Doublespeak, the Devil’s Advocate and Diogenes’ Endless QuestPosted: January 8, 2012
Just when you think current events and various public utterances cannot get any more ridiculous, they do. Often, much of what we hear and are expected to take seriously is wrapped in doublespeak, deliberately vague, obscure language to hide the speaker/writer’s true intent.
We’ve had examples galore as the 2012 election looms over DC, political candidates twisting themselves into pretzels to find the right combination of words to seduce voters. Newt Gingrich, for instance, referred to his lobbying involvement with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac [for which he was paid handsomely] as providing advice as an ‘historian.’ John Boehner has taken a page out of Frank Luntz’s cannon, repeating the phrase ‘job creators’ as if it were a magical incantation. Democrats are certainly not immune to this form of prevarication. Every time I recall Nancy Pelosi’s infamous statement about the Healthcare Reform Bill, I wince: We have to pass the bill before we know what’s in it.
That being said, there’s a special spot in Doublespeak Heaven or Hell for John Yoo, who often writes for the American Enterprise Institute.
John Yoo. Name sound familiar? Mr. Yoo, the infamous legal advisor to the Bush Administration’s inner circle, recently jumped up, expressing considerable distaste for and worry over President Obama’s overreaching his authority, abusing and doing considerable damage to the US Constitution. A reasonable person might conclude this is in reference to the recent indefinite detention clause in the National Defense Authorization Act, the one POTUS claimed he would not sign. But then did.
But we’re not talking reasonable. We’re talking John Yoo, deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel [OLC], Department of Justice from 2001-2003.
John Yoo helped strangle the English language, managing to transform the word torture into ‘enhanced interrogation,’ a smoke screen phrase that former Vice President Cheney is still defending, so he and his buddies can sleep at night.
Let’s recall the past.
John Yoo spun out legal arguments for wiretapping, warrantless surveillance on all communication coming in or out of the country as well as warrentless surveillance against American citizens; defended the use of torture [excuse me, enhanced interrogation], authoring the infamous ‘torture memo,’ in which he cited permissible techniques, including assault, maiming and drugging on orders of the President as long as they do not result in death, organ failure or impairment of bodily functions. He also advised the suspension of the Geneva Convention, War Crimes Act, indicating that the US is no longer restrained by International Law in our endless War on Terror; declared that the President is empowered to make war without Congressional permission and, in fact, has the power to order military strikes inside the US. He defended the President’s right to order rendition without Congressional approval, etc., etc., etc.
That John Yoo. He was a very busy man while he held tenure as the Devil’s Advocate.
Mr. Yoo now says President Obama has exceeded his powers by his recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As you may recall this is the nefarious agency, the wicked brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, to protect American consumers from the labyrinth of confusing language offered in loan and credit agreements. For example, credit card agreements and home loans.
According to Mr. Yoo, who wrote a piece for the National Review Online, President Obama is making a sweeping claim in the very definition of ‘recess.’
But President Obama is making a far more sweeping claim. Here, as I understand it, the Senate is not officially in adjournment (they have held “pro forma” meetings, where little to no business occurs, to prevent Obama from making exactly such appointments). So there is no question whether the adjournment has become a constitutional “recess.”
This, in my view, is not up to the president, but the Senate. It is up to the Senate to decide when it is in session or not, and whether it feels like conducting any real business or just having senators sitting around on the floor reading the papers. The president cannot decide the legitimacy of the activities of the Senate any more than he could for the other branches, and vice versa.
I find this argument particularly startling coming from Yoo, considering his defense of all things related to the expansion of presidential authority.
But there’s more,
Even with my broad view of executive power, I’ve always thought that each branch has control over its own functions and has the right — if not the duty — to exclude the others as best it can from its own decisions.
Broad view is an understatement because John Yoo is on record, as early as March 1996, declaring that the President has the right to declare war, not Congress. During his tenure with OLC, he asserted that a President can suspend First Amendment Freedoms in wartime and that the power of the Executive is virtually unlimited in times of war.
You can’t have it both ways. We’re still engaged in Afghanistan, involved in a seemingly perpetual state of war.
Yoo further states that in view of President Obama’s gross overreach:
Most importantly, private parties outside government can refuse to obey any regulation issued by the new agency. They will be able to defend themselves in court by claiming that the head of the agency is an unconstitutional officer . . .
