Crimes of the Country: is Obama more like Jefferson or Lincoln?

This post from Jay Rosen is getting a lot of attention around town and it’s easy to see why. Among other important things, this indirectly explains why the netroots absolutely mattered in the election, and more directly explains why they absolutely matter going forward.

Now we can see why blogging and the Net matter so greatly in political journalism. In the age of mass media, the press was able to define the sphere of legitimate debate with relative ease because the people on the receiving end were atomized— meaning they were connected “up” to Big Media but not across to each other.

But today one of the biggest factors changing our world is the falling cost for like-minded people to locate each other, share information, trade impressions and realize their number. Among the first things they may do is establish that the “sphere of legitimate debate” as defined by journalists doesn’t match up with their own definition.

In the past there was nowhere for this kind of sentiment to go. Now it collects, solidifies and expresses itself online. Bloggers tap into it to gain a following and serve demand. Journalists call this the “echo chamber,” which is their way of downgrading it as a reliable source. But what’s really happening is that the authority of the press to assume consensus, define deviance and set the terms for legitimate debate is weaker when people can connect horizontally around and about the news.

Check the link to the see the simple diagram that depicts this relationship between consensus, legitimacy, and deviancy. As Rosen explains above, bloggers are breaking down these barriers, and to the extent there are connections between bloggers and some in traditional media, the movement of issues across these boundaries is more fluid than in the past.

Having just read an amazing book about the lives of a very large and favored slave family, it’s interesting to use the diagram to plot Thomas Jefferson’s actions with regard to the condition of slaves. It was much easier for him, as one who indulged heavily in slavery, to operate in the sphere of consensus, and to allow any challenge to the institution of slavery to languish far away in the realm of deviancy, where only a deviant would make a challenge to it.

In the short run, procrastinating cost Jefferson little or nothing. Even when Jefferson became president, with all those powers of influence, he took a pass on mounting any opposition to slavery, and even to bringing the debate into the sphere of legitimacy.  Perhaps this explains why we think of Lincoln, who took on that task six-plus decades later, as the great one, while we remember Jefferson for his writing skills, and for his obsessive tinkering with mechanical objects and processes.

There is a parallel today with regard to Barack Obama and whether he keeps a very specific campaign promise he made:

“I don’t want to just end the war, I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place. That’s the kind of leadership I’m going to provide as president of the United States.”

Anyone following closely today knows that an Obama administration is very unlikely to pursue prosecution of the worldly manifestations of that mindset, which are otherwise known as the war crimes, now confirmed, that were perpetrated by America. Just as Jefferson, both as president and in his personal life, ignored the inhumanity and injustice of slavery, and rationalized its existence through his own benevolence toward slaves, Obama, and now apparently Holder, want the prosecution of war crimes to stay far off radar. Doing so ignores the victims of these American crimes, but allows Obama, in his own mind, to work on a goal of consensus politics. It’s as if Obama believes that by not committing like crimes, it will actually change the war-driven paranoid mindset of others who commit them.

But, of course, Obama doesn’t really believe that.

The real answer is that Obama believes that procrastinating on the issue of prosecution will yield more immediate returns in the form of enhanced dealmaking with the political opposition. But herein lies the corruption or malignancy of our political system.  A careful read of Rosen’s article shows why consensus politics means operating on a village-centric, impure model of what’s important, the exact opposite of the new bottom-up processing that Obama has promised. If the village insiders aren’t careful, they’ll always operate with far too much self-interest. Perhaps it’s better explained by a watching a deviant emphatically try to move war crimes prosecution across the boundary lines noted above:


Rumproast Clips.

And a Krugman quote reinforces that the movement from deviancy to legitimacy meets much resistance when it puts the village apple cart at risk:


Rumproast Clips.

Seems to me the accomplishments of Obama, and whether he’s remembered as Lincolnesque, or Jeffersonesque, will be seen when he can put right and wrong in its proper place within this simple diagram without worrying about how dirty his political hands get. It’s his job to do the heavy lifting, and the netroots has an on-going role to play in never letting him forget it.

Posted by poputonian on 01/17/09 at 02:41 PM • Permalink

Categories: NewsPoliticsBarack ObamaBedwettersBushCoElection '08NuttersOur Stupid MediaWar In Error

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We shall see.  I find that Obama and his AG nominee Eric Holder are parsing their words very carefully around this topic.  They may simply be playing their cards very close to the vest regarding what happens next.  A clear signal from the incoming administration about their plans could encourage pre-emptive pardons, delaying of Holder’s confirmation, etc.

Note that Holder makes a point of saying that we prosecuted Americans for war crimes in Vietnam.

Bravo to Turley, Olbermann and Maddow for embracing the term “war crimes” with regard to the rogue entity currently occupying the Executive branch.

