Historian Garry Wills:
At his confirmation hearing to be head of the CIA, Leon Panetta said that "extraordinary rendition"—the practice of sending prisoners to foreign countries—was a tool he meant to retain. Obama's nominee for solicitor general, Elena Kagan, told Congress that she agreed with John Yoo's claim that a terrorist captured anywhere should be subject to "battlefield law." On the first opportunity to abort trial proceedings by invoking "state secrets"—the policy based on the faulty Reynolds case—Obama's attorney gen- eral, Eric Holder, did so. Obama refused to release photographs of "enhanced interrogation." The CIA had earlier (illegally) destroyed ninety-two videotapes of such interrogations—and Obama refused to release documents describing the tapes.
The President said that past official crimes would not be investigated—certainly not for prosecution, and not even by an impartial "truth commission" just trying to establish a record. He said, on the contrary, that detainees might be tried in "military tribunals." When the British government, trying a terrorist suspect, decided to use some American documents shared with the British government, Obama's attorney general pressured it not to do so. Most important, perhaps, was the new president's desire to end the nation-building in Iraq while substituting a long-term nation-building effort in Afghanistan, run by a government corrupted by drug trafficking and not susceptible to our remolding.
Even in areas outside national security, the Obama administration quickly came to resemble Bush's. Gay military personnel, including those with valuable Arabic-language skills, were being dismissed at the same rate as before. Even more egregiously, the Obama administration continued the defiance of the Constitution's "full faith and credit" clause, which requires states to recognize laws passed by other states, when it defended the Defense of Marriage Act, which lets states refuse to recognize gay marriages legally obtained in another state. Many objected when Dick Cheney would not name energy executives who came to the White House in 2002, though Hillary Clinton, as First Lady, had been forced to reveal which health advisers had visited her. Yet the Obama team, in June 2009, refused to release logs of those who come to the White House. (It later reversed itself, but only in response to a lawsuit.)
Some were dismayed to see how quickly the Obama people grabbed at the powers, the secrecy, the unaccountability that had led Bush into such opprobrium. Leon Panetta at the CIA especially puzzled those who had known him during the Clinton years. A former CIA official told The Washington Post, "Leon Panetta has been captured by the people who were the ideological drivers for the interrogation program in the first place." A White House official told Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, "It's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers."
The point isn't that Obama is as bad as Bush, overall. It's that he's not much better on some seriously important issues. Being better than Bush, or better than McCain would have been, are extremely low thresholds. Obama himself set very high ones for himself. Given the nature of the beast that is politics, no one should have expected Obama to clear those very high thresholds of his loftiest rhetoric; but there's no excuse for his not clearing those extremely low thresholds by a much greater margin.