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11/10/2008
DON’T YOU WISH YOU WERE A FLY ON A WALL?
CATEGORY: General

Today, the President and the president-elect will meet at the White House to discuss the transition - among other things. One can see Bush - a man who by several accounts, does not take criticism gracefully - all steely eyed, a grim smile playing around the corners of his mouth as he will no doubt find some way to remind Obama of some of the things our new president said during the campaign about the 43rd chief executive.

But it will hardly be the most uncomfortable meeting of incoming and outgoing presidents in history. Jackie Kennedy described the ride to her husband’s inaugural with the Eisenhowers as “glacial.” Ditto Nancy Reagan who thought the Carters were being deliberately distant. When the White House changes party hands, it necessarily follows that the winner didn’t think much of the policies of his predecessor. Given the titanic egos involved, it is not surprising that there would be some hard feelings.

In this case, it follows that Obama will probably not be the most welcome visitor in the 8 years of the Bush White House. The Democrat, after all, has accused the President of ruining the country, of destroying the American Dream, of not caring about war casualties, of lying about weapons of mass destruction, of initiating policies to benefit the rich, of not caring about the financial meltdown, of destroying the planet, of sticking it to the poor and middle class, of not caring about the people of New Orleans after Katrina, and of general incompetence - among other things.

Gee. Why would Bush be upset with Obama?

They met once before at a White House breakfast for new senators. Obama described the meeting in his book The Audacity of Hope :

Obama!” Bush exclaimed, according to Obama’s account of the meeting in his second memoir, “The Audacity of Hope.” “Come here and meet Laura. Laura, you remember Obama. We saw him on TV during election night. Beautiful family. And that wife of yours — that’s one impressive lady.”

The two men shook hands and then, according to Obama, Bush turned to an aide, “who squirted a big dollop of hand sanitizer in the president’s hand.”

Bush then offered some to Obama, who recalled: “Not wanting to seem unhygienic, I took a squirt.”

The president then led Obama off to one side of the room, where Bush said: “I hope you don’t mind me giving you a piece of advice.”

“Not at all, Mr. President,” Obama told the commander-in-chief.

“You’ve got a bright future,” Bush said presciently. “Very bright. But I’ve been in this town awhile and, let me tell you, it can be tough. When you get a lot of attention like you’ve been getting, people start gunnin’ for ya. And it won’t necessarily just be coming from my side, you understand. From yours, too. Everybody’ll be waiting for you to slip, know what I mean? So watch yourself.”

Bush then noted that he and Obama had something in common.

“We both had to debate Alan Keyes,” the president said. “That guy’s a piece of work, isn’t he?”

Both men laughed and seemed to hit it off. But then, Bush began to speak of his agenda for his new term and weirdly, Obama describes Bush’s demeanor when talking about his goals exactly the same way that Obama talks when he speaks of his plans for the country:

“Suddenly it felt as if somebody in a back room had flipped a switch,” Obama wrote. “The president’s eyes became fixed; his voice took on the agitated, rapid tone of someone neither accustomed to nor welcoming interruption; his easy affability was replaced by an almost messianic certainty. As I watched my mostly Republican Senate colleagues hang on his every word, I was reminded of the dangerous isolation that power can bring, and appreciated the Founders’ wisdom in designating a system to keep power in check.”

Obama should examine tapes of some of his major speeches. There he will see “messianic certainty” in spades. And by the way Mr. president elect, did you happen to see the slavish devotion, the swooning, fainting, weeping, chest heaving, short stroking response of your robotic followers whenever you uttered any of your vapidness? “Republican Senate colleagues hang[ing] on his every word,” absolutely pales by comparison.

To be fair, that passage was written before Obamamania hit the world. But one wonders if Obama will still appreciate “the Founders’ wisdom in designating a system to keep power in check,” now that he has been elected to the same office.

In truth, the only check on Obama’s power will be Obama. As we’ve seen with President Bush, the Constitution is quite an elastic document when it comes to powers granted the chief executive. In time of war, the powers of Commander in Chief are expanded - sometimes considerably (see FDR and Lincoln) - and notions of civil liberties get a rough ride from the tug of war between privacy and security.

