America's two party system

An MSNBC discussion of how true political choice is deliberately suffocated; plus: the OLC authorizes the Libya war

By Glenn Greenwald

Published April 8, 2011 12:09PM (EDT)

(updated below)

Extensive traveling the last couple of days has prevented me from writing, but I wanted to post what I found to be an interesting MSNBC segment I did on Wednesday with Lawrence O'Donnell regarding the way in which America's two-party system suffocates political choice.  I spoke yesterday at Harvard's Kennedy School and was asked whether I've ever been told by MSNBC or any other television program on which I've appeared not to speak about a certain issue.  I replied that the media's narrowing of political debate doesn't generally operate in such an explicit way (though sometimes it does); rather, by confining themselves only to those issues relating to the partisan conflicts between Democrats and Republicans, anything that exists outside of that sphere is simply ignored.  Any positions that enjoy bipartisan consensus -- or issues that the two parties jointly ignore -- are rarely examined in establishment media venues.  Because O'Donnell somewhat unexpectedly (and commendably) directed the discussion to the fundamental deficiencies of the two-party system, this segment ended up being an exception to that rule (note that below the video, I discuss the OLC's argument about Obama's war powers): 


* * * * * 

The Office of Legal Counsel -- the DOJ division which provided the legal authority for virtually everything George Bush wished to do, from illegal eavesdropping to torture -- this week released a memorandum setting forth its reasoning as to why President Obama has the legal authority to involve the U.S. in a war in Libya without Congressional approval.  The OLC in essence argued that "the President had constitutional authority, as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive and pursuant to his foreign affairs powers, to direct such limited military operations abroad, even without prior specific congressional approval"; that this authority "derives from the President’s 'unique responsibility,' as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive, for 'foreign and military affairs,' as well as national security"; and that -- despite all appearances -- what is happening in Libya is not a "war" as the Constitution uses that term when assigning the right to Congress (not the president) to declare wars (the OLC emphasized the limited nature of the intervention, though a U.S. General yesterday suggested the U.S. may consider deploying ground troops).

I'll have more to say about this assertion of executive authority, but for now, I'll note 3 points:  (1) whatever your view is of this argument, there is no question that it is the exact opposite of what Barack Obama argued as a Senator and candidate; The New York Times yesterday called the OLC memo "a striking departure from Mr. Obama's own interpretation of the president's constitutional powers before being elected"; (2) the small but vocal band of Obama's hardest-core Internet followers spent weeks haranguing anyone who wrote on this issue by absurdly claiming that a 1945 law concerning the U.N. is dispositive in providing statutory authority for Obama's Libya war; so self-evidently frivolous was this claim that the OLC, in arguing for Obama's war powers authority, does not even bother to mention (let alone rely upon) that statute; and (3) Bruce Fein -- the former Reagan DOJ official beloved by progressives during the Bush years for his early and emphatic condemnation of Bush's executive power abuses -- has drafted and published articles of impeachment over Obama's usurpation of Congressional authority in involving the U.S. in this war (Fein suggested the same remedy for Bush's illegal NSA program); obviously, that's not a realistic proposal (in large part because Congress, as usual, has no interest in defending its Constitutional power and prior Presidents have been repeatedly permitted to act in this manner), but the document does set forth the reasons why this action -- though far from unusual -- is such a glaring departure from what the Constitution permits.


UPDATE:  I'm speaking this morning, at 11:00 am, regarding WikiLeaks, on a panel at the National Media Reform Conference in Boston, along with Amy Goodman, The Nation's Greg Mitchell and others.  For those interested, the panel will be broadcast live at

Glenn Greenwald

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