As President Barack Obama’s second term commences, I thought I’d write about the things I liked in his first term. Here are five:
1) Obama is a great role model — and not simply as a black American who broke racial barriers. Obama is a strong role model for the adult male — a husband who cherishes his wife, a father who nurtures his daughters. Obama has shown the country how a youthful yet mature man takes care of his family.
2) Obama authorized the mission that brought Osama bin Laden to justice.
3) Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the infamous 100-1 disparity — the federal mandatory minimum sentence for 5 grams of crack cocaine was the same as the sentence for 500 grams of powder cocaine — to 18-1. To some purists, the law didn’t go far enough. The 18-1 disparity falls too heavily on African-Americans, who represented 82.7 percent of crack convictions in 2007 — whereas whites and Latinos represented 71.4 percent of powder cocaine offenders. But the measure also ended a mandatory minimum sentence for crack possession — and that represented the first time Washington had terminated a mandatory minimum sentence since Richard Nixon was president.
4) Obama stepped up the Secure Communities program, which allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to cross-check fingerprints from local law enforcement. Thus, though the administration deported close to 400,000 illegal immigrants annually, ICE was able to focus on individuals convicted of crimes.
5) As a candidate, Obama pledged to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. In 2009, the president signed an executive order to close Guantanamo; after bipartisan congressional opposition in 2011, Obama signed an executive order to keep it running. PolitiFact rates Obama’s Guantanamo pledge as a “promise broken.”
But that’s OK. He’s a Democrat. So there’s only muted outrage from the civil rights community.
When Obama hired Jennifer Daskal, a former Human Rights Watch attorney who had advocated closing Guantanamo, to serve as an attorney at the National Security Division, the right went nuts. Keep America Safe — the former vice president’s daughter Liz Cheney is on its board — warned that Daskal and other like-minded attorneys would turn the Department of Justice into the “Department of Jihad.”
Daskal moved on from the Justice Department to Georgetown Law. On Jan. 11, she wrote a piece in The New York Times, headlined “Don’t Close Guantanamo.” Daskal described the prison as a “communal” facility where detainees can “eat, pray and exercise together.” Shuttering Gitmo and transferring the remaining detainees to federal penitentiaries, she warned, might isolate them.
You can say goodbye to what Obama once called “the false choice between our security and our ideals.” When a Democrat is in the White House, national security comes first; human rights advocates can be co-opted, and drones are king. That’s a good thing.
As John Yoo — the University of California, Berkeley law professor who, as a George W. Bush administration attorney, authorized the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques — once told me, “I’m glad they’re hypocrites.”