I did not support some of what President Bush initiated as security measures these last 8 years but neither am I a civil liberties absolutist who some suspect would be enormously satisfied if the government bent over backward to obey Constitutional protections to the letter and the spirit of the law while the US suffered a horrific attack. It would prove how morally superior they are to the rest of us mere mortals. (”What’s a couple of 9/11’s a year if the price we pay is a lessening of Constitutional liberties?”) That’s easily worth a couple of thousand lives to the Glenn Greenwalds of the world.

But Obama will no doubt discover very soon - perhaps today - what has kept our elected leaders from sleeping very well at night; that the extent and nature of the threat against our people is the biggest security challenge he will have as president. It is true that many of Obama’s followers do not believe this and, in fact, believe that the threat is overblown, used by Bush as both an electoral club to beat Democrats and as a way to aggrandize power unto himself. If Obama believes that, he is in for a very rude awakening.

I have no doubt that if the two men meet privately today, that President Bush will try to impress this fact on President elect Obama. Will he believe Bush? Will he believe our intelligence agencies? Rightly, Obama appears to be keeping his options open on the Terrorist Surveillance Program and other anti-terror measures initiated by Bush. He can talk all he wants to about “restoring Constitutional protections” but I suspect that, in the end, he will make a few adjustments to satisfy critics but keep the basic programs intact. The simple reason he might very well do this is that they have worked.

This is one meeting where I would love to be a fly on the wall. The expression is overused and has become hackneyed and cliched but that shouldn’t stop us from using the imagery of being an unobtrusive observer of great events to become immersed in history rather than just reading it.

Think of it as one of Einstein’s thought experiments. Go back to the cabinet meeting in June of 1862 where Lincoln discussed issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. Put yourself in that time and in that the room as Stanton tries to dissuade Lincoln from issuing the edict until the Union achieves a military victory, telling him that otherwise, it would be seen as a “cry for help.” As they go around the table, each advisor in turn giving their opinion, would you be persuaded? Remember, you know nothing except what has happened previously, the future being as clouded as it is for Lincoln.

Such exercises teach you a lot about yourself as much as they instruct us of history.

In this case, being a fly on the wall when Obama meets Bush might open our eyes about how both men see the realities of power - its uses, its pitfalls, and its limitations. The presidency, it is said, is both the strongest and weakest elected office in the western world. It is the one office in America where power is measured by how the people perceive their chief executive. Bush was virtually powerless his last year in office due not only to his lame duck status but his historically low approval numbers. Conversely, Obama’s power will be at its zenith when he takes office next January.

After all, the Constitution gives the president very little to do. It is up to the man and his understanding of how to exercise the powers granted him that makes the president or breaks him. And being a fly on the wall as Obama discovers that for himself would be fascinating indeed.

By: Rick Moran at 10:02 am
15 Responses to “DON’T YOU WISH YOU WERE A FLY ON A WALL?”
  1. 1
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    10:58 am 

    I always find it interesting to read about how the left and right view civil liberties.

    I am a pragmatist. I fully recognize the danger of much of what Bush has attempted to do these last 4 years. But placed in context of the threat we face plus the safeguards that have been reported in places like the New York Times, I am not at all convinced that the threat to civil liberties hasn’t been overblown by some for political purposes. As much as Bush has used the war to gain political support, his opponents have used the threat of Constitutional overreach to score against him. This is undeniable - unless you wish to posit superior motives to one side or the other, something that is demonstrably ridiculous.

    If you believe that we are not “at war” - or whatever designation you wish to give the conflict between extremist Islam and the west - than I would suggest you are either a fool or incredibly naive. And if you believe that it is better to bend over backwards to follow not only the letter but the spirit of the law - and subsequently be attacked because of it - then I would add that you are a dangerous fool.

    ed.

  2. 2
    Gayle Miller Said:
    11:05 am 

    According to an Obama spokesman, he is ready to “Rule” starting on Day One. And Obama has shown before that he either misunderstands (and he’s a constitutional law professor) or willfully ignores what the constitution says!

    Fasten your seat belts because it’s going to be a BUMPY 4 years!

  3. 3
    Shelby Said:
    11:16 am 

    Ha ha, I love this. The left hated 8 years of Bush and now, in a dramatic twist of irony, they are awarded with a leader who seems to have some of the same qualities. Oh well. We can’t say we didn’t warn them.

