So You've Decided To Whack A Raghead.S

Last week, the New York Times ran a 5,000-word article on the Obama administration's "secret" drone assassination program that might as well have been accompanied by the cheery clip art that comes with brochures on STDs from the free clinic.

In a more honest universe, the article's sections would've been retitled, "So You've Decided to Whack a Raghead" while an anthropomorphic death machine, Droney, waved from the margins. Clinical and empty positivity practically poured off the pages as it described the process through which the Obama administration selects members for a "kill list." Drones: they're like antibiotics that target the body politic's Muslim cells!

Within a day, some wag started a petition on the White House's petition/feedback page asking for a national "Do Not Kill" list. It would be incredibly funny if it didn't seem like a really good idea.

What the Times article makes clear is that the Obama administration has arrogated to itself both the right to ignore the Fifth Amendment and to rewrite people's entire biographies post-mortem. Your right not to be killed without due process has been supplanted by the White House's ability to have a long talk about you and then write a very convincing brief about you that you cannot read—but, trust us, it's really good. Meanwhile, if you're a foreigner and have the insufferable gall to be standing where a rocket needs to land, simply being of military age automatically makes you a militant, and the fact that you didn't get out of the way probably makes you a dick.

The article goes on to describe the solemn regularity of the administration's weekly Death Club meetings, dubbed "Terror Tuesdays":

Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government's sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects' biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.

Awesome! Whether you're raining hellfire down on the sovereign territory of a nation against which you have not declared war and terrorizing its citizens, or you're just atomizing an American citizen like a frog duct-taped to a dozen bottle rockets, make sure you have a checklist. There is no degree of illegality that will not be tolerated if you're really serious about it and made a good faith effort to have a conversation with a lot of middle-aged white people in chairs.

One wonders how someone like—picking a name out of a hat, here—Barack Obama would react to this sort of reasoning if applied to the nauseating murders of blacks under Jim Crow. A lynching is the hateful and insecure act of an illegal mob, meting out punishment extrajudicially. But if they'd had a detailed set of minutes, and if it was clear they'd conferred seriously around a conference table about the unpleasant but necessary duty to remove a clear and present danger to white vaginas....

Such is the state of the United States' contempt for international law and the constitution that the black comedy of 2001-2009 feels almost beige. Things were supposed to be different: the Democrats were in power! WWI and WWII aside, they've somehow became history's pansies, and this time they were led by some pinhead constitutional law scholar! Amicus briefs for al-Qaeda! Cluster bombs dropping ACLU cards all over Waziristan!

Instead, Obama has institutionalized extrajudicial murder and endless, undeclared clandestine war by giving it the cheery stamp of bipartisan support, inspiring comedy so bleak that it involves soccer moms, mallrats, and flyover folks petitioning for the ability to formally request not to die. We've reached retro-classic levels of despairing comedy about government. This administration could be some political hipster's nostalgic paean to Richard Nixon, digging up something shitty from the past and making it intensely more dislikable in the present. Do you dig secret bombing and secret intelligence abuses? Dude, the Bush administration was like the MP3 version of that: it was compressed and sounded like hella ass. Check it: Obama dug through crates at the secondhand store and found that on vinyl.

What makes this policy both more insidious and more disgusting is how reasonable it tries to sound. Nixon's gang of crooks looked like the sweaty, least popular members of their league bowling team. But the Times article depicts a sober gathering of technocrats. The debate is presided over by a man of almost Vedic calm. No paranoid, spitting recriminations and rants to Haldeman about "Hot pants! Jesus Christ!" When Obama makes an enemies list, there are footnotes. This is a baccalaureate committee, and some lucky Muslim is about to graduate a threat level. The Obama administration's procedural elements—as well as the conspicuously favorable leaks to the press detailing them—are designed to convince you that this is killing and malfeasance at its most urbane.

It's precisely that sort of calming tone that demands the mordant humor of a Do Not Kill list, because only something so absurdly too reasonable, too fussily particular, can point out the calm madness it confronts.

This petition reveals an attitude that would have been totally unthinkable 12 years ago. God only knows what your relationship with your spouse or significant other is like, but asking your government—even puckishly—to consult a list before murdering you is like saying, "Honey, before you plunge the knife down into my helpless, sleeping body, please stop to remember all the times I've made you laugh and feel joy," then turning out the light. It also points out something else very basic: that, Democrat or Republican, big government or small, we all consider "not being murdered" the foundation of the social contract.

And while that's a welcome step in the right direction, the fact is that it took a brick of an article on the front page of the New York Times, as well as the assassination of an American citizen to get people's attention. Until secret murder policies started redounding on American citizens, undeclared war, extrajudicial killing and indifference to collateral damage mostly provoked concern among ACLU members, Ron Paulbots and bloggers. Until then, this was Someone Else's Problem, an unrecorded problem of insufficient weight to even become a quandary.

Incidentally, we began drone strikes in the Philippines in February.

"Mobutu Sese Seko" is founder of the blog Et tu, Mr. Destructo?

Image by Jim Cooke. Photo via Gettypic.