Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Obama and the Issue of Civil Rights

A member if the studio audience made the following comment:

Noam Chomsky made a salient point in an interview with RT: "Bush tortured people, but Obama just kills them." Moreover, Obama has changed virtually none of the Big Government, anti-civil liberty policies that Bush put in place. Killing Awlaki, an American citizen, rightly ought to raise many eyebrows.

I am no fan of Noam Chomsky - but it is an ad hominem fallacy to reject a proposition simply because of the name attached to it.

However, this comment brought to mind the fact that, though I have written a great deal about the wrongness of torture and the moral requirement of trials by an impartial jury to prevent abuses of power, I also claimed even before the 2008 Presidential election that Obama would not be able to reverse these policies.

Any attempt to do so would result in his being removed from office and replaced by somebody more like Bush/Chaney - willing, even eager, to torture not only for information, but for vengeance.

The reason rests in the fact that America itself has morally degenerated. The moral aversion to torture, to denying the right to a fair trial, to ignoring the principle that people have a right to be secure in their persons, papers, homes, and effects from unreasonable searches and seizures, and to cruel and unusual punishment that used to be a part of the social morality that defined America had greatly diminished.

Those who still hold these values can complain all we want about how the government is responsible and blame the President. However, the fact is that of a President were to try to secure these rights and live by these standards, the American people will see that he is properly punished for his actions and removed from office at the earliest possibility. We will then replace him with somebody who shares and enforces our immoral inclinations in these respects.

Clearly, not all Americans have suffered from this moral degeneration - but a sufficient number has to make it impossible for the government to respect these rights for long.

It is particularly ironic that we still have people saying, "Gasp! We can't elect an Atheist! An atheist does not recognize that our rights come from God and will destroy those rights at the first convenience."

Yet, look at who has become the enthusiastic supporters of torture, of taking people off the streets and holding them indefinitely without a trial, of cruel and unusual punishments, of corporate nobility destroying the life, health, liberty, and property of others through pollution with impunity and without compensation?

No doubt, future generations will say, "Look at the rise of atheism in the first part of the 20th century - the same time that America reverted back to a nation of torture, unjust imprisonments, and cruel and unusual punishments. Obviously, atheism is to blame." This will be in spite of the fact that the people in the past century who were the strongest supporters of these policies also happened to be the most religious.

Obama tried to give the Guantanamo Bay detainees fair trials in a civilian court. Congress passed legislation prohibiting that any federal money be spent on this - forcing him to keep Guantanamo Bay open and its people imprisoned without trials.

If Obama were to give even a hint that he is soft on terrorism, his opposition will immediately employ fear tactics to tell the American people that "they" will come and inflict untold harms if we do not get somebody into office more sympathetic to torture, killing, and cruel and unusual punishments. I am pretty sure that Obama has taken these reforms - restoring America to its previous standards of decency - about as far as he can get away with.

It calls to mind an element in the Star Wars movie Revenge of the Sith that has always struck me as particularly noteworthy. As the Emperor gains his emergency powers to the cheers of the Senate, Padmé (one of the Senators opposing the Emperor) says, "So this is how liberty dies: With thunderous applause."

Do not look to Obama to change things. These changes have to come from us. More to the point, the change has to be within us.

7 comments:

Dea said...

Excellent points!

gmcrews said...

Typo alert. In several places there appears the word "if" instead of the word "of". Must of botched a global search/replace?

gmcrews said...

It seems your implicit rant against hypocrisy does not extent to the top. Give Obama a pass on doing the moral thing since it might cost him the next election?

And why focus on theists being hypocrites, what studies show atheists are any less so?

You raise a valid issue -- our civil rights. And I am frustrated about their erosion too. But I can't think of a practical solution that begins with calling Americans moral degenerates.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Well, it is not so much as giving him a pass. I insist that Obama do as much as is politically feasible.

If he were to refuse to take steps to respect and protect these moral principles in a situation where he could do so and still hold office, I would protest.

If he did not push the limit in standing up for those principles where others blocked him (as he did when he tried to give the Guantanamo Bay detainees a civilian trial in American courts), I would protest.

But I do not see much reason for protesting the fact that one has done as much as he could - where the alternative is that of turning the job over to somebody who would do far worse.

As for my blog offering a "practical solution" - it probably does not start with calling Americans moral degenerates (though, to be fair, what I said was that America's morality has degenerated in these areas - which is a true statement regardless of its political usefulness). In this blog, I am concerned with true or false statements.

I will let the politicians worry about when to promote a useful fiction over a useless fact.

Anonymous said...

As the case with most progressives, liberals, atheists, whatever, the issue of abortion is shoved in the closet. You want to talk about torture - what about sucking the brains out of an unborn 50 million times in the US alone..
Also,you seem to have forgotten about those friendly communists - Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Che, Chavez and others too numerous to name. Maybe they were Baptists and I missed it.

Kristopher said...

i don't think that anything "degenerated" becuase in order to degenerate we would have to have it intact at some point.

if you look at the protection of civil liberties in this country as espoused by the constitution you will find that they were often suspended or abriged when americans were in a state of fear or panic.

for example during world war two with japanese american's internment camps... in komatsu v united states supreme court decisions said it was congruent with the constitution (during the war in a time of fear) but in a case after the war found that it was counter to the tenets of the constitution (and obviously so)

further more in WW2 they decided to try a criminal american citizen and civilian (he was a german saboteur) not in public criminal court but by military tribunal wihtout the civil liberties garanteed in the constitution and the summarily executed him. also found constitutional (fear of the enemy in war)

during the red scare the mcarthy era laws were first found constitutional by the supreme court during a time of great fear (the read menace) only after it was shown how rediculous mccarthy was and the fear subsided did the supreme court reverse their decision in a similar case.

when america is afraid it routinely suspends the constitution for what it percieves to be secutrity from the "others" and everytime the fear as been largely baseless. if we want to fix this problem we need to convince america to calm down

the japanese americans had no plans for sabotage

the red scare was pretty much completely fabricated

terrorists can sporadicaly destroy buildings and their occupants but not our country nor our way of life, only we can do that. they don't have ground troops, they can't occupy territory. they pose no more danger than timothy micveigh (which was not a negligible danger)and should be handled in the same way. as a police matter with a fair and public trial.

your article was great, but i think you have a little nostalgia distortion when imply we lost some morality we had in the past. quite frankly we have never had the gall to stick to our morals when we were whipped up into a fear frenzy and that is one of america's biggest historical failings that we have repeated again and again. and it is a problem we desperately need to solve

we could solve it by condemning the fear mongers but as long as it works people will use it. we need to find a way to educate the population to the point it doesnt work if we want to see a real change. how societies act when afraid is well documented and taught in history books... but our history books have a reverence for america that causes the students get the impression that it could never happen here... and so it sneaks under the radar

mojo.rhythm said...

Do not look to Obama to change things. These changes have to come from us. More to the point, the change has to be within us.

Touche. I agree!