Autopen on Autopilot

President Obama and the Patriot Act

One of the more bizarre milestones of the modern era was reached last Thursday when President Obama “signed” a four year extension to certain provisons within the Patriot Act with his autopen. If you’re like me this was strange enough to pique curiosity. I couldn’t even picture a politician like Obama having an autopen. Sure, I could see a device like this being used by a guy like Schwarzenegger, there’s high tech precedent in his dorky B movie past, and probably real value in having one to sign lots of future “Happy Birthday, son (or daughter)” cards. But, come on… our president really signed a bill into law with an autopen?

Yes, in fact, he did. And I had never even heard of this item. I like to think I keep up on the latest technology, but well, maybe I fell behind in this case. They say these autopens were even used by Thomas Jefferson–but not to sign laws! These devices reproduce an exact replica of the signature in question.

Celebrities and sport figures are said to use autopens quite regularly to provide autographs. I am a little startled that Obama didn’t simply have his food taster be required to learn to reproduce his exact signature, but perhaps that wasn’t feasible. Sometimes I get medieval custom confused with White House protocol.

I found out that Obama is the first president to actually sign a bill into law through the use of the autopen. How strange that so called “sunset provisions”, or pieces of the Act set to expire without further careful consideration, were signed in this manner. You know- the kind of careful and deliberate consideration evidenced by having a robot sign your name. I guess sometimes it’s just more important to check out the Divine Right recipients in England and visit the happy expecting couple in France than it is to grapple with controversy at home such as this. And it’s always good to remain abroad during national disasters like Joplin because it shows the little people that life goes on, right? Sets the correct example.

Even so, is it possible to exhibit any less concern for a caustic bill such as the Patriot Act than getting out an autopen? There’s a little worry, to say the least, about this bill only slightly longer (and only slightly more readable) than Atlas Shrugged.

Here’s what the ACLU thinks about the Patriot Act:

The result is unchecked government power to rifle through individuals’ financial records, medical histories, Internet usage, bookstore purchases, library usage, travel patterns, or any other activity that leaves a record.

And that’s pretty much just a small taste. I won’t belabor the obvious. The three main provisions recently extended via robot hand, include continued roving wiretaps, business record searches and “lone wolf” surveillance. All are fraught with the potential to do a whole lot of evil and not just to evildoers.

President Obama, please at least pretend like you consider that perhaps a rushed giveaway to Law Enforcement agencies during a time of mass panic might be worth looking at with a calm glance years later. Hell, just the fact that the thing has a name more fitting for a one of the more expensive fireworks you can purchase in a tent during the 4th of July- NEW PATRIOT ACT with twelve special effect shells, all with jumbo bursts…. even better than The Vengeful Texan! – Well, shouldn’t that be enough to question this monstrosity?

But of course I rail about this when I know the answer. Certainly there was never a plan to truly look into the concerns raised by so many scholars, by the ACLU, by the lucid of the nation. It is next to impossible to gain back what you lose when laws like this are enacted. Those who had questions at the time of its implementation (only a little over a month after 9/11) were pretty much assured that they would be blamed for any attacks should they not vote the thing in. It is no excuse, but it does explain quite a lot.

This may not seem like an important topic, that of the autopen, but I think the willful and disgraceful behavior regarding this bill presents the act for what it is: the ultimate in rubber-stamping. The Patriot Act required consideration at the sunset of bill provisions, even the loons who set it up seemed to intend this, but this consideration was not given.

There are some questioning the validity of an autopen signing, but this issue was already explored by the Justice Department in 2005, in case just such an instance arose. They decided the word “sign” does not necessarily mean an active signature by the president himself. That must have come from the person who fed another guy “it depends on what the meaning of the word is is”. Who are these deranged language contortionists?

The actual act of rubber-stamping this bill really doesn’t matter much since our president seems to be something of an autopen himself. I’m simply lost in the symbolism.

And if you question my assertion that there is no manner that more completely exhibits your utter disdain and disengagement from the topic at hand than the use of the autopen, I leave you with this:

Former US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, used an autopen for letters of condolence to families of the US military dead.

Kathleen Wallace Peine welcomes reader response. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Kathleen.