    Personally I doubt Obama will be a centrist President. It’s obvious from all these past tapes of him speaking and giving interviews that he cares deeply about the far left agenda. You can’t expect that kind of ideology to just fade because we are assuming he will want to have good poll numbers. But we’ll see.

  4. 4
    jambrowski Said:
    11:18 am 

    gotta wish him luck, his luck in the end is our luck…

  5. 5
    Chuck Tucson Said:
    12:05 pm 

    Rick, I certainly don’t believe that there is no war going on.

    “And if you believe that it is better to bend over backwards to follow not only the letter but the spirit of the law – and subsequently be attacked because of it ”

    So, you’ve given us two options:

    1) We can have our Civil Liberties according to the letter and spirit of the law - and subsequently be attacked because of it.

    Or:

    2) Give up some of our Civil Liberties and maybe not be attacked.

    That’s a tough choice. Either way we’re living in constant fear. Civil Liberties protect us from the government, and the government is supposed to protect us from foreign terrorists and ensure the flow of commerce. I guess I have a hard time seeing how giving up our civil liberties is going to help the government with that. Especially considering that the “war on terror” will probably, literally, never end.

  6. 6
    Nick Said:
    1:01 pm 

    Just think, in a few weeks Dubya can spend all his time clearin brush, eatin pretzels, and updating his fantasy teams.

  7. 7
    michael reynolds Said:
    2:09 pm 

    I have a feeling that Bush will be very gracious. Laura certainly will be. And I suspect Obama will keep it humble. No real basis for believing that, just an instinct.

  8. 8
    mannning Said:
    4:35 pm 

    It would be very instructive to be able to understand the limits of the power that is strictly in the President’s hands. Not only because he is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but slso because of what he can command on the home front by the stroke of his pen(Executive Orders, etc.). This power of the position is not well-understood by the public, and not by myself, for that matter, yet it appears to be the immediate direction of the new President to employ EOs to effect some of the changes he wants. Are we going to be ruled by fiat?

    All presidents do the “stroke of the pen” thing the first thing they do when they take office. No biggie.

    ed

  9. 9
    Hugh Larious Said:
    6:23 pm 

    @Rick:
    And just where do you draw the line when it comes to civil liberties? When it comes to you perhaps? Or your family? Would you be understanding if your and/or your family’s liberties were being violated? Or is it all good when constitutional liberties are being “stretched” when it is happening to other people? Maybe just brown people? Maybe when it is only non-Republicans? Maybe when it is only non-Americans? They are not American so they don’t deserve their own liberties? Are all people created equally? Or just American people? At some point you have to draw the line. You are uncomfortable with what Bush did…but at the same time you are ok with it. That makes no sense. Where is your line? Mild torture? A little slapping perhaps but as long as there are no marks you’re cool with it? Are you ok with it when some other country tortures an American in order to get information regarding their national security?

    I believe in our constitution. I do not believe that our constituion is perfect though. I agree that sometimes changes need to be made - I support that process wholeheartedly. Change is needed, else you stagnate (plus human beings are not perfect - past mistakes need to be fixed as they are found). As it is though, I believe that our constitution is worth fighting for - worth protecting for me and my own. I believe that my civil liberties are worth fighting for. I believe my fellow man’s civil liberties are worth fighting for as well. How can I covet something and not understand when my neighbor covets the same thing? Your premise of dangerous times call for dangerous measures is a scary thought. You can try and deny it but that is your message - or at least that is what I believe you are saying anyways. Maybe we should just go drop nuclear bombs on everyone not American? After all, their liberties do not matter. Just Americans. No more 9/11s.

    Yes, I believe that we as a country are at war. Unfortunately I believe we are in the wrong war - or rather, fought the right war in the wrong way for the wrong reasons. There was nothing I could do about that except cast my vote on election day (and past election days) as I have been doing. Unfortunately (politically anyways) I live in Texas. A non-republican vote hardly counts here. One change I would like is the abandonment of the electoral college. The reasons it exists are no longer valid.