Anyone following closely today knows that an Obama administration is very unlikely to pursue prosecution of the worldly manifestations of that mindset, which are otherwise known as the war crimes, now confirmed, that were perpetrated by America.

Where do you get this? Anyone who has been following closely knows that Obama has a habit of speaking softly and then pulling a blackjack out of his out of his back pocket and belting some shithead over the ear. There is no way in hell he’s going to announce what he’s going to do until he has the power to do it. Or put it another way, if today he read off a list of people he intended to box up and send to the Hague and those people all buggered off to places that don’t have extradition treaties with the U.S., the same people wringing hands over his failure to do anything would be screaming because he gave the game away too soon.

Just as Jefferson, both as president and in his personal life, ignored the inhumanity and injustice of slavery, and rationalized its existence by his own benevolence toward slaves, Obama, and now apparently Holder, want the prosecution of war crimes to stay far off radar.

Too bad the Webblog awards are over. This would certainly get a nomination for “Most Mind-Blowingly Inappropriate Analogy” and give “PUMAs are the New Jewish People,” a run for its money.

Wow.

I’ve thought about that too, Allan, and considered that they might be sandbagging us on the issue of war crimes prosecution. I hope that is the case. Unfortunately, not pursuing prosecution is very consistent other messages Obama sends, that the success of his presidency depends on non-partisanship, being “everyone’s” president, more important things to do, etc. It’s why I hope he feels the pressure from down low, and through traditional media deviants who are connected to the sphere, so he doesn’t compromise on the issue of broken laws.

Hapless, see above. As to your second point, either cite some facts that destroy the analogy, or read the book and then come back to discuss it. Asshole.

Where do you get this?

And here’s another tip. Click the first video above and listen to what Olbermann reads and what Turley says. If you have any comprehension skills at all, this will give you a clue.

I agree with you, poputonian.  As much as it pains me, I think it’s highly unlikely the Obama adminstration will pursue war crimes prosecutions against Bush officials—not because the crimes are unworthy of attention, but because the nation won’t let Obama pursue justice and enact his very ambitious agenda at the same time.

It’s simply a fact that war crimes prosecutions will suck the oxygen out of the political and media atmosphere, leaving little left for anything else.  I wish that weren’t the case, but it is.

(Of course this may all become moot in the next day or two when Bush issues his final “fuck you” to the nation in the form of a pardon spree.)

What’s the story on whether or not he can pardon himself? I’d suffer the pardon of all the underlings as long as he’d still have to face a trial.

I don’t think he can pardon himself.  That’s why Ford had to pardon Nixon.

I recall from the Ford pardon of Nixon that there was an implication of guilt on Nixon’s behalf by accepting the pardon (wikipedia):

After Ford left the White House in 1977, intimates said the former President privately justified his pardon of Nixon by carrying in his wallet a portion of the text of Burdick v. United States, a 1915 U.S. Supreme Court decision which stated that a pardon indicated a presumption of guilt and that acceptance of a pardon was tantamount to a confession of that guilt.

On that basis, I would imagine that the Hague would pursue war crimes if there was a blanket pardon for any actions in Iraq.  I’m not a lawyer, so this could just as easily mean that everyone gets free ice cream for a year.  In fact, given the tilt of the Robert’s Court free ice cream wouldn’t surprise me.

The Hague is not bound by national laws (or pardons) when war crimes or crimes against humanity are committed though (the Pinochet trial makes for a good precedent). If anything, a blanket pardon from Bush would make it easier to charge them on an international level, because it shows that all options on a national level have been exhausted.

That is, if anyone here has the guts to press charges in the first place. There was a case in Belgium some years ago, but Bush complained and my government rolled over like the spineless cowards they are…

I’m probably being too generous here, but I would like to think that Obama (a) is overcompensating with collegiality at the outset to counter the residual black-guy-Commie-Muslim-Socialist-Chicago-thug-wackadoodle expectations of a not-insignificant number of “power” types and regular citizens who still expect him to use the Dem domination of Congress to transform the US into Cuba within 90 days of the Inagural; or that (b) he learned from the Clintons’ experience with DADT and Healthcare Reform that “going radical” right out of the gate is a dicey move even under more favorable circumstances; or that (c) he understands that since he’s practically going to have to terraform the planet in order to get us through the imminent crises that CAN’T be re-assigned to the back of the queue, he might just have to hang fire on some of the morally-imperative-yet-immensely-divisive actions on which the survival of the Republic DOESN’T hang, at least not at this moment. (Even Lincoln avoided the slave issue until the political cost/benefit became a wash, or a modest plus.)

As for bloggers eroding the “gatekeeper” powers of the established media, I’m pretty convinced that’s true. (See, I can write short sentences when I want to.)

Hapless, see above. As to your second point, either cite some facts that destroy the analogy, or read the book and then come back to discuss it. Asshole.

