Mitt Romney was right, sort of, and it’s infuriating. But Barack Obama really did do a lousy job last week sticking up for American values–at least the ones represented in our Constitution.
Some of those values are enshrined in the First Amendment, which guarantees both freedom of speech and freedom of religion. There’s even an old saying about the first of those rights: “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
That doesn’t appear to be the Obama Administration’s position. Instead, when deadly protests spread across the Middle East last week–sparked by an anti-Islam video posted to the Internet–the administration went to Google and asked it to remove the video. Google didn’t comply.
Now, the Obama Administration technically didn’t infringe on the filmmaker’s First Amendment rights–it didn’t use the force of law to withdraw the video from public view. But its actions certainly did damage to the Constitution’s intent: The administration encouraged a private corporation–one that often has business pending before the government–to privately silence an unpopular view. Bottom line: The weight of government was brought to bear in an attempt to shut down speech, and that shouldn’t be ignored.
(This isn’t, incidentally, a defense of the Innocence of Muslims video that was the source of the brouhaha: It’s crap, a deliberate and bigoted thumb in the eye of millions of peaceful Muslims everywhere. I hate that my Muslim friends might be wounded by it, and I also understand the Obama Administration’s desire to mitigate the violence overseas. But the Constitution protects our freedom of speech: It doesn’t protect us from hurt feelings, and it doesn’t make an exception when people’s feelings are so hurt they decide to commit criminal acts.)
Some other American values are found in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, and there the Administration also failed last week: It supported a measure, passed in the House, to reauthorize the FISA Amendments Act, which retroactively authorized the “warrantless wiretapping” begun under the Bush Administration–and which has been used to collect the communications of an untold number of unsuspecting Americans.
Strikingly, that law had its origins in an incident similar to last week’s Obama-Google incident: The government tried to work with private companies to circumvent the Constitution.
In that case, during the Bush Administration, it worked: The feds after 9/11 sought the help of telecommunications companies to collect communications of private citizens–supposedly targeting foreign nationals, but often sweeping up American calls and e-mails in their dragnet–even though investigators hadn’t obtained the warrants required by law. It represented a development that’s still troubling: If Big Government and Big Business team up to deprive the rest of us our rights, what chance do we really have to preserve them?
In any case, a few years later the telecom companies were sued. Congress passed a law retroactively giving them immunity–the same law now up for re-adoption. Then-Sen. Barack Obama voted for it. It was the first sign that hopeful civil libertarians weren’t going to find the satisfaction they hoped in his presidency.
In a better universe, Mitt Romney would emerge as an alternative for civil libertarians figuring out how to cast their vote this fall. But for all his cynical posturing about “American values” last week–he and the GOP chairman falsely suggest Obama “sympathizes” with the killers of an American ambassador–there’s no reason to believe Romney is an improvement. Maybe his administration wouldn’t have tried to get Google to shut down an unpopular video, but warrantless wiretapping is now a bipartisan endeavor–it has both the GOP and Democratic stamps of approval–and it’s unlikely Romney has secret Ron Paul sympathies inside him, waiting to burst out.
Obama is a disappointment in other words; but the history of the last 12 years tells us Romney might be worse. Most of us will choose to vote for the lesser evil, but the problem is this: It’s still evil. The result? American values–the ones we list in the Constitution–are slowly crumbling away.