Kill List Democracy
Barack Obama has a kill list.
Its legal justification is a secret. Its contents are secret, too. You don’t get to see who’s on it. Nor do any members of Congress. Nor any federal judges. Basically no one does.
How does someone end up on it? Obama decides. He decides with a small group of people, all of whom hold their jobs at his pleasure.
Whatever methods they use, they’re secret, too. The evidence — you guessed it — is secret. If there even is any.
We don’t know much about the kill list, but we do know a few things. We know it can include American citizens. That’s already happened. We know it can include American citizens who are minors. That’s already happened, too.
We know that the kill list is valid anywhere in the world: Obama claims the authority to kill these people wherever they may be, including within the United States. Including children sleeping peacefully in their homes.
We know that no one gets to review his decision. Ever. The ones who might do it have all abdicated the responsibility.
If Obama wanted to, he could put all of Mitt Romney’s delightful, gingham-clad grandkids on the kill list, then send commandos to kill them (or drones, it hardly matters). He wouldn’t need to show any cause, and no one could stop him or tell him otherwise.
Do not say that he wouldn’t. Of course he wouldn’t. The problem is that someone else might. And that’s enough.
Do not tell me that I need to vote for him… because you are afraid that he will lose. He deserves to lose.
And worse. He deserves to walk onstage not to cheers, but to hisses, boos, and a shower of rotten vegetables. He deserves a place in presidential history somewhere far beneath Warren Harding or Richard Nixon, both now counted rank amateurs when it comes to subverting the republic. Obama deserves the reputation of a Catiline or a Hipparchus, if only we remembered who they were.
No, I don’t think Romney would be better. For the next four years, government by kill list is baked in the cake. Romney’s been mum about the whole thing, and that’s just what we would expect from someone who thinks himself worthy of the power, and who hopes to enjoy it come January.
Would Romney take out Sasha and Malia? Of course he wouldn’t. Could he? In principle, yes.
As John Adams put it, we have a government of men, not laws: Conditional on one man’s good judgment, we are safe.
We are safe, that is, as long as someone who says “I am worthy of personally deciding the life and death of my fellow citizens” — “fellow citizens” surely a misnomer by now — also says that now is not your time.
Yet the very act of claiming the power also calls into question anyone’s good judgment. How exactly does someone conclude that he, personally, deserves the unchecked power of life and death? I couldn’t. I would be ashamed to show my face in front of you or to call you my equals. I might be a god or a beast, but not a man in a society. (Rome still is instructive, is it not?)
Yes, a judge and a jury can sentence someone to death, but even there, many still blanch at personally having to do it. And we have limits on the death penalty. There has to be solid evidence. The crime has to be especially unconscionable. And even when you do vote to convict or sentence, there’s still an appeals process, and if you totally fuck things up, some judge will maybe overrule you. You’d hope so, anyway. And yet we know for a goddamn fact that sometimes innocents still die. We know this.
And next to that, what’s one man with a secret list, and his lackeys, and his own good judgment? Why, that’s what most of you are going to the polls to elect. Who gets that power, Obama or Romney?
You wonder why I find the conceit of a choice so revolting. This is why. We don’t need an elected beast-god with a kill list. We need to end the system that proposes, every four years, to place one of our human equals into that role. A role any decent human would refuse. And this election just isn’t going to do it.