Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Eric Holder: A Dubious Legacy

Attorney General Eric H. Holder's announcement last week that he intends to leave the White House after six years in the Obama administration has lead to a series of debates among the cable-news talking-heads and political elites about his legacy. 

Given how absolutely abysmal Holder's stint as attorney general has been, such "debates" need not be very long. Good riddance, I say.

As the nation's first African American attorney general--and the last remaining of President Obama's original cabinet members--Holder has presided over the largest expansion of executive power in U.S. history. Rather than rolling back the Bush administration's worst excesses and abuses of power, Holder has allowed Obama to codify them into law, ushering in a frightening "new normal."

He has overseen the continuation and militant expansion of the "War on Terror,"--a Cold War-style conflict which, by design, can never end. Holder has codified torture as a legitimate (and legal) method of prisoner interrogation, as well as the outright killing of U.S. civilians (and their children).

Holder has been a key ally in Obama's unprecedented war on journalists and whistleblowers. Indeed, embattled New York Times investigative reporter James Risen calls President Obama, "The greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation." Risen is currently facing jail time under the Espionage Act for refusing to reveal a source and testify against a former CIA agent accused of leaking state secrets.

Likewise, Holder has overseen the most rampant militarization of municipal police forces, which have proven quite effective at breaking up peaceful demonstrations like Occupy Wall Street and those in Ferguson, MO.

And, as the nation's top law enforcer, Holder has refused to hold any of the CEOs or other managers of the "Too Big to Fail" Wall Street banks that torpedoed the global economy accountable for their crimes. He has, furthermore, resisted following the logic of "Too Big to Fail" (hence, "Too Big to Jail") to its logical conclusion, and broken-up the largest conglomerate banks like JPMorgan, Bank of America, and Citigroup.

In the words of former bank regulator, William Black, speaking to The Real News Network (09/29/2014), Holder is going to leave the Justice Department, "without even a token conviction."

Not exactly a record to brag about, if you ask me.

True, there have been a handful of progressive gains under Holder surrounding civil rights, gay marriage, and the war on drugs. But most of these victories are the result of the attorney general's refusal to enforce various laws, rather than--with the exception of the Defense of Marriage Act--any substantial change in the laws.

As a result, it is difficult to view Holder's record on civil rights, voting rights, etc. as actual "victories," since the next AG could well reverse course, and simply go back to enforcing the laws Holder chose to ignore.

Yet, it is this handful of half-measures many within the liberal intelligentsia would prefer to focus on as Holder plots his departure.

A recent editorial in The Washington Post ("Eric Holder's legacy: Protecting civil rights," 09/26/2014) is a case in point, offering high praise for Holder's record on voting rights. "Democracy depends on everyone having unencumbered access to the voting booth," the editors write.

And while this is no doubt true, does democracy not also depend on every citizen's right to due process...? The Op-Ed makes no mention of Anwar al-Alwaki or the use of drones.

Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson, likewise, is another Obama-apologist who would prefer to accentuate the positive. In a recent debate on Holder's legacy on Democracy Now! (09/26/14), Dyson, along with NAACP legal defense fund director, Leslie Proll, praised the outgoing attorney general as "one of the nation's finest and most extraordinary." Proll goes on to compare Holder to Robert Kennedy.

Dyson, meanwhile, dismisses criticisms of Holder's failure to prosecute Wall Street bankers as an "abstract" issue, a phrase he uses multiple times. "[W]hen we look at his [Holder's] record," he says, "we've got to put it in the context of the abstract versus the real, the abstract versus what is achievable..."

Dyson would do well to get out of his ivory tower and talk with some of the people--the majority of whom are people of color--who lost their homes, filed for bankruptcy, lost their jobs or endured some other form of very real financial, emotional or psychological hardship as a result of the Great Recession. Try telling them their concerns are "abstract."

Furthermore, Dyson's insistence that Obama had no choice but to bail out the financial institutions that ravaged the economy--"...you can't overcome that [hypothetical newspaper] headline...'Nation's First Black President Allows the Financial Institutions to Fail'"--ignores the fact that a majority of Americans--conservatives, liberals and independents--opposed the Wall Street bailout.

In other words, had Obama simply invoked the (supposed) "free-market" orthodoxy and told the banks to sleep in the beds they had made for themselves, he would have been on the same side as majority popular opinion. But Dyson is more afraid of what the corporate, Wall Street-owned newspapers might think. This why I maintain identity politics destroyed the left.

Saint Augustine was right: "In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?"

Fellow progressives derided my calls for Bush and Cheney's impeachment in the flagging years of their second term as a "distraction." Obama, likewise, urged Americans to "look forward rather than backward" with regard to the war crimes and gross violations of power of his predecessor.

But here is the problem with that lofty approach: Law enforcement is inherently about "looking backward," because, outside of the dystopian movie, Minority Report, crimes take place in the past. Hence, the entire purpose of criminal investigation is to recreate or retrace events that have already occurred in order to identify and arrest those responsible.

As for impeachment being a "distraction," if that is the case, it seems odd that the framers of the U.S. Constitution mention the legislative process six times. Indeed, this was when I realized that, according to the narrow parameters of contemporary U.S. politics, those who support enforcing and upholding the rule of law are considered "radicals." Conversely, those who have no trouble ignoring war crimes and torture committed by their own government, are deemed "moderates."

The most regrettable aspect of, not just Holder's tenure, but Obama's overall presidency, is the tragic missed opportunity. Obama could have pulled the reins on Bush's worst excesses. Indeed, many on the left who elected Obama--not once, but twice--believed that was what they were voting for.

In closing, Holder has been an obedient and faithful servant to the corporate state. Celebrate him if you want. But history will likely be a far harsher judge.

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