Politics postsTuesday September 09, 2008
Obama to Palin: “Don't Mock the Constitution”
I’m the editor of several Super Lawyers publications around the country, including those in Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and New York — and in the New York issue, which comes out later this month, we’ve written profiles of three of the big civil liberties lawyers in the city: Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Arthur Eisenberg of the NYCLU and Manuel Vargas of the Immigrant Defense Project. The piece, written by Jessica Centers, mostly focuses on their work post-9/11. The various attacks on civil liberties that they’ve fought. The attacks that they keep fighting. So I’ve been immersed in this stuff, at an editorial remove, for a few months now.
Which is why Sarah Palin’s line in her acceptance speech about how Barack wants to “read terrorists their rights” really pissed me off.
At first I didn’t get it. What was she talking about? Then it hit me. Oh my god, she’s talking about the Guantanamo Bay detainees. She’s talking about how the Bush administration, and apparently Gov. Palin herself, or at least her (former Bush) speechwriters, feel it’s OK, and in fact demand, that the U.S. military have the right to grab any foreign national, in any place, put them in military prison, and deny them the right to meet their accusers: To know why they’ve been grabbed. To know why their life has been reduced to a life inside a small box.
In a perfect world this wouldn’t matter, because everything would be perfect: The suspects would be the right suspects, the military would make no mistakes, everything would be fine, And America would be safer.
But it’s not a perfect world, and this entire fiasco is making America less safe.
Today Sen. Obama struck back, as eloquently as ever. First he said that to read terrorists their rights, you have to catch them first, and the Republicans haven’t been very good at that.
Then he launched into a defense of habeas corpus, which has been around at least since the Magna Carta, if not earlier. From the Washington Post:
Calling it “the foundation of Anglo-American law,” he said the principle “says very simply: If the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, 'Why was I grabbed?' And say, 'Maybe you've got the wrong person.'”
The safeguard is essential, Obama continued, “because we don't always have the right person.”
“We don't always catch the right person,” he said. “We may think it's Mohammed the terrorist, but it might be Mohammed the cab driver. You might think it's Barack the bomb-thrower, but it might be Barack the guy running for president.”
”The reason that you have this principle is not to be soft on terrorism. It's because that's who we are. That's what we're protecting,“ Obama said, his voice growing louder and the crowd rising to its feet to cheer. ”Don't mock the Constitution. Don't make fun of it. Don't suggest that it's not American to abide by what the founding fathers set up. It's worked pretty well for over 200 years."
God, I love this man.
McCain: Reckless, Nutty, Irresponsible
Check out Andrew Sullivan's piece for the Times online. Highlights:
There is one reason the job of vice-president exists. In a system with a single executive, you need someone to fill in if the president is incapacitated or dies. ...The pick is also the first presidential-level decision a candidate has to make. You learn a lot about the candidate...
In Joe Biden, Obama revealed his core temperamental conservatism. It was a safe choice of someone deeply versed in foreign policy, and with roots that connected to the working class white ethnics he needed. It wasn't flashy; and was even a little underwhelming; but it was highly professional.
What we have learned about John McCain from his selection of Sarah Palin is that he is as impulsive and reckless a decision-maker as George W. Bush. We know this not because of what we have learned about this Pentecostalist populist since she exploded on the scene last Friday morning (and God knows we have learned more than we ever wanted). We know it because of how McCain made the decision. He wanted his best friend, Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic vice-presidential candidate for Al Gore. That pick would have been remarkable for its bipartisan nature, would have impressed independents, and signaled a centrist presidency centered on foreign policy. It would have been bold while not being rash.
But McCain is in charge of a party that is now, at its core, religiously motivated. Joe Lieberman, for all his political talents, is Jewish, pro-choice on abortion, gay-inclusive, and domestically liberal. McCain faced an insurrection in his party base if he picked him. Without the evangelical base, he wasn't going to win.
So last week, McCain picked someone he had only met once before. I repeat: he picked someone he had only met once before. His vetting chief sat Palin down for a face-to-face interview the Wednesday before last. It's very hard to overstate how nutty and irresponsible this is. Would any corporate chieftain pick a number two on those grounds and not be dismissed by his board for recklessness?
The Easily Intimidated Sarah Palin
Then there’s this in-depth piece from Ken Armstrong and Hal Bernton at The Seattle Times on then-Mayor Palin’s record in her first year in office in Wasilla in the mid-1990s. It’s pretty scary. She’s intolerant. She gets involved in things she shouldn’t get involved in — such as banning books from the public library. She seems like the worst micro-managing boss you ever had.
