President Barack Obama’s campaign staff is nothing if not savvy about the power of social networking. This was apparent when the silly little sticker for people to declare their allegiance to Obama 2012 popped up on my Facebook newsfeed before the official re-election campaign broke in the mainstream media.

I’m not “In” for Obama 2012 because, on the issues I care about, I can’t find any difference between his position and those of any of the assorted clowns he could find himself running against next year.

Of course, as a political scientist I should know better than to expect any differently. One of relatively few rock-solid empirical laws we have in political science is the relationship between “majoritarian” electoral systems and party behavior. In a nutshell: If there’s no prize for finishing third in an election (as is the case in the United States), then from the perspective of a prospective candidate there’s no point in starting a third party. And if that’s the case, then the two parties should both move as close to the center, or “median voter,” of the set of people voting in any particular election.

But wait! Certainly there’s a difference between Obama and, say, serial bankruptcy case, reality TV star and born-again Birther Donald Trump? Well, sure. The theory doesn’t have much to say about the candidates’ personalities. And yes, if you put a gun to my head, I’d have to concede that, as entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban might say, I wouldn’t trust Donald Trump to manage a Dairy Queen let alone the West Wing.

When you start to get down to the issues themselves, though, these distinctions melt away. If you had to guess who asked the joint chiefs of staff to put together a “hit list” of American citizens suspected of terrorist behavior and then authorized the CIA to execute anyone on that list wherever they’re found, without a trial, would you say Obama or former president George W. Bush? The answer may surprise you.

Under Obama, the crushing wave of Homeland Security funding that paradoxically makes us all less safe has continued apace. Last fall, a Washington Post investigation determined that around 854,000 Americans have a “Top Secret”-level security clearance. That works out to be around 0.3 percent of the country’s adult population, even when excluding however many more hundreds of thousands of people who have the comparatively pedestrian and hopelessly gauche “Confidential” and “Secret” clearances.

You might think that 0.3 percent is a small number. It only took two minutes of Google searching and some back-of-the-napkin arithmetic, however, to figure that the Stasi, the notorious East German secret police — and the intellectual forebears of the “See Something, Say Something” program you probably saw plastered all over the walls the last time you were at the airport — directly employed as much as 0.7 percent of the German population during the 1970s. So we’re in good company.

These things matter. Granted, the bit about the extra-judicial executions matters somewhat more to me given my skin color and last name than it might to you. You might have the luxury of not having to worry about the world’s worst case of mistaken identity any time you step off an international flight. Even so, the lack of opposition to the expansion and entrenchment to the national surveillance state is corrosive to American values and makes us less secure. Opportunists have carved out tidy careers for themselves by subverting the torrent of counter-terror cash that never seems to let up. Last month, the Washington Monthly described a terrorism preparedness training session for sheriffs’ deputies in Florida during which a self-described expert explained that any “Muslim who wears a headband, regardless of color or insignia, basically what that is telling you is ‘I am willing to be a martyr.’” So at least now we know what happened to Tupac.

I found myself with a lot of time to contemplate these things last fall, when I spent about 30 minutes being interrogated by border security at Dulles International on my way back to Michigan from South Africa. And I speak, in this case, as one of the lucky ones. It could have been much worse considering I’m fortunate enough to have an Irish first name and a nasally Midwestern accent and I am a native English speaker. But am I “In” for Obama 2012? No. Hell, his name is Barack Obama. If he weren’t the president, he could have found himself “in” that same stuffy holding pen at Dulles that I did.

Neill Mohammad can be reached at neilla@umich.edu.

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