Obama and Silencing Dissent: A Continual American Tradition

There is much (out)rage against the Obama administration and Democratic efforts to silence political opposition.  Yet, almost from the beginning of this country’s founding as a constitutional democracy, presidents have attempted to silence their political opposition.  Starting in 1798 with the Alien and Sedition Acts, this was nothing but a legislatively approved attempt to silence the critics of the Adams administration.  We can draw an almost straight line from there through Lincoln’s suspension of the right of habeas corpus against opponents of the Civil War on the grounds that it was thwarting his efforts to “save the Union.”  The next stop would be the Espionage Act of 1917 which was used by the administration of Woodrow Wilson- the Progressive movement’s poster boy- to silence opposition to his domestic socialist policies disguised as a necessary wartime law to advance America’s entrance into and execution of World War I.  Ironically, some of the most noted prosecutions under this law were socialists.  In the aftermath of the war, the law was used against those who suggested the United States not become involved in the affairs of Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution.  This was the era of the Palmer Raids.

The Alien Registration Act of 1940, more commonly known as the Smith Act, is yet another example.  During the Cold War, Senator Joseph McCarthy, an unassuming Senator from Wisconsin, led a one-man crusade to weed out Communist influence in the federal government.  Perhaps it is Richard Nixon and his COINTELPRO program and use of agent provacateurs and infiltration of dissident groups that many use as an example of a federal attempt to silence political dissent.

Outside of COINTELPRO, however, all these attempts to stifle the speech of political opposition were done under a duly enacted law passed by Congress.  We can debate the merits of the laws and how and against whom enforcement was sought, but the fact remains that Congress passed these laws.  Some have accused the Bush administration of using the PATRIOT Act to silence political opposition, but those accusations are tenuous.

What makes this administration’s attempts to silence political dissent or opposition insidious is when it is attempted outside the constructs of a duly enacted law, or sometimes within the confines of a law but its enforcement is so blatantly political that it renders the attempt ridiculous.  For example, the many provisions of the PATRIOT Act were designed to root out and prevent future terrorist acts against the United States and to cut off funding of terrorist groups and activities.  However, there is no distinction between the acts or words of domestic groups which some may define as “domestic terrorists” and those of the true targets of the law- foreign terrorists.  Given this alleged legal backing, what one may think of as a “domestic terrorist” could be the target of the federal government.  A perfect example is Harry Reid’s portrayal of Clive Bundy and his supporters as “domestic terrorists.”  The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has a close working relationship with both the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security, is quick to define any group that opposes gay marriage or abortion as a “domestic terrorist group.”  Most of these groups are long on rhetoric and considerably short on action.

What makes actions by the Obama administration and their Democratic cronies despicable in this area is their multi-prong attack on groups and individuals who oppose the Obama agenda.  The quintessential example is the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups for special scrutiny for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status.  In a bizarre sense, one can understand the awkwardness of the IRS actions given the explosion of applications for the status after the Citizens United decision.  However, the use of key phrases such as “Tea Party” or “patriot” to discern groups is clearly political targeting by a vast, expansive and powerful agency.  Further, there is evidence that the donor lists of certain groups were turned over to groups supportive of Obama and that these donors were then targeted.  Also, some donors were subjected to the heavy hand of an IRS audit.   Taken together- lost e-mails or not- this was an awkward attempt to silence political opposition to Obama.

Another prong is  demonizing  groups or people opposed to Obama’s policies.  There is no love lost between the Obama administration and Fox News, or Tea Party.conservative groups and people.  Harry Reid, perhaps one of the most corrupt and contemptible members of Congress, is quick to attack the Koch brothers for influencing politics and policy while turning a blind eye to the attempts by Tom Steyer or George Soros to do exactly the same.  The difference is that the Koch brothers are considerably less hypocritical.  Another example is the FBI targeting of Fox News reporter James Rosen who reported that North Korea would conduct a nuclear test in response to additional international sanctions.  This information allegedly came from a State Department contractor with security clearance.  Although the contractor should be prosecuted for violating the terms of his security clearance, Rosen reported what anyone with an ounce of gray matter in their head already knew; it was simply confirmation of the obvious.  Rosen became an un-indicted co-conspirator.  What makes this laughable is that Eric Holder himself signed the search warrant after first denying any knowledge.

At one time there was a group of reporters like Daniel Schorr and Jack Anderson who would be doing worse than anything Jack Rosen did.  They are considered heroes to the Left because they investigated transgressions on the Right.  Journalists were aghast that the Obama administration’s Justice Department tapped the phones and e-mails of AP reporters, but were largely silent in the wake of the Rosen revelations.

The third prong of the nature of the Obama strategy is the use of the legal system against those they or the Democratic Party view as current or future threats to their standing.  Three examples come to mind and they all have a common thread no matter what anyone thinks of these individuals.  All three involve potential 2016 presidential candidates, or people mentioned as candidates.  The first is Chris Christie in New Jersey and the so-called Bridgegate scandal.  Despite an almost yearlong investigation, there is not one shred or piece of evidence showing that Christie ordered the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge.  The worst he could be blamed for is creating an atmosphere of bullying which led some lower level operatives to order these closings in a form of immature political retribution.  If so, is this any different from Obama’s atmosphere of demonizing conservative and Tea Party groups which then filtered down to people like Lois Lerner and her staff targeting these groups for political retribution?  I see no qualitative difference, but to the Left wing press, the latter is a non-issue.

The second example is the case of Scott Walker in Wisconsin and his alleged coordination between his recall campaign and conservative groups.  If anything, this is great advertisement for eliminating the pretense of campaign finance laws which are circumvented equally by those on the Right and the Left.  Regardless, this “John Doe” criminal complaint (we now know  John Doe was a group of Democratic prosecutors) was thrown out by at least two Wisconsin judges.  But, the damage was done.  It had a chilling effect in Wisconsin.  The final example is that of Rick Perry in Texas who exercised a power that many state executives have- the threat of or the actual veto of a law or appropriation.  This may have been Perry’s “a ha!” moment to get rid of a political thorn in his side, but he did so within the constructs of his constitutional authority.  Converting that authority into a crime is a serious twisting of the law and obviously designed to sully Perry’s name before he can even announce intentions to run in 2016.

The timing of these incidents is certainly suspicious as if the Democrats have some pre-determined playbook against potential 2016 GOP candidates.  It seems strange that a Republican Governor is elected in a blue state by the widest margin in decades and then attacked.  It is strange that a Republican Governor becomes the only person in US history to survive a recall campaign and then becomes a target of a criminal investigation by “John Doe.”  It is not mere coincidence that a Republican Governor has the temerity to show actual leadership in confronting the southern border crisis thus increasing his standing among Republicans and conservatives only to find himself indicted.

What makes this particularly egregious is that Obama was supposed to be above all this.  Unfortunately, he demonstrates the same paranoid tendencies that spurred Richard Nixon into action.  And whereas Nixon had his detractors in the press, Obama has a co-conspirator in the press, save a few outlets.  Which begs the bigger question: what is Obama and the Democratic Party truly fearful of that they have to resort to these tactics?  In the final analysis, their mindset is no different than that of John Adams and the Sedition Act, or Wilson or even Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon.  It is simply the old phrase: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

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