in on Guantanamo: "This newspaper has condemned Guantánamo as unjust, unwise and un-American for a decade. The spectre of prisoners denied either a fair trial or the possibility of release is Orwellian. Nothing has done more to sully America’s image in the modern world. They should be tried or set free, just as terrorist suspects are in every other civilised country. Four years and three months ago, Barack Obama, in one of his first official acts as president, wrote an executive order to close the prison camp. This week he said Guantánamo 'is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.' And yet it goes on."
Guantánamo's continuing lease on life because Congress won't let Obama close it doesn't help make the case for an authoritarian presidency—at least not in any obvious way. But if we reset today's Washington as a kindergarten psychodrama—something Americans love to do—the way Guantánamo fits in becomes clear. Doesn't play well with others, editorial pages of all inclinations are concluding: likes it when other kids push him around so he can dismiss them as bullies and play with his toys all by himself, which is how he wanted it in the first place.