Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Presidential inauguration contradictions

A good leftist like me would have to be a complete cad not to thrill to President Obama's second inaugural address. As much as someone who can be elected President is ever likely to, he presented a vision of the sort of country I wish this were: inclusive, generous, responsible, intelligent, fair-minded … No, the real country is not very worthy of any of those adjectives, but I don't mind someone at the center of the political world reminding us that these are ideals worth aspiring to.

James Fallows who has heard and studied a lot of Presidential speechifying call the speech "startling" and "a departure for him," That accords very much with my reaction: The Prez has seldom allowed himself the license to try to win by inspiring. Probably temperamentally, and certainly politically, it has served the guy well to modulate his utterances, never risking being perceived as too passionate. In this one, he dared a vision of our history formed in our citizens' struggles for democracy and equality. Good for him.

Yet even on this special day, I can't let him off the hook on what he obviously hopes he never has to talk about: the country's continued flouting of international law and human rights constraints in its overseas power projections. U.S. drones killed three people in Yemen today; are we at war there? With who? If so, for what? This President isn't saying beyond broadly claiming uncontested and secretive authority to label individuals "militants" and "al Qaeda" and blow them and anyone unlucky enough to be nearby to smithereens. This is not how a civilized democracy behaves.

And we didn't hear more today from this President who boldly outlawed torture on coming into office, but refused to make that edict stick by exacting any accountability from torturers and their enablers. Matthew W. Daloisio of Witness against Torture marked the inauguration with this truth:

Two presidents now, Bush and Obama, have worked to seal America’s identity as a torture nation, based in nearly incomprehensible hypocrisy and delusional commitment to the myth of America’s essential and unerring virtue.

Some people refuse to forget unfulfilled promises:

Yes, Mr. President, we still ask better of you. We take seriously the aspirations for a better country you presented today. We have no choice but to remind you there's more you must do.

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