Dear me, a mild calling of bullshit sets off the PUMA response system. Oh well, I like coming here so I’ll try to explain what else is wrong with your analogy besides comparing two African-Americans to a slave owner. You’re trying to use the past actions of one person to (at the very least) predict the future actions of another.

It simply can’t be done. Or rather you can do it, but it just makes you look silly and even people who enjoy your blog may feel compelled to point this out. Here’s an example that’s closer to home: A visitor to your blog gives you a hard time about one of your posts. What does this tell you about the next visitor who will respond to your post?

Yep.

And sorry, I just have to ask this (though I doubt I’ll get a response).

Why do people always say something like this:

or read the book and then come back to discuss it.

Only when someone disagrees with them? But if someone says “Well I haven’t read the book, but I agree with you,” no one bats an eye. It leads me to believe that reading the book isn’t the issue.

Anyway, I don’t blame you. I think you’ve picked up a case of PUMAitis while observing them in their natural environment.

Hapless, dude you’ve got some serious issues to deal with. First, I don’t participate in any of the PUMA posts; I don’t follow them or keep track of any of the details about them. That said, I took plenty of offense that you invoke them to insult me, because I can imaging what they mean to you. So fuck you. If you wanted to take an opposing position to what I wrote, you could have done so without the personal insult and I would have been quite fine with it.

The entire point of the post was to insert the prosecution of Bush for war crimes—a political dilemma that Obama faces and one that he has demonstrated uneasiness about—into Rosen’s diagram, and then contemplate what it means politically for Obama.  Did you even look at Rosen’s diagram?

I have an opinion that America is at a critical juncture—or as Turley put it in the video, that this is a “transformative moment,” a “defining moment” for America. By that, he meant whether America pursues prosecution of war crimes is a defining moment and America is either a nation of laws, or it is a criminal nation. I agree strongly with Turley, which is why I posted the video. Did you even look at the video?

As to your point that Obama and Holder are African American, I admit I didn’t understand this was your angle. I thought you were trying to defend Jefferson. So I can now see why you didn’t get my book question and I’ll gladly withdraw it. But I think you’re carrying too much baggage of some sort and it caused you to misconstrue entirely the point of my post, which I’ll try to explain better for you.

The two analogues of the post which are used for comparison are two very serious legal and political issues—one from America’s past and one faced today.  One is slavery and the other is the perpetration of war crimes. This is what the post is comparing.

Both of these crimes are based on legal fictions. Slavery was made legal because slaves were not recognized as people by the law. In the book, Gordon-Reed describes how mixed race slave children were literally, in the law, deemed the children of no one. This was because if the law recognized their existence, it complicated the property rights of the master.

As an example, when a slave owner died, through his will he might give the child of a slave to one heir, while giving the father or mother of the child to another heir. In order for the law to allow the distribution of the master’s “property” it had to consider the children to be the children of no one so that families that were being split up had no legal remedy to challenge it. This was all legal fiction because our laws don’t work this way, (unless politicians refuse to intervene and correct the fiction.)

The same legal fiction was used by the Bush administration with the so-called enemy combatants and the suspects at Gitmo. The only way you can deem their torture legal is to strip from the law any consideration of them as people. They have to be something outside the sphere of the human so that the normal considerations of equity that balance our laws between the rule itself and the fairness derived by an individual from it can be thrown straight out the window.

American politicians passed on adjudicating slavery because, as individual politicians, they apparently felt it was too messy to deal with. They procrastinated. They kicked the can down the road. I used Thomas Jefferson as an example of someone who indulged in the benefits slavery both as a means of personal income for himself, and as a means of being pampered in his personal life.

Jefferson did no political deeds to hasten the demise of slavery, nor to weaken it’s extra-legal hold over the slaves. Apparently, Jefferson felt it would be too divisive for the country to have to deal with abolition, or maybe he felt there were more important things to do, like buy the Louisiana Territory.

Obama faces a dilemma that, to me, is analogous. America has perpetrated a crime and now has to decide, through its elected officials if it’s going to properly adjudicate the crime. Obama betrays uneasiness about this. He expresses a very strong desire to unite the country and he speaks openly about how war crimes prosecution could be a very divisive issue. He signals in a way that seems to want to lower people’s expectations about war crimes prosecution. Could he be sandbagging? Sure, but he has to face the fact that some people are going to interpret his words as a foreshadowing of what he is going to do. It’s part of the risk he takes when he downplays the significance of war crimes. When he does this, he invites political pressure, which is something he deserves and which is an important and integral part of what our political system is.

Obama openly expresses his fondness of Lincoln. He wants to be compared to Lincoln. The post above points out a problem on which Jefferson procrastinated, but one which Lincoln confronted. What I attempt to do is place Obama right into the paradigm to view the prosecution of war crimes, as a legal issue and an American dilemma, as something that is analogous to the issue of slavery. Jefferson took a pass on confronting it, Lincoln didn’t. I guess this is why in the title I ask the question: Crimes of the Country: is Obama more like Jefferson or Lincoln?

