Archive | Obama

Dinesh D’Souza and Obama’s “Anticolonial” Ideology

Gene Healy of the Cato Institute recently wrote a harsh, but I think correct assessment of Dinesh D’Souza’s recent movie 2016, which purports to prove that the origins of Barack Obama’s leftism are to be found in the “anticolonialism” and socialism of his Kenyan father:

“2016″ grew out of conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza’s 2010 Forbes article, “How Obama Thinks,” which posited that dreams from the president’s Kenyan absentee father motivate everything Obama Jr. does.

“It may seem incredible,” D’Souza wrote, “to suggest that the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States.”

True enough: That theory wasn’t remotely credible when D’Souza advanced it in Forbes, and it’s even more ludicrous on the silver screen…..

The whole cinematic mess is the mirror image of Left-wing fascination with Skull and Bones, Haliburton and George W. Bush’s alleged Oedipal complex as explanations for the Iraq War. At least Michael Moore’s crackpot documentaries provide a few impish laughs. In “2016,” all the yuks are unintentional.

I wrote a more detailed critique of D’Souza back when he first proposed his theory in 2010. Later, I compared D’Souza’s interpretation of Obama with that of Princeton Professor Cornel West:

Last year, Dinesh D’Souza made waves by claiming that Barack Obama’s left-wing ideology and policies can be explained by his “anti-colonial” attitudes, traceable to his father’s Kenyan background…. This year, Cornel West claims that Obama’s racial background is the key to explaining why the president isn’t left-wing enough. West believes that it’s because Obama mixed-race background led him to have a “certain fear of free black men,” and to be more comfortable with “upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart.”

Both West and D’Souza err in assuming that there is something unusual

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Obama’s Reversals on Executive Power

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has an interesting column describing some of President Obama’s evolving positions on executive power. He now engages in many of the same practices that he and numerous other liberal Democrats denounced as unconstitutional in the days of the Bush Administration:

When George W. Bush was president of the United States, it was an article of faith among liberals that many of his policies were not just misguided but unconstitutional as well….

Obama campaigned as a consistent critic of the Bush administration’s understanding of executive power — and a critic with a background in constitutional law, no less. But apart from his disavowal of waterboarding (an interrogation practice the Bush White House had already abandoned), almost the entire Bush-era wartime architecture has endured: rendition is still with us, the Guantánamo detention center is still open, drone strikes have escalated dramatically, and the Obama White House has claimed the right — and, in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, followed through on it — to assassinate American citizens without trial.

These moves have met some principled opposition from the left. But the president’s liberal critics are usually academics, journalists and (occasionally) cable-TV hosts, with no real mass constituency behind them.

The majority of Democrats, polls suggest, have followed roughly the same path as the former Yale Law School dean Harold Koh, a staunch critic of Bush’s wartime policies who now serves as a legal adviser to the State Department, supplying constitutional justifications for Obama’s drone campaigns. What was outrageous under a Republican has become executive branch business-as-usual under a Democrat.

Douthat does not mention what was perhaps Obama’s biggest reversal on executive power. The man who in 2007 wrote that “[t]he President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a [...]

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Is President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege valid?

As noted by Jonathan Adler, below, President Obama today asserted Executive Privilege for Attorney General Eric Holder’s refusal to comply with a document subpoena from the U.S. House Oversight Committee. The letter is here. The Committee will vote later today on a resolution to hold Holder in contempt of Congress. The Committee Report in support of the contempt resolution is here. A fact sheet on the contempt resolution is here.

Fast & Furious was a program implemented by the Arizona office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, in Sept. 2009 through January 2011. In F&F, BATFE lied to and coerced Arizona gun stores into selling firearms to obvious “straw purchasers”–persons who were illegally buying firearms on behalf of someone who cannot legally buy firearms in the U.S. The “someone else” was Mexican gun traffickers, with most of the guns going to the Sinaloa cartel. Over 2,000 firearms were thus put into criminal hands. In this article for the NRA magazine America’s 1st Freedom,  I provide a timeline of events through October 2011. F&F was a larger and even more destructive reprise of Operation Wide Receiver, which in 2007 put about 500 guns into criminal hands, before BATFE’s management in DC began asking questions that immediately led to Wide Receiver being shut down.

On Feb. 4, 2011, the Department of Justice sent a letter to the House Oversight Committee which falsely claimed that no “gunwalking” (allowing guns to pass into criminal hands, without the guns being kept under constant surveillance) ever took place in Fast & Furious. In December 2011, the Department of Justice admitted that the letter was false, and formally withdrew it. The author of the letter, Ronald Weich, has left DOJ to become Dean of the University of Baltimore Law [...]

