Monday, November 10, 2008

Benefit of the Doubt

I have a number of friends and family who are supporters of Obama, and a number who are opponents of Obama. Very few people in my acquaintance seem to be anywhere near the fence.

In the aftermath of the election, one group of my friends was jubilant, even exuberant. There were tears of joy. They couldn't sleep they were so excited. The world was finally going to be a better place. The other group of my friends was despondent. They had a hard time getting out of bed. America was going to get the punishment it deserved for electing such a terrible president. The situation couldn't be more dire.

I think both response are WAY out of proportion, and I think both groups (if they choose to pay attention) will find that their hopes/fears will not be realized in anything close to the proportion they have in mind.

Today, I saw some news on Yahoo that makes me think I'm on the right track. Obama, it appears, is planning to close Guantanamo and move its prisoners onto American soil. However, many of the high-security prisoners will NOT be put into the civilian courts. Instead, they will be put into some undefined new court proceeding. It's not a military tribunal, of course, no, not that... just something else that we haven't named yet that works a lot like a military tribunal. :)

Here's the key quote, from Laurence Tribe, who is advising Obama on this issue:

"It will have to both be and appear to be fundamentally fair in light of the circumstances. I think people are going to give an Obama administration the benefit of the doubt in that regard."

The benefit of the doubt. Yes, that is probably true... for a while, Obama will get the benefit of the doubt. And, in reality, that will probably be the main functional difference between Bush's plan and Obama's (though Obama will apparently also put some of the prisoners into the civilian court system... I have no idea how he will determine which ones are low-priority enough for that treatment, and which require the special handling of a very-much-different-from-Bush tribunal system).

How much will Obama get this benefit of the doubt? And how far will it go? Those are difficult questions to answer. I expect he will get a little bit more leash than Bush got, in that the major media outlets are more favorable to Democrats than to Republicans. On the other hand, he will probably get a little less leash than Bush, since Bush had a great deal of leeway granted to him in the aftermath of 9/11. I will be very interested to see how this "benefit of the doubt" plays itself out over the next year.

Mark

2 comments:

Kevin said...

Mark,

Your moderate perspective does make the most sense to me, particularly since he's not even President yet! :) It seems ridiculous to either denounce him with extreme predictions (gestapo? ugh.) or praise him (Obama day?).

On the other hand, while extreme, unreasonable criticism and attitudes may be wrong, they also draw attention and can nevertheless effect change. e.g. "Obama: On second thought, let’s make community service for students voluntary".

In fact, the continued campaign against Guantanamo might be another example of this, particularly if Obama's accepted solution is largely superficial, as you seem to suggest.

I hope Obama is generally moderate, but it's too soon to tell. There are slender hints in many directions, e.g.:
- Obama to target Bush executive orders in first days
- Obama Lied About Firing Anti-Israel Adviser?
- The Russians Probed For Weakness... And Found It In Obama

It's probably just my awareness that has changed, but I've never noticed so much attention paid and conjecture made into the President-Elect. Hopes are so high, and somewhat unspecified and divergent, that we don't really know what to expect but we're very eager to get it.

Kevin

MamasBoy said...

"In the aftermath of the election, one group of my friends was jubilant, even exuberant. There were tears of joy. They couldn't sleep they were so excited. The world was finally going to be a better place. The other group of my friends was despondent. They had a hard time getting out of bed. America was going to get the punishment it deserved for electing such a terrible president. The situation couldn't be more dire."

I've heard several people complain about these reactions, but thankfully haven't run across them myself. It will be interesting to see how much Obama can really do, given that he may not quite have a filibuster proof majority in the senate and that the Democrats won so many seats in the South and other conservative bastions by running centrist candidates who probably won't want to be seen as pawns of Pelosi. That said, she has been incredibly effective at ensuring party loyalty in the past.

It should be an interesting 4 years.

Regarding the leash Obama will get from the media, my only question is whether or not their love affair will last for a couple years or a couple months. Given how many Chicago operatives Obama is bringing into his administration, my guess is more toward the couple months. I have a really low view of the ethics of Chicago politics (for both parties), and I think the media was a bit embarrassed by the reports that came out from Pew and other sources noting how lopsided the reporting during the general election had been. It was interesting to read the journalists justifications. One of the Yahoo commentators even said something along the lines of, "Yes, 80% of us are voting for Obama and Yes, the positive/negative coverage was lopsided, but trust us that this was just a reflection of reality. We are, after all, professionals." I didn't buy it myself, and I think he knew it was going to be a tough sell. It has got to be terribly embarrassing as a journalist to have to justify oneself like that, given the obvious prejudice of so many msm commentators. It really is a shame too. The unacknowledged but obvious bias only plays into the hands of the likes of Fox News, as people grow cynical about reporters in general and look for the other side of the story.

MB