Now to be clear, I am not a lawyer. I cannot comment on the legalistic merits of the argument. Others have done that. But I do think I have a fairly good eye for hypocrisy. And then there’s this, in reviewing Mr. Yoo’s past declarations, summaries of his memos and advice on matters of war, torture and the suspension of civil rights, this recent charge against President Obama seems out of proportion.
It’s okay when neo-cons play with the boundaries and definitions of the Constitution but not when our presumably Democratic President does the same thing. That’s not to say I agree with either political class redefining, remaking and declaring right and true what is and what is not permissible under the Constitution for very distinct political purposes, merely extending a particular agenda. But once this questionable threshold is crossed? The results are what they are.
What neither side refuses to speak to is the considerable danger there is in not accounting for what the next elected Executive is likely to do with ‘expanded’ powers, the establishment of a unitary president. This falls under the heading: Short-Term Goals. It should be noted that redefining the scope of the Executive Office was all the rage during the Bush years, something that Obama vowed to change.
But he did not.
Recalling Mr. Yoo’s penchant for reinterpreting the US Constitution during 2001-2003 [not a pleasant journey], I felt as if I’d literally entered a parallel Universe, one in which language is weaponized. In this strange, ever-evolving cosmos, white is black, up is down, evil is good and ultimate power [with no accountability] is the Law.
George Orwell is screaming from the Heavens to be named a true prophet.
As for the US Constitution? It can mean anything you want it to mean. It depends on which side of the political divide you’re standing on.
John Yoo is not a person I would ever turn to for legal advice. Not for the world I wish to inhabit or wish available to my children and future grandbabies. In fact, I would think after all the damage Mr. Yoo [admittedly, he was not alone] did during the early years of the Bush Administration, he’d be reluctant to level charges against anyone ever again.
And yet, a quick check through the archives found that Yoo had weighed in on President Obama’s proposed Executive Order on Federal contractor disclosure. This proposal would require contractors to provide their political-giving history, any gift over $5000. The proposal, it is argued, will make the Federal contract system more transparent and accountable to the public.
Yet Mr. Yoo suggests the proposal makes some of Richard Nixon’s ‘dirty tricks’ look quaint by comparison. As an example, he conjures up the humiliating fate of anyone tempted by Presidential overreach, undoing the time-honored, Constitutional right of anonymous political speech [conveniently avoiding the issue of money-giving, as in, swamping our elections in massive amounts of payola]. Namely, the consequence of these sins leads to impeachment.
I’m falling down a rabbit hole. A really dark rabbit hole.
A case in point, Mr. Yoo ties his concern for poor, vulnerable corporations to MoveOn’s boycott of the retail operation, Target, in Minnesota. The boycott and subsequent bad press disclosed that Target had made a contribution to a conservative group supporting a gubernatorial candidate opposed to gay marriage. Yet Target had repeatedly proclaimed itself a gay-friendly corporation.
Ian Millhiser at Think Progress summarizes Yoo’s analysis this way:
In other words, Target misled the public by calling itself a gay-friendly corporation, when it actually was secretly funding an anti-gay effort. Yet, because of disclosure, it was no longer able to maintain this charade and forced to end its two-faced practices. In Yoo’s twisted understanding of the world, this is a great tragedy and not a compelling argument for why disclosure laws are necessary.
I would like to think there’s a place in the Universe where bad actors are rehabilitated, where they reconsider bad decisions, damaging policies that serve only to injure the weak and/or take advantage of human vulnerabilities. Yet reviewing the twisted logic of John Yoo has given me real pause. If fact, all these political players give me great pause.
This is particularly true with a primary season trudging along, Republican candidates making whacko statements and mean-spirited declarations. We’ve witnessed:
Michelle Bachmann’s delusions, the Eye of the Newt’s vindictive nature, Romney’s spinning positions, Santorum’s woman and gay problem, Perry’s aphasia, Jon Huntsman’s [sadly] invisible campaign and the cuddly libertarian Ron Paul, who yearns to return to the good ole days of 1900. We have not had the benefit of listening to the likes of Buddy Roemer, a voice that should be heard. But now add John Yoo to the brigade of howling voices, then mix a large measure of contradiction, deception and slick language games.
President Obama [who certainly has employed doublespeak with flair, spun numerous fantastic tales of his own] begins to look grounded, normal.
Which means, of course, I’ve definitely entered an alternate Universe. Maybe this one:
The crazy season just goes on and on and on. Which makes me think of Diogenes, wandering ancient Greece with lantern in hand, searching for that one honest man.
That was nearly 2500 years ago. We haven’t learned much.