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Another Issue Where Obama and I Agree

President Obama’s recent announcement that he supports gay marriage is yet another addition to the short but distinguished list of issues on which the President and I agree.

Previous entries include creating a playoff system for college football, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, ending the home mortgage interest deduction for high-income taxpayers (though I would go further and abolish the deduction for everyone), the president’s authority to forego defending federal statutes he believes to be unconstitutional, the legality of the targeted killing of Osama Bin Laden, the end of the NBA lockout, and that the Obama health care plan’s individual mandate is not a tax. Based on the above, it seems that the biggest areas of overlap between our worldviews are gay rights and sports. But the list is not completely exhaustive, since there are a few other issues where we also agree, but I don’t blog about them because they are too far outside my areas of interest and expertise.

UPDATE: A somewhat overwrought critique of this post takes me to task for supposedly being unaware of numerous largely noncontroversial things that Obama and I agree on, such as that genocide is evil or that Hitler and Stalin were great villains. I’m well aware of these areas of agreement, thank you. But this post was about issues on which Obama and I agree, which means questions that are controversial in modern American politics. The fact that Obama and I agree on many things on which there is an overwhelming national consensus isn’t relevant to that. We also agree that the Earth is round, and that the Sun rises in the East. [...]

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President Obama versus the Constitution

President Obama today fired his opening salvo in an unprecedented attack on the Constitution of the United States. Regarding the impending Supreme Court ruling on the health control law, the President said, “Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

His factual claims are false. His principle is a direct assault on the Constitution’s creation of an independent judicial branch as a check on constitutional violations by the other two branches.

It is certainly not “unprecedented” for the Court to overturn a law passed by “a democratically elected Congress.” The Court has done so 165 times, as of 2010. (See p. 201 of this Congressional Research Service report.)

President Obama can call legislation enacted by a vote of 219 to 212 a “strong” majority if he wishes. But there is nothing in the Constitution suggesting that a bill which garners the votes of 50.3% of the House of Representatives has such a “strong” majority that it therefore becomes exempt from judicial review. To the contrary, almost all of the 165 federal statutes which the Court has ruled unconstitutional had much larger majorities, most of them attracted votes from both Democrats and Republicans, and some of them were enacted nearly unanimously.

That the Supreme Court would declare as unconstitutional congressional “laws” which illegally violated the Constitution was one of the benefits of the Constitution, which the Constitution’s advocates used to help convince the People to ratify the Constitution. In Federalist 78, Alexander Hamilton explained why unconstitutional actions of Congress are not real laws, and why the judiciary has a duty to say so:

There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every

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Defense bill will allow President to indefinitely detain American citizens

H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, has already passed the House, and is currently before the Senate. One section of the bill gives the President the authority to detain indefinitely American citizens, picked up on American soil, because they are allegedly supporting the enemy:

SEC. 1034. AFFIRMATION OF ARMED CONFLICT WITH AL QAEDA, THE TALIBAN, AND ASSOCIATED FORCES.
Congress affirms that—
(1) the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces and that those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens, both domestically and abroad;
(2) the President has the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force during the current armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 23 1541 note);
(3) the current armed conflict includes nations, organization, and persons who—
(A) are part of, or are substantially supporting, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or
(B) have engaged in hostilities or have directly supported hostilities in aid of a nation, organization, or person described in subparagraph (A); and
(4) the President’s authority pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 11 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority to detain belligerents, including persons described in paragraph (3), until the termination of hostilities.

Yesterday the Senate rejected an amendment by Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) that would have stricken the detention provisions, and required the Executive branch to submit a report (within 90 days) on the the legal and practical issues involving detention, and required Congress to hold hearings on the detention within the next 45 days after receipt [...]

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Yet Another Issue Where Barack Obama and I Agree

I have an occasional series of posts highlighting issues where Barack Obama and I agree. So far, the list includes creating a playoff system for college football, allowing gays in the military, ending the home mortgage interest deduction for high-income taxpayers (though I would go further and abolish the deduction for everyone), the president’s right to forego defending federal statutes he believes to be unconstitutional, and that the Obama health care plan’s individual mandate is not a tax.

I am happy to announce that we have another addition to this distinguished list. Both Obama and I are happy that the NBA lockout seems likely to end soon:

NBA owners and players reached a tentative agreement early Saturday to end the 149-day lockout and hope to begin the delayed season on Christmas Day.

Neither side provided many specifics but said the only words players and fans wanted to hear.

“We want to play basketball,” NBA commissioner David Stern said….

President Barack Obama gave a thumbs-up when told about the tentative settlement after he finished playing basketball at Fort McNair in Washington on Saturday morning.

