Thursday, May 14, 2009

Obama, the dark side, and us

The President's about face on complying with a court order to release more torture pictures is unalloyed bad news. His various excuses for the changed posture are transparently feeble. Doubt this assertion? Read Dan Froomkin's careful point by point dissection.

Joan Walsh in Salon caught what so many of us hoped we'd never have to see:

For the first time in his presidency, I had the sick feeling that Obama was lying in his remarks on the photos...

Actually, I think Obama, like all politicians, tells falsehoods all the time on policy issues. To take one example, I don't think he is a "fierce advocate for equality of gay and lesbian Americans." Past behavior belies this. Instead, I think he knows what he has to say to stay well positioned on LGBT issues and he will do some fraction of it for us, if it doesn't him cost too much. I don't consider that sort of posturing to be "lying" from a politician. Actual "lying" occurs when the politician asserts important things that are substantively untrue, knows it, and believes that the false statement is nonetheless necessary. Like Walsh, I think that was what we saw yesterday.

Withholding the photos is not the first and won't be the last dip by the Obama administration into the dark side. Apparently they've taken a decision to resuscitate the Bush-era kangaroo courts -- the so-called military commissions -- for Guantanamo inmates. Those are the lucky captives; the administration apparently intends to hold some large number of prisoners who have had no legal process at all in a black hole prison in Afghanistan. At home, they are hanging on for dear life to a "state secrets privilege" to deny people the chance to bring government misdeeds to court. With less notice, they are continuing the arbitrary anti-Muslim border policies of their predecessors, harassing visitors and citizens at entry and excluding a distinguished scholar in an apparent case of pure prejudice.

The ongoing allegiance to the dark side scares the crap out of so many of us who have supported Obama not only because it undermines the constitution, the historic rule of law, and chances for a more peaceful international order, but also because this administration came into office with such great prospects of doing real good for millions of us. We want universal health care, decent education, an economy that rewards its members, and a planet that humans can go on making civilization in. We want, and need, the good parts of Obama's program to succeed. And we don't want this attractive politician to fail.

Instead Obama's policies demonstrate that the President is likely to further mire us in a failed war of empire in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With no discernible end point and no exit strategy, that's a recipe for another failed presidency. Years of Republican battering about Democrats being weak on "national security" force any Democrat to prove he or she is "butch enough" to run a nice little war. The dark side stuff is the symbolic obeisance an aspiring warrior has to give to our authoritarians and military establishment.

So okay -- it's time to get used to some truths. We didn't elect a magician; we elected a very capable and attractive politician. He'll be as good a President for the citizens of this country as we make him. That means we -- the people who want a peaceful future and an equitable society -- don't get to go home and rest. We have work to do, as those who came before us have long known.


Darlene said...

I have a further disappointment with Obama. I heard his talk in New Mexico yesterday on C-Span and heard him proclaim that a single payer health plan would probably be the way to go if we were starting from scratch, but would be too difficult to install now.
Does that make you think he is no longer willing to take on the lobbying bunch?

We have to constantly be on the alert and hold the politicians feet to the fire if this is truly a government BY the people.

Jane R said...

Thanks, Jan. I've linked to your post.

hleighh said...

I told KV about this post this morning and we were talking about how much we like your blog, and she said, "I want to be Jan."

Any suggestions?

Nell said...

Darlene, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but he was never going near single payer. He said what you heard from New Mexico all during the campaign.

The serious danger now is that, having pre-conceded that the health care reform will be something the insurance companies sign off on, Dems will bow to the insurers' refusal to support a proposal that includes a public pool (for people who don't have employer-tied health insurance, or who'd prefer the public plan).

Competition from that public plan is the only way to force the private providers into line -- but they're determined to fight it and I find our "allies" a lot less determined to fight for it.

The way they've systematically shut out single payer advocates from their carefully scripted public forums is another indication that the public plan is also on the chopping block: if they were serious about it, they'd welcome the presence of advocates for a more radical proposal so they could press the insurers to settle for their middle-of-the-road plan.

It's like this all down the list of issues with his administration. I appreciate the point that he'll be as good as we make him, but he's taking the wrong fork on so many policy roads at once that there's no comfort in "we're getting real change X here, so we can live with doomed sellout Y over there".

And so many of those wrong steps will do irreversible harm: McChrystal and his "kill teams" to Afghanistan, revival of the military commissions, indefinite detention for a hundred prisoners who they don't want to release or try in their new improved kangaroo court...

Not to mention the trillion-dollar gorilla, the utterly un-transparent handout to the banksters with almost no meaningful help to the underwater debtors.

On how many fronts can a person make a meaningful contribution?

Nell said...

Health-care sellout underway.

It's going to take some highly organized pressure just to drag the middle-of-the-road option back onto the table.

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