When Bill Clinton launched military attacks on other countries, Republicans said he had no power to do so and would be wrong even if it were legal. They were opposed to “nation-building” — at least until George W. Bush started doing it, in which case it became fine. Under Bush, it was Democrats in the streets chanting, “Bush lied, people died,” and demanding an end to war. But now that Barack Obama is continuing policies that are pretty indistinguishable from Bush’s, I don’t see many Democrats in the street chanting.
On Friday, we had the news that President Obama ignored the legal advice given to him by the top lawyers in the Pentagon and the Justice Department saying that he had no legal authorities to continue attacking Libya without congressional approval starting about a month ago. (I’m ignoring the entire question of whether the War Powers Act is even constitutional.) Obama wanted to keep attacking the Libyan regime after the 60-day window allowed by the War Powers Act, so he just ignored it.
Well, it’s not entirely fair to say he ignored he. He merely redefined what he was doing. He claimed that the bombing the U.S. military was doing in Libya didn’t amount to “hostilities.” Just how many people do you have to kill before the action becomes hostile?
I’m not surprised to see a president brazenly ignoring the law. I’m not surprised to find most members of Congress quietly ignoring the lawbreaking. (Kudos to the 10 members who are suing to stop the illegal action, by the way.) I suppose the only thing that surprises me is that people still pretend that laws apply. If we’re just going to make up what the law means as we go, why go through the charade of pretending we care what the written law says?
At least since the beginning of the s0-called “Progressive era,” we’ve been told that the U.S. Constitution is a “living document” that means different things over time. This obscene idea has spread so far that it has no limits, apparently.
As far back as 1946, George Orwell was warning that words were being used in dishonest ways to cover up their true meaning. Orwell was a socialist, so he certainly didn’t agree with my views about the world, but he and I agree that if you torture the language in order to cover up what you’re doing, you’re being dishonest, no matter what you favor.
People who favor majoritarian systems talk a lot about the morality of their systems. They make noises about rights and laws and respect for others. But in practice, any majoritarian system comes down to the use of force. This is how “democracy” works. You will do things my way or else I will bomb you back to the stone age. But it’s not “hostilities” when we do it, of course.
The problem isn’t just the politicians who happen to be in charge right now. It’s a mistake to point fingers at Obama right now or Bush before him. The problem is the coercive state itself. Any system that asserts that it has the right to force people in its own territory to obey will eventually assert the right to force people outside its borders to obey, even if they claim the force is for the people’s own good.
Barack Obama deserves to be called out for his dishonesty right now. George W. Bush deserved to be called out for his dishonesty before that. But as long as partisans just keep pointing fingers in this way, they’ll ignore the real issue, which is “our enemy, the state.”
Note: The art about “how democracy works” is available for sale as a poster at this site.