The shortened season might end up helping veteran teams like my Boston Celtics against younger ones like the Chicago Bulls (Obama’s favorite team). Our agreement on basketball issues might collapse if the president again tries to undermine the confidence of Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo:). Hopefully, Obama won’t want to alienate Celtics fans during an election year. [...]

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N.Y. Magazine on Obama and Israel

This is an interesting piece defending the Obama Administration’s record on Israel.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Obama is “anti-Israel.” But I think the NY Mag piece misses some significant elements of the puzzle. Obama made it clear during the 2008 campaign that he was anti-Likud. Likud happened to be the Israeli party in power when he came into office. This created several problems for Obama, some substantive and some for “optics.”

On the optics side, it’s pretty hard to be anti-Likud when the Likud is in power and not look like you are exhibiting some hostility to Israel.

Relatedly, on the substantive side, it’s pretty clear to me that the Obama Administration wanted to topple the Likud-led government so they could get a more dovish government more to their liking in power.

This led the Administration to publicly demand that Israel initiate a full settlement freeze, something the Palestinians themselves had never demanded [as a precondition to negotiations]. The strategy, as I see it, was that with a new extremely popular president Israel wouldn’t be able to say no, but Netanyahu’s coalition was too right-wing to say yes. So the government would have to fall, as Shamir’s did in the early ’90s in part because he couldn’t get along with the Bush Administration.

This proved a spectacular miscalculation. Netanyahu had a much broader coalition than Shamir’s, including the Labor Party. And Israel has become a major issue in conservative politics, which is was not twenty years ago. Pressure on Netanyahu invited pushback from the Republicans, leading Democrats to tell the president to ratchet it down. And again optics-wise, how often does the U.S. try to undermine the coalition governing one of its democratic allies?

Meanwhile, the Palestinians couldn’t demand less from the Israelis than Obama demanded, [...]

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Cornel West: The Dinesh D’Souza of the Left?

Last year, Dinesh D’Souza made waves by claiming that Barack Obama’s left-wing ideology and policies can be explained by his “anti-colonial” attitudes, traceable to his father’s Kenyan background. I criticized D’Souza’s argument here. This year, Cornel West claims that Obama’s racial background is the key to explaining why the president isn’t left-wing enough. West believes that it’s because Obama mixed-race background led him to have a “certain fear of free black men,” and to be more comfortable with “upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart.”

Both West and D’Souza err in assuming that there is something unusual about Obama’s policies that requires explanation based on his personal background. In reality, as I explained in my critique of D’Souza, Obama’s policies are largely what any liberal Democratic president would have done under similar circumstances. Had Hillary Clinton or John Edwards (sans sex scandal) won the 2008 election, they would have done most of the same things. Indeed, Obama’s most important policy initiative, the health care bill, is in large part based on a proposal that Hillary Clinton promoted in the 2008 primaries, at which time Obama harshly criticized it.

I don’t always agree with Jonah Goldberg. But he recently hit the nail on the head on this particular issue:

Simpler explanations are available [than West's and D'Souza's]. Obama is a liberal Democrat. He does things a white liberal Democrat would do, and he receives mostly the same opposition a white liberal Democrat would receive.

Why isn’t Obama pursuing a more left-wing agenda? Perhaps because he only barely managed to get the health care bill through a Democratic Congress as it was, and also faced strong opposition to some of his other key policies. An (even) more consistently left-wing agenda would probably have [...]

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Criticizing the Obama Administration for Obeying the Law?

Here is a strange piece in the Washington Times by editorial writer Kerry Picket criticizing the Department of Justice because it

willl only investigate bullying cases if the victim is considered protected under the 1964 Civil Rights legislation. In essence, only discrimination against a victim’s race, sex, national origin, disability, or religion will be considered by DOJ. The overweight straight white male who is verbally and/or physically harassed because of his size can consider himself invisible to the Justice Department.

Well, yes. Discrimination based on size or weight is not barred by federal law, so the federal Department of Justice has no business investigating such discrimination.

This op-ed seems like a cheap rhetorical trick–trying to insinuate that the administration has something against “straight white males” when the administration is simply staying within the limits of its legal authority (and not to mention that discrimination based on being white or male would, in fact, be subject to DOJ investigation–and discrimination based on sexual orientation is not, regardless of whether the subject is gay or straight).

What’s even worse, coming from a purportedly conservative newspaper, is the suggestion that somehow it should be a federal responsibility to deal with bullies in school. If ever there was a local issue that is best left to state and local government, and indeed is constitutionally delegated to them, this is is. [...]

