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And yet President Obama has pardoned only 22 people so far, as Melissa Harris-Perry noted in an open letter to the turkey Obama pardoned for Thanksgiving. "Cobbler," she wrote, "maybe you can scratch out a letter to the White House asking the president to show as much mercy to humans in his second term as he has shown to poultry in his first." And of those few Obama has pardoned, only one was actually still in jail at the time. At this point in his presidency, George W. Bush had pardoned 37 people. FDR pardoned 600 by the end of his first term and 2,800 over his three terms.
There were certain issues on which, as Jonathan Turley put it, the administration went into "radio silence" in the hope of solidifying the support of his base, only to backtrack after the election. One of these is privacy. Last year, Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced a digital privacy bill that would protect people's email against warrantless intrusions by authorities. But soon after Election Day, the Justice Department massaged the bill to allow for 22 federal agencies to access your email, Facebook content, tweets and more, all without a warrant. These changes have led Leahy to say he won't support his own bill, scheduled to come up for a vote this Thursday.
Whatever happens with the bill, the changes don't bode well for the idea that the administration, now freed from reelection fears of being called "soft on crime," might want the creation of modernized civil liberties safeguards to be one of its legacies. "The control of the security establishment over both White House and Congress appears now completely unchecked and unabashed," writes Turley. "After securing reelection, President Obama wasted no time in returning to his prior record of disregarding privacy and civil liberties concerns."
Technology is, of course, changing our political landscape. And as the fight over digital privacy shows, old left-right paradigms like being "soft" or "tough" on crime are inadequate for the challenges we face in this new frontier. This is true in foreign policy, as well, as the issue of how and where to use drones becomes more and more important. This is yet another issue where a second term presents Obama with the opportunity to lead. Clearly, the ability to attack using unmanned weapons and without putting American personnel in harm's way isn't going away. But without bold leadership, some of our core principles might -- at the same time that we are undermining our long-term security.
According to the New York Times, in the weeks before the election, the White House was hastily writing"explicit rules" for targeted killing, just in case Romney won -- since the administration didn't want a Republican to enjoy the same unaccountable power it has given itself during its first term. "There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands," said one source.
However, mounting evidence shows their confidence in their own use of "the levers" might be unwarranted. For instance, because of the use of drones in Yemen, "Al Qaeda is actually expanding" there, says Gregory Johnsen, author of The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and America's War in Arabia. As one Yemeni told Johnsen, "Each time they kill a tribesman, they create more fighters for Al Qaeda."
To James Traub, "there is a real danger that around the world drone warfare will come to be seen as the dark arts of the Obama administration, as torture and 'rendition' were for President George W. Bush." He suggests that, as a New Year's resolution, Obama "level with the American people about what it is that drones should and should not do, who they do and do not target, where they should and should not be used."