    I did not cast a Democratic party ballot. Mine was all over, however, I did vote for Obama. I felt he was a better choice than McCain. Unfortunately, who I wanted for president was not on the ballot. I do not believe Obama can fix everything…if people believe that they will be disappointed. I did and still do believe that he can help more than McCain could have helped. I do wish Republicans would stop saying he better stop the sun in the sky else he fails as a president. I believe the right has idolized him almost…calling him the “messiah” and “the One” even though they were/are trying to tear him down by making him seem as if he believes he is Christ reborn. Please try another attack. That one is getting friggen old. It makes me smile a bit whenever I think of you all who have called him that…and now are stuck with him as president (well, president-elect anyways). Must stick in the back of the throat a bit.

    It is interesting that the right wants him to fail. It is almost like they need him to fail - in order to justify all of their claims about him. Just like the left probably would have wanted McCain to fail to justify their claims. A terrible, vicious circle. If McCain had won I would have wanted him to succeed. With everything! National security…economy! I would still like to retire at some point in my life! Wanting/wishing/praying for someone (your future President even) to fail is stupid. I never wished for George W. Bush to fail. I never wished for Bill Clinton to fail. I never wished for George Bush to fail (I don’t even mind that he did eventually tax me). I never wished for Ronald Reagon to fail. You get the point.

    @Gayle Miller:
    Why would you quote the word rule? I’m surprised you refrained yourself from calling him “The One” or “Messiah”…or “Barack Hussein Obama”, because, you know..you always refer to him by his full name. I really can’t believe you think he is our punishment from some god because Democrats spoke bad about George Walker Bush during his presidency. That’s just creepy. Maybe George Walker Bush was America’s punishment for Republicans talking bad about Clinton? Hmmm????? Of course not though…your god would never back a Democrat, huh?

    “Maybe when it is only non-Americans? They are not American so they don’t deserve their own liberties.”

    Your intimation of racism guiding my thoughts is typical - can’t argue the merits so smear someone. And if you are talking about “non-Americans” who get caught in this country, I have made my feelings known numerous times on this site regarding my opposition to many of the Administration’s detention policies.

    But non-Americans caught outside of America? You’re kidding right?

    ed.

  10. 10
    Judith Said:
    8:39 am 

    Too funny. Read obamas books, he has contempt for our Constitution. As in the Clinton years, when he steps all over our liberties and rights, the media will not cover it. It is hard for you on the left (and your disguise is slipping, by the way) to give President Bush any credit for our safety, but time will tell. Just as the woman that cheated with a married man, then married that man, then was cheated on, your eyes will be opened and soon. obama has no core, will tell you one thing, me another and will ultimately serve himself at the peril of the USA.

  11. 11
    Jonathan Said:
    8:49 am 

    Bush no doubt told Obama all about the flying saucers. They’re Obama’s problem now. :)

  12. 12
    retire05 Said:
    9:29 am 

    This transition of power will be a lot different that the last one. The incoming president is already being briefed on national affairs. There will be no missing “O”’s from White House keyboards, Air Force One will not be vandalized, furniture that belongs to the White House will remain, and all you who have bashed George W. Bush will learn one thing about the man, he is gracious and honorable.

    And my guess is that within a few years you will be wishing for the security and safety he has provided us with for the last 7 years. I pray I am wrong.

  13. 13
    Hugh Larious Said:
    10:33 am 

    “but neither am I a civil liberties absolutist who some suspect would be enormously satisfied if the government bent over backward to obey Constitutional protections to the letter and the spirit of the law while the US suffered a horrific attack”

    I am wondering at where you draw the line sir. Murder/rape/torture? It seems to me that you are ok with civil liberties being ignored when times are rough…when there is an assumption that you were protected because some information was given via torture.

    What if it were an American domestic terrorist being tortured? You would be ok with that since the information they gave would save American lives. Correct? How about if it were a supposed American domestic terrorist? Maybe they are or maybe there aren’t? Only torture would tell. Are you saying you would be OK with it if it ended up being a domestic terrorist…but not OK with it if it ended up being an innocent? I am sorry but you can not have it both ways. All I ask is where you draw the line. At what point would you stand up and say “NO!” to someone being tortured? When it is only an American who is just suspected of being a terrorist? Or only when it is someone you know? A friend, a family member, a member of your community? And if you are willing to stand up and say “NO!” for a friend how come not your fellow man? Be it someone from Canada, someone from Mexico, someone from France, or gasp, dare I say it, someone from Iraq or Afghanistan?

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

    That statement does not say anything about just being an American.

    “…that you were protected because some information was given via torture.”

