We have seen in the Republican primary how candidates have engaged in a type of race to the bottom in embracing torture and suggesting that they would launch attacks against Iran and other countries. In this debate, the law and the Constitution are often dismissed as weak considerations for a strong president. Not to be outdone in such macho posturing, the Obama campaign has mocked Mitt Romney for even suggesting that he would consult with lawyers before launching attacks or taking critical actions. Stephanie Cutter, President Obama’s Deputy Campaign Manager, delivered the message on MSNBC that Obama was strong because he didn’t need no stinkin’ lawyers.
Cutter appeared on MSNBC to offer this analysis of Romney:
The most egregious falsehood would be the President’s position on Iran, whether it’s Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum, attacking the President for not being tough enough on Iran. Ask any foreign policy expert out there, we have the toughest sanctions in place today than we’ve had in decades thanks to this President. . . . Now look at Mitt Romney. What he didn’t say on the stage tonight is that just four years ago, when asked the same question on Iran, he said he’d have to check with his lawyers. That does not make a Commander-in-Chief, somebody who has to check with his lawyers.
Of course, Obama has shown repeatedly that he has the “strength” to not only ignore lawyers, but ignore the law. On torture, he promised CIA officials that they would never be prosecuted despite his acknowledgment that waterboarding is torture — a war crime under controlling treaties. On Libya, he launched a war without achieving authorization from Congress. [For full disclosure, I represented the members challenging this war in federal court]. For areas ranging from privacy to detention, Obama has proven the type of strong leadership that Cutter describes. Her comments vividly illustrate that the White House has little concern for the objections by civil libertarians and will continue to model Obama on the image of George Bush — the strong leader who refuses to be weakened by lawyers.
Cutter’s comments should be condemned by the President but they will not be. It was not even challenged on MSNBC at the time or in later segments. After all, this election is only about “them” and not “us.” Moreover Cutter was reading from a script that has been followed since the very beginning of Obama’s term. The image of the strongman, so popular in places like Russia, has found a place in the United States. In this new paradigm, the law and the Constitution are synonymous with weakness. Even consulting with lawyers is an indication of a lack of character and strength.
By the way, Cutter is a lawyer (trained at Georgetown).
Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece on the comments.