While 44 percent of poll respondents believe Obama has bested Bush in balancing national security and civil liberties, 37 percent said he has done a worse job and 15 percent said he has been "about the same."
The results cannot be fully explained as party line responses. More than one in five self-identified Democrats, 21 percent, assert that the Obama administration has not improved upon Bush’s record. So do 23 percent of liberals.
However, when it comes to one of the most hotly debated issues of the day, the leaked memo detailing the legal justification for drone strikes on overseas al Qaeda members, Americans are inclined to support the government in its lethal attacks on citizens and non-citizens it deems to be terrorists.
According to the poll, 53 percent of likely voters said it should be legal for the U.S. government to kill non-U.S. citizens who meet that description. Meanwhile, 44 percent said it should be legal for the U.S. government to kill American citizens who it believes are terrorists and present an imminent threat.
Definitely, this demonstrates a peculiar concept of civil rights both by the administration and by the American public. The administration believes that any slight suspicion that this or that person is affiliated with terrorism serves as a justification for his or her extrajudicial elimination. And afterwards it would be easy to label any person killed in, say, a drone attack a terrorist, thus casting away all accusations of inflicting deaths among civilians.
As for the American public, it certainly is of a conviction that all people are equal, but some of them are more equal than the others. So, killing a non-American is OK with a much larger portion of respondents.
And since drone attacks do not yet target individuals within the U.S. territory, the overwhelming majority – 65 percent – have voiced a go-ahead for such strikes in foreign countries.
As is pointed out by London's Daily Telegraph, the leaked memo has provoked a sudden realignment of concern about executive branch overreach in what was once called "the war on terror". In this upside down world Republicans are suddenly citing civil liberty concerns, while Democrats rationalize that such extraordinary powers are needed to keep America safe.
More so, one of the most ardent critics of Bush administration, film director and author of "Fahrenheit 9/11" Michael Moore recently urged U.S. citizens to take a stand against President Barack Obama's administration and the implementation of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a law he claims is stealing American civil liberties.
The whole story of Obama's presidency resembles an old legend saying that the one who kills a dragon is doomed to become a dragon himself. In 2008, too much hope was invested in Obama's electoral slogan "Change We Can Believe In". In 2009, long before he was able to implement any of his pre-electoral promises Obama was awarded Nobel Peace Prize – simply for the fact that he had put an end to the Republican era.
But now, after four plus years, it has become obvious for too many that all the bla-bla-bla about the "Change" was good for nothing, and Obama is no different from his predecessor.
What looks symbolic in the recent poll is that one of the first media resources to report on Obama's civil liberties record was The Huffington Post – by far the most liberal of all liberal U.S. media and, ceteris paribus (all other things being equal), usually ardently supporting Obama against his critics.
Indeed, "something is rotten in the state of U.S." and The Telegraph is probably right defining it as an "upside down world".
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies.