Obama, an "outside observer of his own administration"


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Maybe he’s perma-stoned and forgot that he’s the president, maaaan.


Jacob Sullum often writes as if he cannot possible understand how someone can look at the same issue as him, and yet reach conclusions at odds with Sullum’s libertarian ideology. It’s as if Sollum is so closed minded that he cannot conceive that someone would reach different conclusions than him, even when that person is presented with the same information. This failure of imagination and understanding clouds much of Sollum’s writing. It appears that he honestly cannot conceive of someone holding different opinions, and that if he just repeats his desired conclusion then he has crafted an effective argument. Unfortunately he has not, and remains eternally confused by this.

To a certain extent this is expected. Sollum writes for a libertarian magazine, staffed by libertarians, and read almost exclusively by libertarians. All the parties exposed to his writing share a similar viewpoint and near identical principles. Sollum is not used to making arguments in support of his positions because he generally does not have to. Instead, he can simply describe a situation and his audience will fill in the argument for him. If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. And if everyone is carrying a hammer around you can just present them the nail and wander off, safe in assuming they’ll know what to do.


The Prisoner of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue whines impotently, badly advised and completely insulated from BOTH the reality that us normal peons have to deal with AND the reality of how “his” administration actually works (Those who paid the campaign money get to write the legislation and decide who dies and who lives).

And then proceed to rip into him with an ad hominum attack, completely failing to respond to the actual argument.

Rather than complain that he’s an echo chamber writer, how about actually saying what, if any of those statements was wrong. Obama has repeatedly said one thing while doing the exact opposite, up to recently condoning THC use in words without the actual concrete actions to support them, when it would take mere hours for him to reclassify THC away from Schedule 1.


It’s obvious that his ‘handlers’ tend to keep him pretty much in the dark as to what they are actually doing.

It was obvious that we were eventually gonna have a black president; it’s also obvious that we’ll next have a woman president! The one constant in this picture is the ‘handlers’… there will be NO change there.

The position of ‘president’ has become a ‘token’ showpiece. With guys like Clapper in positions of power, I’d be very surprised to find anyone with real ‘balls’ in the presidency anymore.


Obama certainly appears as though he has no real control over the military complex.


even though he could reschedule marijuana it would make no difference. all that would accomplish would be to say that marijuana could be prescribed by a physician for any condition which it can treat efficaciously but efficacy can only be determined by the fda which can only do so after the appropriate series of clinical trials but clinical trials can only be done on dosage standardized chemicals which would mean that only marijuana products could be tested for efficacy but that is already the case. as far as i can tell the only way to really change the status of marijuana would be to rewrite or revise the controlled substances act which seems remarkably unlikely given republican control of the house and drug warrior control of so many power centers of government.


I just take it as a sign that within the presidential Obama, there’s a pre-presidential Obama screaming to get out.


Honest question: How would it be different than Alcohol or Tobacco or Caffeine if it fell of the list entirely? If the drug is not on the schedule list, where is the need to rewrite the CSA?


Sullum links to three of his own articles. In each article he assumes that because Obama discusses the issue, then he must agree with Sullum’s preferred resolution. Sullum provides little argument for why his preferred resolution is the correct one.

At the heart of Sullum’s misunderstanding is that he is looking at these issues from an outcome determinative perspective. Sullum wants a certain outcome and appears happy to break a few eggs to get there. Obama, in contrast, appears to be very technocratic and process driven. He wants to preserve the process and function of American government, even if that means that he doesn’t always get what he wants. In fact, on many of these issues it can be a little unclear what Obama actually wants as a policy outcome because his public focus is on process. For example, he could have pulled a Clinton on the health-care bill and written the damn thing in the white-house and then shipped it to Congress for approval. Aside from the strategic reasons not to do that (see, e.g. Clinton, presidency of), my reading of his choice to send it to Congress so Baucus could dither away at the thing for months is that Obama wanted Congress to write and pass the law… you know, like they’re supposed to.

At the heart of Sullum’s three articles is this single complaint: Why isn’t Obama acting like a dictator, by-passing congress, and bringing about my preferred policy outcomes? [I LOVE the fact that this argument is coming from a libertarian, btw] Well, aside from the obvious strategic reasons [just imagine, for one brief second, how quickly articles of impeachment, illegitimate or not, would be drafted in Obama unilaterally re-scheduled pot], there’s the overarching concern that making large scale policy decisions which undermine legitimate laws passed by congress is a pretty scary thing for a president to do. I know I threw a fit whenever Bush started hinting at that sort of thing. Party affiliation should not over come concerns about abuse of power.

Addressing Sullum’s remaining arguments from the linked articles in turn:
Clemency for Crack Disparity - Yes, Obama could, in theory, grant clemency to everyone imprisoned under the crack sentencing guidelines. He could also, in theory, grant a pardon to every single prisoner in America, effective immediately. Were he to do so it would be the largest abuse of presidential power in my lifetime. Sullum never even considers that such an act of clemency would be incredibly destructive to American democracy. Hell, it would probably bring me to the barricade walls. Do I think the crack/cocaine disparity is horrible? Yes. Do I want a president to steamroll congress, ignore legitimate laws, enact my preferred outcome, and to hell with the structure and function of government? No.

The other two articles are a bit different. The abuse of power/dictator concerns aside, Sullum really doesn’t seem to get that just because Obama says he understands the concerns about the war on terror or the NSA, that doesn’t mean that he agrees with Sullum. In short, on both of these topics Obama has not “said one thing while doing the exact opposite.” Rather he has said, “I hear your point, and I disagree.”

Terrorism - Sullum’s linked article discusses how Obama outlined the various perspectives on the war on terror and how the war is pursued. He acknowledges Sullum’s perspective. But because he has not adopted Sullum’s preferred policy, then Sullum throws a fit. Apparently, it never occurred to Sullum that Obama might just disagree with Sullum, even though he understands his arguments.

Privacy/NSA - In the speech discussed in Sullum’s article, Obama worries about the threat to privacy from the intelligence community. He repeatedly insists that in his review of the program he believes that it has been operating in good faith and within the boundaries of the law [he may be wrong about this, but it is what he says]. Obama says he believes we’re striking the right balance, but that others do not and so …[yada yada yada, establish a commission, etc.]. Sullum, again, is upset that although the president has recognized the privacy concerns inherent in signals intelligence, he has not abolished the NSA. It never appears to occur to him that Obama simply disagrees with him as to the constitutionality of the programs, whether they are authorized by law, and whether they are being abused. Instead, Sullum assumes that to recognize the privacy arguments is to adopt Sullum’s preferred outcome.


C’mon mark - he didn’t build that!

Mark Kleiman shows what a bogus argument Sullum is making when it comes to rescheduling.


alcohol and tobacco are both specifically exempted from the law. while they could reschedule marijuana they could not deschedule it.

Something that gets me when people call for political appointees to be held accountable is related to this: They’re political appointees! Their entire purpose is arguably to serve as a scapegoat to shelter the bureaucracy they “oversee”, in exchange for the prestige they gain in that position (Thank you David Weber, for re-introducing me to the distinction between Secretaries and Deputy Secretaries… Though from what I’ve heard Yes Minister would have also introduced me to it). This can be extended to elected politicians by merging it with the idea that the two parties are really one party faking a distinction to appeal to tribal instincts: In other words, there are no political parties, just scapegoats. It would certainly help explain why these candidates change so much when they finally get into office: They find out that their opinions don’t have much traction against institutional inertia.

I doubt this is as absolute as I make it out to be, but I can only imagine that when compared to the bureaucracy of the Federal Government, even the President is just one man with a loud voice. …And there’s a certain amount of comfort knowing that the idiots other people elect aren’t all-powerful, even if we hope the ones we elect could be.


My guess is that Kenyan Obama is at war with Hawaiian Obama.

Won’t the universe explode if they engage in open combat?

I for one, would be interested in that singularity… :slight_smile:

Each time we have to ask the same question, “What did the President know and when did he know it?”

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How, exactly, would ordering his DEA to reschedule marijuana, be “acting like a dictator?” If he doesn’t violate the law, and I’ve seen no argument that unilaterally rescheduling marijuana would be illegal, what is dictatorial about that?

But he’s already done this. In Libya, in regards to recognizing the UN Conventions on Torture Treaty, he made policy decisions which undermine legitimate laws passed by congress.

We agree 100% on this.

Whoa, slow down there. “Every single prisoner in America?” Where did Sullum suggest anything like this?

Obama has, so far, pardoned and commuted the sentences of fewer prisoners than any other two term President, with the exception of, I believe, Washington. This merits discussion.

Rather Obama has blatantly lied about what the NSA does and what his administration has done with drones. This is ridiculously well documented.

Bush said on many occasions, “I hear your point, and I disagree.” And that was a true statement. It didn’t mean he wasn’t lying and abusing his power. It didn’t mean that opinion columnists shouldn’t write opinions disagreeing with him.

This is baffling. Everyone who criticizes leaders is arguing that they’re doing the wrong thing and they should be doing the things the criticizer suggests. I don’t know of any people who write opinions about policy who don’t do exactly what Sullum did when they disagree with a political leader. They say, “The Leader is doing something I believe is wrong and here is what I believe they should be doing.” That’s all that Sullum has done.

The fact is, and Obama agrees, that there are a lot of people in prison who shouldn’t be. He and you are arguing that they need to stay in prison until “a process” is worked out which allows them to leave. The fact is, and I think Obama agrees, that the hundreds of thousands of people who are jailed for marijuana possession every year probably shouldn’t go to jail for that offense. He and you are arguing that they should continue to go to jail until congress agrees with the president that they shouldn’t. It’s perfectly reasonable to criticize that position as compassionless and conservative, more devoted to politics and bureaucratic niceties than to human decency and justice.

Needless to say, you and the President disagree with that criticism. But there’s no reason that disagreement should dissuade people from stating their opinions on the subject.