But the brunt of the article is her clash with Wasilla’s Chief of Police, Irl Stambaugh, who created Wasilla’s police department a few years earlier. Stambaugh was in favor of two things that got him into trouble with Palin:
- He backed an ordinance requiring Wasilla to close their bars at 2:30 a.m. (weekdays) and 3 a.m. (weekends), instead of the usual 5 a.m., because folks in nearby Anchorage, where the bars closed at the earlier hours, often drove to Wasilla to keep their buzz on, and drinking and driving, as we know, don’t mix. The Wasilla City Council rejected the ordinance by a 3-2 vote. Palin, then with the Council, voted with the majority.
- Stambaugh opposed an NRA-backed state legislative proposal that would allow concealed weapons in banks and bars. He called the proposal (which was vetoed by then-Gov. Tony Knowles) ridiculous. “Bars, guns and booze don’t mix,” he said.
So he was in trouble with Palin from the beginning. “She went on to state that the NRA didn’t like me and that they wanted change,” Stambaugh says.
So did Palin fire Stambaugh at the bidding of the NRA? Probably not. The article implies that she fired him for a more troubling reason: He intimidated her. He’s 6’2”, 240. He always tried to sit, and use a soothing voice, when talking with her, but when he finally got canned, this was part of her official rationale:
“When I met with you in private, instead of engaging in interactive conversation with me, you gave me short, uncommunicative answers and then you would sit there and stare at me in silence with a very stern look, like you were trying to intimidate me.”
I hope voters realize that if she feels intimidated by Putin, or Ahmadinejad, or new Pakistani President Zardari, all of whom won't try to use a soothing voice around her, firing them won’t be an option.
McCain: Rash and Not Bright. Sound Familiar?
As always, Frank Rich is worth reading and today he focuses on the haste with which John McCain makes his decisions and declarations. Here’s the money graph in easy-to-read list form:
- In October 2001, he speculated that Saddam Hussein might have been behind the anthrax attacks in America.
- That same month he out-Cheneyed Cheney in his repeated public insistence that Iraq had a role in 9/11 — even after both American and foreign intelligence services found that unlikely.
- He was similarly rash in his reading of the supposed evidence of Saddam’s W.M.D. and in his estimate of the number of troops needed to occupy Iraq. (McCain told MSNBC in late 2001 that we could do with fewer than 100,000.) It wasn’t until months after “Mission Accomplished” that he called for more American forces to be tossed into the bloodbath. The whole fiasco might have been prevented had he listened to those like Gen. Eric Shinseki who faulted the Rumsfeld war plan from the start.
“Often my haste is a mistake,” McCain conceded in his 2002 memoir, “but I live with the consequences without complaint.”
Rich then asks, as if it needed asking, “Well, maybe it’s fine if he wants to live with the consequences, but what about his country? Should the unexamined Palin prove unfit to serve at the pinnacle of American power, it will be too late for the rest of us to complain.”
How Palin was for Obama before she was against him
Interesting piece by Philip Gourevitch on an interview Sarah Palin gave two weeks ago...back when her name had dropped off the list of potential veep candidates and she was freer to speak her mind.
Overall, her talk is less doctrinaire and more bipartisan than the speech (written by former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully) she gave Thursday. She talks about how she's fine with the fact that Barack Obama was doing so well in Alaska, how his campaign themes echoed hers, and how she “always looked at Senator McCain just as a Joe Blow public member, looking from the outside in.” She's still a hard-right Republican — pro-life even in the case of rape or incest — but she's somewhat open-minded on other issues.
Now a lot of people are saying that it doesn't matter that Gov. Palin didn't write her own acceptance speech — that that's how politics works, and has worked, for decades. But here's the difference. Professional speechwriters tend to tailor speeches to the tastes and beliefs of the politician they work for. The politician usually has a hand, sometimes a firm hand, in what's being said. One gets the feeling that didn't happen with Palin. All you have to do is compare her open-mindedness two weeks ago with the Rove-like nastiness in her acceptance speech to realize that, with the exception of her personal story, she was basically a broadcaster, broadcasting someone else's words, on Thursday night. It wasn't her.
It's almost a cliche now, particularly in political circles, but you gotta ask: Which is the real Sarah Palin?