Disillusioned young voters worry President Barack Obama’s 2008 hope and change may have transformed into an ambiguous violation of constitutional rights. On December 31, the president approved the National Defense Authorization Act. The law, voted for by 283 Representatives, and 86 Senators has been charged with providing the justification for the military to detain U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism without due process of the law.
The ambiguity of the bill created a backlash among young people that poses a particular problem for the Obama 2012 presidential campaign. Bloggers and columnists published commentary about Obama’s lost “cool factor” and his “betrayal” of citizen’s rights.
But Republican candidate hopeful, Ron Paul, the coolest guy in congress right now, has called on the legislature to repeal the provision. Paul even targeted South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a supporter of the bill, on the House floor. “Is this acceptable in someone who has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution?” Paul asked Graham.
Paul could ask the same question to President Obama, who has also taken this oath. Interestingly, many young voters are in favor of Ron Paul for the GOP candidacy. Still, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports, Obama is ahead by just 10% in polling numbers against Paul. But, Paul is also polling 50 percent among the 18-to-29-year-old voters who supported the president en masse in 2008, according to the most recent Gallup Poll, and the editor of this publication recently explained Paul’s appeal with Gen Y.
Campaigning for the youth vote will require the president to look like he stands for the issues young people care about, and signing the NDAA has not benefited him. “Last time, there was a lot more need for change, and there has been a lot of controversy with what Obama’s been doing recently,” said Girish Balakrishnan, a 23-year-old student told ABC News.
Official statements from the White House say the president would not use the NDAA’s power to unfairly detain citizens, but the Obama administration, critics say, cannot assure how other presidents may interpret it in the future. “Obama’s signing statement seems to suggest he already believes he has the authority to indefinitely detain Americans—he just never intends to use it,” writes Adam Serwer for Mother Jones’ Political Mojo.
Section 1022 of the NDAA reads, “The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.” Furthermore the provision states the act will not affect existing law relating to the detention of citizens. Supporters like representative Allen West of Florida say that the bill does not even allow detention of U.S. citizens. Is he right?
Read the language carefully. It says that the military is not REQUIRED to detain U.S. citizens. It does not say that the military cannot and shall not detain U.S. citizens. That’s a major distinction. It’s that distinction that former constitutional litigator and legal expert Glenn Greenwald has stated actually allows the government to lock someone up indefinitely without a trial or lawyer, even U.S. citizens.
“This is all happening today, ironically on Bill of Rights day, given that this bill thoroughly tramples the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th amendments,” Joseph Brown wrote for Young Americans for Liberty.
Supporters who acknowledge the ambiguous phrase, justify the bill with the fear of domestic terrorism. Many Senators have heralded the NDAA as necessary to continue to fight the War on Terrorism effectively. “If you can detain somebody overseas wanting to attack America and not provide them a lawyer and Miranda Rights you should be able to do it here because this is the battlefield,” said Senator Graham.
The White House’s surprisingly tame statement did detail the President’s “serious reservations” about the bill, but that statement didn’t quite make it into the young person’s lexicon, and strong rhetoric from the media on both the right and the left and made the President seem even more lame on this issue, almost as if he’s not willing to pick this battle – an incredible important one.
Losing his famous mojo to a constitutionally questionable law might not necessarily mean Obama losing the youth vote. If the president’s social rhetoric can shift attention away from the NDAA’s potential implications, he may be able to distract the under-30s from his recent actions. But if this continues, it might mean Obama’s ultimate downfall.