Well, not everything President Obama and the 112th Congress managed to achieve is so terrible. With scarcely any notice, much less controversy, they did at least preserve one of the country's most important post-9/11 antiterror tools.
That would be wiretapping, which you may recall liberals portrayed during the George W. Bush era as an illegal and unconstitutional license for co-President Dick Cheney and his spymasters to bug the bedrooms of all U.S. citizens. But now Washington has renewed the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that were due to expire at the end of 2012, with no substantive changes and none of the pseudo-apoplexy that prevailed during the Bush Presidency.
In September the House passed the "clean" five-year extension that the White House desired, 301 to 118. The Senate reserved all of a single day of debate on the floor to coincide with the post-Christmas fiscal cliff chaos, and a broad bipartisan majority defeated multiple amendments from the civil liberties absolutists on the left and right such as Kentucky's Rand Paul.
The bill was then whistled through 73-23 and Mr. Obama signed it Sunday night with no public comment other than a one-sentence statement from the White House press secretary indicating that the bill had been signed. Meanwhile, the press corps was wigging out about Facebook's privacy settings.
This is a turnabout from 2007 and 2008, when letting U.S. spooks read al Qaeda emails or listen in on phone calls that passed through domestic switching networks supposedly spelled doom for the American Republic. Democrats spent years pretending that Mr. Bush's eavesdropping program was "wrong" and "destructive," as Attorney General Eric Holder put it at the time, lamenting that "I never thought I would see a President act in direct defiance of federal law."
Hypocrisy aside, the irony is that the imperfect 2008 deal could have stood a little scrutiny. The concessions Mr. Bush was forced to make inserted the special FISA court into the wartime chain of command, requiring the national security agencies in most cases to get judicial permission to eavesdrop on even foreign enemies. We still don't know if this new regime has compromised U.S. intelligence gathering.
Then again, perhaps it is reassuring that Mr. Obama endorsed it. As President, he has turned out to be a fairly ruthless antiterror prosecutor and unapologetic asserter of Presidential powers, including on occasion the office's inherent Article II war powers. As a Senator in 2008 competing for left-wing votes against Hillary Clinton, he promised to filibuster "any bill" that granted telecom companies immunity from lawsuits stemming from their good faith cooperation with intelligence agencies. He reversed his opposition once he locked up the Democratic nomination.
Maybe such amnesia is healthy, to the extent it reflects the emerging bipartisan consensus about how to protect the country from terrorists. If the "Imperial Presidency" is only imperial when the President is a Republican, at least that doesn't represent a real political conviction, merely naked partisanship.