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Renewing the Patriot Act, Obama believes ‘his being president is good for the world regardless of what he does’

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David Bromwich on Obama’s renewal of the Patriot Act, at LRB. Excerpt (headline is elsewhere in piece, go read it):

the responsibility for ‘protection’ of Americans (a paraconstitutional notion innovated by George W. Bush and picked up by Obama) involves an all-absorbing concern with safety against ‘the terror threat’…

Obama apparently has come to share with Bush the belief about Americans that (in Bush’s words) ‘we are good’. But the danger of the surveillance state has nothing to do with the goodness or badness of the American people or our unseen protectors. It has to do with the psychology of power, and what power does to life. That power tends to corrupt is a law of human nature that does not alter whether one favours the power to punish the guilty or to protect the innocent. Corruption goes nicely with the idea of enhancing the secret powers of the state, for benevolent and protective purposes, on behalf of a people who are supposed incapable of judging how to protect themselves. The presumption of the knowing protector could be read in the upright posture of George W. Bush as he announced the retaliatory launching of American troops into war after war. It can now be read in the imposing sobriety of Barack Obama as he speaks of ‘targeted assaults’ by special forces, or of American ‘kinetic activity’ in support of air strikes by America’s allies. The embrace of protection goes with an unconscious love of euphemism.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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