Give Obama time to reinvigorate liberties

This is a guest post by Stryker McGuire, contributing editor for Newsweek

Barack Obama rides into the White House on the back of such high expectations that he cannot help but disappoint. And among those he will disappoint will be advocates of civil liberties, including freedom of speech. First, now that he has been elected, there will be vast sigh of relief, from within the United States and from the outside.

As a man of the soft left, as someone who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, and of course as an African-American who himself felt the sting of racism and discrimination, Obama will be seen as a civil libertarian. And rightly so, I think, if we can go by what he’s said and, equally important, by what he’s written in Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. He will undoubtedly close down Guantánamo — an act which carries great weight. I would never expect him to revert to the Bush Administration’s onetime policy of eavesdropping on US citizens’ international phone calls and emails without a court order.

But can we expect Obama to unwind, for instance, all of the provisions of the post-9/11 Patriot Act that many civil libertarians find offensive? I don’t think so. The last few weeks of the presidential campaign were filled with Republican vitriol among Obama’s supposed ‘socialism’ (which amounts to little more than a continuation of Democrat and Republican taxation policies since the Great Depression) and his ‘palling around with terrorists’ (which amounts to his perfectly above-board association with a widely respected Chicago education expert who in his youth was a founder of a violence-prone domestic radical group). Vitriol it was, but Obama, especially in his early time in office, will almost certainly find himself ‘compensating’ for that kind of labelling.

Just as they should not overburden Obama with unrealistic expectations, civil libertarians should grant him time and space to settle into office and into what we hope are his natural, liberal tendencies.