    I have come out in a half dozen posts on this site against torture under any circumstances. And if you think those are the only civil liberties questions that have arisen in the last 8 years, you are a dunce.

    You further the case for you being stupid by quoting the Declaration of Independence - a document that has no force of law whatsoever. Using your (il)logic, German and Japanese POW’s should have been tried in our courts like pickpockets. Holy Jesus! Even the Geneva Convention doesn’t mandate that.

    Learn the issues please before commenting on this site.

    ed.

  14. 14
    busboy33 Said:
    10:56 am 

    Completely off topic . . . but does anybody in this non-Leftie house have any idea what the fu@k is going on with Joe Lieberman? Does the Right see Obama saying he “bears no grudges” and won’t weigh in on demoting him to Dem towel boy as a sign of power and control . . or of being a total puss?

    Oh, and you’re wrong about civil liberties Mr. M. Your two choices mentioned above are (1) give up liberties and stave off an attack or (2) preserve liberties and suffer bombings. What about the far more likely option — (3) give up liberties and STILL get bombed?
    For all the talk on this site about respect for history, and the intent of our forefathers, selling out the Great Writ with absolutely no demonstrable payoff is (or should be) inconcievable for Conservatives. Forget your technicalities about the prisoners may not be covered by our legal code (and you’re wrong on that too) . . . its what makes us the best humans on the planet, that we base our entire existence, our society, our identity at least in some small part on morality, on recognizing that some things are malem in se, that there is such things as “right” and “wrong”. Sell that, especially for nothing demonstrable, and we’re just pigs … which is fine and dandy but that means you can stop that inspirational oratory anytime.

    … Man, I’ve been waiting to snark off at you for weeks. Thank you. I needed that after work tonight.

  15. 15
    Hugh Larious Said:
    12:08 pm 

    “You further the case for you being stupid by quoting the Declaration of Independence – a document that has no force of law whatsoever. Using your (il)logic, German and Japanese POW’s should have been tried in our courts like pickpockets. Holy Jesus! Even the Geneva Convention doesn’t mandate that.”

    You call me stupid for quoting the Declaration of Independence? Christ on a crutch man. Our country was formed and a declaration of independence was created. Our differences with other nations…put there on paper. Declaring who we are…what we are..what we will be. The line I quoted is everyones bread and butter. All men are created equal. Our inalienable rights. Your belief in that our declaration having no force of law and should therefore be ignored is, in my opinion, ignorant. I didn’t quote that line in order for you to think that the “Declaration of Independence” police should be created…but in order to distinguish our country. Our differences with others…our beliefs…that should be protected!

    You will have no right, no right whatsoever when your liberties are taken away, stripped away slowly, little by little. You will wake up one day and wonder where it all went, when did it happen…what could you have done. It happened when you said you didn’t care that much if the government didn’t protect your civil liberties in order to feel a little safe.

    That, sir, is being like a sheep. Do you feel safe in your pen..here, let me put up one more board…it won’t block out all the light. Yet. Yes, we’ll keep you safe…shhhh….shhhhh. No more wolves…here…one more board.

    I love how when someone questions you…wants clarification from you, all you can do is call them stupid. Don’t answer the question at all. Just ignore it and call the poster names. Bravo sir. Bravo. Because I chose to write about torture you feel like I’m ignoring other civil liberties. Should I limit myself to the free speech for your pleasure? You don’t want to discuss the “trickiness” of due process apparently.

    So I want to know what you meant by when you wrote:
    “I did not support some of what President Bush initiated as security measures these last 8 years but neither am I a civil liberties absolutist who some suspect would be enormously satisfied if the government bent over backward to obey Constitutional protections to the letter and the spirit of the law while the US suffered a horrific attack.”

    What security measures in regard to civil liberties did you not support? If not in reference to the Military Commissions Act, what were you referring to? I can see you being bitter about his “White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives”…but that first amendment..umm…violation I guess…wouldn’t make you safer from a horrific attack so you couldn’t have been speaking of that one. I can see unreasonable searches and seizures probably helping against attacks. Is that what you are referring to?

    I’m guessing here now…so you tell me…what civil liberties are you OK with not being guarded/protected by the government in order to feel safer (in some cases probably even be safer - but you never know…that is not a guarantee).

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