Lastly, I tried to use Rosen’s model to describe how Obama might be suffering from the village viewpoint, that it is a deviant viewpoint to deal with war crimes, or to put a past American president into that pickle. I think he’s wrong, and it’s up to us as the little atoms to do what I described in my closing sentiment:

Seems to me the accomplishments of Obama, and whether he’s remembered as Lincolnesque, or Jeffersonesque, will be seen when he can put right and wrong in its proper place within this simple diagram without worrying about how dirty his political hands get. It’s his job to do the heavy lifting, and the netroots has an on-going role to play in never letting him forget it.

Too bad the Webblog awards are over. This would certainly get a nomination for “Most Mind-Blowingly Inappropriate Analogy” and give “PUMAs are the New Jewish People,” a run for its money.

Wow.

I think that’s just slightly over the top, Hapless ‘Tarded P. Ditto the returning slam. I agree with you that Obama and Holder announcing their intention to drag the highest level of Bush’s torture regime before the law would send those creeps scurrying for the nearest crevices. (New York- themed Combat-proof analogy. Sigh.)But I would like some concrete examples of Obama’s shithead-belting ability.

As to comparing two African-Americans to a slaveholder, if we do not know the particulars, it would seem very dicey. But we are talking about three powerful men, two of them the most powerful men in the land, and their relation to a pernicious practice. In Obama’s case, the question is whether the practice will be simply curtailed for the time of his administration, only to be reinstituted when power eventually comes back to the SOBs. 

It’s an imperfect analogy, of course. A man participating in a national, established institution vs a man possibly accepting others’ furtive breaching of national laws and morality.  The question of whether personal benevolence is enough applies to both Jefferson and Obama. And I think we know the answer.

My goodness, Poputonian, your explanation to HTP is marvelous.

I think some people—and I’m not looking at anybody—-are still stuck in the campaign auto-defense mode, because I had a similar response to a post about Rick Warren; the commenter evidently thought I was attacking Obama through a bogus attack on Warren’s unsavory actions in Uganda. “Guilt by Association!” said the commenter. I would like to tell that person that it’s all right—we can talk about important issues regarding Obama now, and he’ll still be president. We have to be able to talk about him.

I do think that Obama can’t make a commitment to prosecute war crimes before he has all his nominees confirmed and the reins firmly in his hands. But there are always reasonable-sounding arguments about why now is not the time.

@Mrs. Polly

I agree that “reasonable-sounding arguments” frequently become “lame rationalizations” once they have passed their Freshness Date. However, I am presently (but not indefinitely) content to think that there’s merit in NOT leading off with guaranteed consensus-killers the moment he sits down in the Oval Office.

For some reason, I am reminded of the rather poorly-received inaugural speech of the rebel leader in Woody Allen’s “Bananas,” at his installation as the dictator of San Marcos: 

From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. Silence! In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now… 16 years old!

Some things you really have to ease into.

Thank you, Mrs. Polly. The art of writing is so difficult because if you write too many words to explain your point, you risk offending folks at one end of the intelligence spectrum, while if you write too few, you risk offending those at the other. Or, you risk people filling in any gaps however they please and accusing you of whatever they want.  It’s hard to cover all the angles up front.  But HPT made me think a little harder (maybe your “guilt by association” accuser did the same for you) and ultimately sent me back to the writing table to provide what is probably a much clearer explanation of what I meant. So, live and learn, and all is not lost, etc., etc.

@Strange: After the new president of San Marcos goes sour, doesn’t Woody Allen say to Louise Lasser, “don’t worry about it—after six months, they’re all the same”?

Swedish isn’t all that bad. And once you speak it, you’re halfway to Norwegian, so that’s a consideration.

I tend to agree with Allan’s take(1/17/09} on Obama’s intentions, but in case both of us are wrong, I see it as my civic duty to let [AG] Holder & Obama know that I am passionate in my opinion that the Bush administration should be investigated and proscecuted for war crimes.  If the current administration disagrees, the American people deserve a reasonable answer as to why. Not wanting to upset the political “apple cart” does not qualify as a reasonable answer, nor does being more interested in looking ahead and not back.  If the new administration doesn’t find the courage to do what is right, what lurks in the future will be greater crimes perpetrated by government because a precedent will have been set for allowing those in power to run roughshod over the Constitution, to ignore treaties, to spy on innocent Americans etc., etc.  History shows the crimes get worse when a “wet noodle” is wielded as punishment; The McCarthy era…Watergate…Bush/Cheney war crimes.  Supporters of Obama need to hold his feet to the fire to push him toward his greatness.

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