Like a lot of people, I have been willing to cut President Obama a lot of slack. A vast network of incompetence, abuse, and secrecy can’t be turned around over night. But I am increasingly disturbed by clear signs that Obama, perhaps in the interest of finding “common ground”, is not making the changes he was elected to make.
The latest of these (see the link, above left) involve yet another case in which Obama, apparently terrified that Americans will find him inadequately ruthless, refuses to stop abuse, torture, and arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. He thinks that one of these detainees, after release, will conduct an act of terrorism and the Republicans will gleefully make the case that only assholes like Dick Cheney can stand up to the forces of darkness. Even worse: it might look like George W. Bush was right.
It’s not an isolated incident. Obama has refused to release photographs showing more prisoner abuse in Iraq. He hasn’t changed U.S. policy to Cuba, or Iran, or North Korea. He supported the amnesty for telecoms that violated your right to privacy at the behest of Homeland Security. He won’t reveal new details about who the government is spying on without warrants or how often they do it.
The photograph issue is a telling point– during the campaign, Obama argued that transparency and honesty would ultimately increase respect for America around the world. He can’t now argue that circumstances have changed. He can’t argue that he has new information that he didn’t have during the campaign. He can’t argue that there is a risk to American soldiers that did not exist during the campaign. The only thing that changed is that Obama now has the power to do what he said he would do. He promised something. He didn’t deliver.
Just another politician? It’s beginning to look like it. The style is different, yes, but so far Obama has not staked out a path that is substantively different from what we could have expected under McCain, or even Bush. What we have now are the same policies, but provided with more thoughtful, coherent explanations.
He is also trying to block investigations into the Justice Department’s procedures for authorizing torture during the Bush Administration. In other words, so you tortured a few Arabs? Big deal. We’ll just let bygones be bygones and let those evil lawyers and judges go on their merry ways while the victims of their actions lay shattered and broken in their prison cells.
Finally– his economic “reforms” leave in place most of the lousy structures and policies that created this massive economic disaster in the first place.
Is this what the majority of Americans– more than ever voted for Bush– wanted? Is this what they voted for? What is going on here? Do they have a right to feel betrayed?
Bush, with a razor thin margin of votes, took the U.S. into a disastrous war, violated the constitution, and destroyed the economy. Obama, with a substantial majority– won against a moderate Republican– seems afraid to do anything he promised the voters he would do.
The world is crying for a dramatic gesture from this government that things are different.
So far, things seem mighty same.
The story in the New York Times.
Obama prides himself on his ability to build consensus, to seek common ground, to forge compromise. Since the Republicans pride themselves on the fact that they are always so right that they don’t need to listen to anybody else (which is not to say that some Democrats believe the same thing), this is a win-win situation for conservatives. I fear that Obama’s health care proposals will be so compromised by this process that they will fail, which will allow the Republicans to proclaim that it was always a bad idea.
* Note: while some liberals can be as doctrinaire as conservatives (and conservatives love insisting they all are), it is also true that a core liberal belief is that there is some value in all points of view– precisely the kind of moral “flexibility” Conservatives say they detest. Can’t have it both ways: which is it?
On Detainee Rights
“Second, Democrats learned never to go to war against the combined forces of corporate America. Today, whether it is on the stimulus, on health care or any other issue, the Obama administration and the Congressional leadership go out of their way to court corporate interests, to win corporate support and to at least divide corporate opposition.”
David Brooks, NYTimes, June 30, 2009
Added July 24: It should be noted that a few days after the above comments, David Brooks complained bitterly that Obama was pursuing the radical agenda of the left wing of the Democratic party and not giving adequate respect to moderation and compromise.
Okay Brooks, which is it?