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A Case Study: Dawn E. Johnsen

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The churlish treatment of Dawn E. Johnsen by President Obama and his administration should finally silence the desperate true believers in the Democratic Party who cling to the fantasy that the President is a victim of the unforgiving political reality that passes for government in our nation's capital. The political history of her "nomination" and its death parallel, step for step, the political history of, for example, Obama's support of the "public option" and its demise. In both instances, the President allowed, and occasionally found ways to encourage, a perception that he shared with the progressives in his base a desire to achieve objectives that they felt strongly about. And in both cases, it is obvious in retrospect that he actually worked to thwart those objectives. Assurances made privately to the corporate health industry explain why Obama didn't make even a tepid argument in favor of the already compromised single payer concept called a public option, and his failure to do anything substantive to advance the prospects of his nominee to head the OLC is best understood as a private assurance to the likes of Arlen Specter and Ben Nelson that this articulate, and outspoken law professor would not be afforded the opportunity to embarrass the Washington establishment by formulating legal opinions that were responsive to constitutional law, rather than the demands of her "client" administration.

It must be clear to all by now that any effort to fathom what ideological principles the President holds in his heart is simply irrelevant. Like consummate politicians before him, Obama is at pains to maintain a public image that is incompatible with his political actions.

Although virtually ignored by the mainstream media, Ms. Johnsen's ill treatment has been covered thoroughly by the best of progressive bloggers, Greenwald, bmaz, Turley, et al, in the usual progressive sites, including, obviously, this one. A quick summary follows:

Almost a year ago, one of the first official actions of the new President was the nomination of Dawn E. Johnsen to the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), a traditionally little publicized division of Justice designed to provide the President with timely legal opinions in matters that would affect administration policy. Progressives celebrated the nomination because it was a direct rebuke to the previous administration's use of the OLC to provide legal justification for its most egregious constitutional excesses. Scott Horton, a contributor on legal matters to Harper's Magazine, interviewed by Amy Goodman in late January, typified the optimistic spirit:

"There were criminal investigations commenced that were shut down by officials of the Bush administration. I think under Obama, we will see that process run to the end, and I don't think we're going to see an effort by the administration or the White House to interfere with it one way or the other."

From his lips to God's ears, but it was not to be.

Opinions from Bush's OLC by Messrs. Yoo and Bybee had essentially held that "Commander in Chief" status essentially made Bush a unitary executive who was not subject to the checks and balances of the judicial or legislative branches that apply to other citizens.

Within a month, Greenwald was observing, sardonically, that Johnsen was probably "too good" to be confirmed by the Senate:

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I am a retired boatbuilder with a fascination for political thought. Most of my life I cheerfully described myself as an "eastern establishment, knee jerk, liberal Democrat."
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