Steve Chapman

Back in the early days of the Republic, the framers went to great trouble to draft and ratify the Bill of Rights. And every four years, our leaders pay homage to the framers by neglecting or disparaging that creation.

Not all of it, of course. Americans generally favor religious freedom (the First Amendment) and the right to own guns (Second). But the ban on any establishment of religion (First) is a favorite target of believers who think the government has a sacred duty to promote Christianity.

Then there are the Fourth Amendment, which bans unreasonable searches, and the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees the right against self-incrimination. These are often seen as obstructions erected for the perverse benefit of bad people, who would not be so bad if they had read more Bible stories in school.

So politicians rarely rise to defend these provisions or the rights they safeguard. Civil liberties are the Penn State Nittany Lions of our political realm: They have many enemies, and their friends often look embarrassed.

When George W. Bush was president, Democrats often decried his habit of trampling on freedoms in his zeal to stamp out terrorism at any cost. Running in 2008, Barack Obama decried Bush's aggressive use of presidential power in the name of national security.

But Democrats usually worry about civil liberties only when the other party is violating them. Obama is not always recognizable as the same person now that he is president. He has maintained the prison camp at Guantanamo, continued warrantless surveillance of Americans and carried out lethal drone attacks on U.S. citizens abroad without making public the evidence.

His White House counsel admits that Obama takes a, well, different view of presidential power than he did in 2008. "Until one experiences that first hand, it is difficult to appreciate fully how you need flexibility in a lot of circumstances," Kathy Ruemmler told The Wall Street Journal.

Midway through his term, American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero pronounced himself "disgusted" with Obama's record. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley regards the president as a "disaster not just for specific civil liberties but the civil liberties cause in the United States."

But not all the failings are Obama's. He tried to close Guantanamo and move detainees to U.S. soil, only to face overwhelming opposition from Congress, including many Democrats.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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