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Sometimes, political karma can be so right, even when it applies to something so wrong.
Thus it was that Barack Obama became the first U.S. president in history to sign legislation into law without actually signing it. While he was traveling in Europe, Congress passed a bill extending the infamous Patriot Act for another four years of secret, autocratic invasions of our privacy. The extension passed 15 minutes before midnight on the day the law was to expire – no time to fly it to Obama for his required signature. So, he ordered that his name be affixed by autopen.
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How appropriate that this liberty-busting act be signed into law by a soulless machine, rather than – as required by the Constitution – by the actual president. Article 1, Section 7 says that for a president to approve a congressional bill, “he shall sign it.”
As you might expect, this mechanical usurpation of the human hand has driven the cult of Obama deligitimizers nuts (a pretty short ride for them), and some are railing against the high crime of this non-signature. But the real crime is not in how the bill was signed, but that a Democrat in the White House would sign it at all. The Patriot Act is an atrocious, fundamentally un-American little house of horrors concocted by John Ashcroft and Dick Cheney. For Obama to put his name to it legitimizes the national surveillance state as a new bipartisan authoritarian normal over America.
Obama’s team asserts that his mechanical signing is authorized by a 2005 justice department memo that – abracadabra – autocratically declares it okay. Great – an act of raw authoritarianism, hung around America’s neck by the authoritarian Bush regime, is now extended on the basis of an authoritarian executive decree by that same regime. Obama has twisted himself into a karmatic pretzel.
“In presidential first, bill becomes law via autopen,” Austin American Statesman, May 28, 2011.
“This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow,” The Austin Chronicle, May 27, 2011.