A reader over at Andrew Sullivan's blog has written such an excellent post that I think it's worth reposting in entirety.
Scott Horton is right. My feeling is that Obama's opening days have gone better than I had any right to expect.
Obama has been many things in his life, but one of his roles has gotten short shrift. He was a constitutional law professor at one of the best law schools in the country. And there's something about the Bush administration that's gotten short shrift as well. It's not just that there was a political disagreement -- a lot of what the last administration did was illegal. And they didn't just break run of the mill laws -- they broke the central stuff that's laid down in the constitution. Their whole program was rooted in this violation of the constitution -- without that enormous breach, they couldn't have their expansive conception of executive power, upon which so many other things depended.
I think this point is really key. Bush's conception of the executive isn't something about which reasonable people disagree. It was unconstitutional, and the legal arguments defending it were specious and offered in bad faith. They had as much intellectual integrity as Cheney's assertion that he belonged to neither the executive or legislative branches.
There's one last building block to my argument: the government is made out of laws. These issues aren't just intellectual pastimes, things that spectators in armchairs engage in once the men of action take care of business. These issues are at the center of everything.
Without the legal cover that Bush got, none of the awful stuff that transpired could have occurred. Obama has laid down a lot of stuff very quickly, and the effect of it will be to repudiate the entire philosophy of Bush's government. You can see it not only in his executive orders, but in the lawyers he's appointed. He's already changed everything completely.
I read someone from the left who was concerned that Obama wouldn't close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. But he has to -- he's already created a new legal framework in which such a place can't exist. He's put together a team that wouldn't allow him to keep it open. The facility's closure is inevitable. I don't know why more people don't get this.
Maybe it's because the law hasn't been taken seriously for so long that people don't think what he's done means anything. I don't really know why it's flying under the radar. He's already saved the constitution. I know that sounds way over the top, but I absolutely believe it's true. And as a final related point, this is one area where there is an enormous difference between Obama and Mrs. Clinton. She would not have moved to reestablish the proper constitutional role of the executive. She wouldn't have understood that it's the distortion of that role that's at the center of so many of our problems. Every single thing he's done points to an understanding that Cheney's distorted view of the executive is to blame for so much that's wrong, and there has been no hesitation, no wavering, in his response. He's gone in surgically and attacked it.