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Obama’s moment of truth

Outstanding essay on the disaster in Libya and President Obama’s failure to act, by Larry Diamond in The New Republic. Diamond mainly discusses the consequences for the Libyan people, but I think that the harm will be global. Barack Obama’s America is showing itself to be a paper tiger; and every one of America’s enemies, especially the tyrants in Iran and Venezuela, are realizing that they can step up their aggression. If Gaddafi stays, he will resume his nuclear and chemical warfare plans and his support of global terrorism, secure in the knowledge that this American President will do nothing to stop him, unless the Russians and Chinese give permission. This week is may be one that will cause terrible problems for the United States for decades to come, comparable to the week when Khomenei seized power in Iran.

I’ve previously defended President Obama’s enthusiasm for golf, but the picture of the American President going on television to announce his predictions in a college basketball tournament, while America’s interests and long-term security are in imminent peril, is disconcerting. Whatever Barack Obama’s virtues, Hillary Clinton was right: he was not ready for the 3 a.m. phone call; and it appears that he never will be. [...]

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Barack Obama and Gun Control: Effective and Shrewd

The Encyclopedia Britannica Blog is running a series this week assessing the Obama presidency. My entry, with the title above, argues that President Obama has been successful at promoting gun control, taking into account the fact that Obama has faced a Congress with strong pro-gun majorities, and that the Obama administration determined to spend its finite political capital on other issues. For a person who supports the agenda of the gun control lobbies, but who does not agree with the lobbies’ assertion that gun control is politically popular, President Obama’s low-key strategy has been intelligent and productive. [...]

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Origins of Obama’s Ideology

Dinesh D’Souza’s and Newt Gingrich’s claims that Obama’s ideology and policies are rooted in his father’s “Kenyan anti-colonialism” have attracted a lot of controversy. I don’t think that these claims necessarily amount to racist “bigotry.” But I also see little if any evidence to support them.

It’s hard to point to any Obama positions that differ significantly from those of most other left-liberals. Indeed, it’s hard to find any that are much different from what Hillary Clinton likely would have done had she won the 2008 Democratic nomination. Ironically, the Obama health care plan (perhaps his most important policy initiative) has a centerpiece individual mandate provision that Obama harshly criticized when Clinton proposed it during the 2008 campaign. D’Souza doesn’t even attempt to prove that Obama is significantly different from other liberals of his generation who do not have any Kenyan anticolonial roots. Virtually all the Obama policies and attitudes he cites (bailouts, the health care plan, increased economic regulation, retrenchment in foreign policy, skepticism about American exceptionalism, lack of interest in space exploration) have broad support on the US political left.

In considering Obama’s positions, I also find little to differentiate him from other left-liberal law professors of his generation – a group that I am familiar with for obvious professional reasons. The only major issue where he apparently differs from the majority of the latter is in his skepticism about the effectiveness of judicial review as a tool for promoting liberal social change. That may account for Obama’s unwillingness to place a high priority on appointing and confirming judicial nominees. Even on this issue, Obama’s views are hardly unique. They are similar to those of an important minority of liberal constitutional law scholars such as Obama’s University of Chicago colleague Gerald Rosenberg, and Michael Klarman. [...]

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Obama is too a Christian

Ann Coulter’s column today argues that Obama is not a Muslim; rather, he “is obviously an atheist.” The gist of the argument is “The only evidence for Obama’s Christianity is that he faithfully attended the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ for 20 years….Attending Wright’s church is the conscious, calculated decision to immerse yourself in hate-filled demagoguery and call it ‘Christianity.’”

I disagree with both the facts and the conclusion. Coulter is accurate in calling Jeremiah Wright “a racist nut.” However, that does not prove that Wright (and by extension Obama, to whatever extent Obama believes in Wright’s theology) is not a Christian. Some practitioners of “liberation theology” (including the black liberation theology variant) may simply be Marxists looking for some broadly-appealing rhetoric to add to their political program. Other practitioners, however, may be sincerely and otherwise-orthodox Christians who truly believe in both Christianity and Marxism, and in the liberation theology fusion of the two. For example, liberation theology was popular among many Catholics in Latin America from the late 1960s until 1984, when it was condemned by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I think it is implausible to believe that, pre-1984, the many Latin American American bishops, priests, nuns, and Catholic lay people who embraced  liberation theology were all closet atheists. It seems much more reasonable to conclude that at least some of them were orthodox Catholics who, until 1984, could consider liberation theology to be one legitimate way of expressing the Catholic faith.

Similarly, I would suggest that many of the pastors in slave states in antebellum America who taught that slavery was legitimate because of the slaves’ inherent racial inferiority were also sincere Christians, albeit grossly mistaken in their teachings on this matter.

Ergo, belief in the racist, Marxist philosophy of black liberation theology is not necessarily incompatible with being a Christian who has orthodox [...]

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