We expected broken promises. But the gap between the soaring expectations that accompanied Barack Obama’s inauguration and his wretched performance is the broadest such chasm in recent historical memory. This guy makes Bill Clinton look like a paragon of integrity and follow-through.
From healthcare to torture to the economy to war, Obama has reneged on pledges real and implied. So timid and so owned is he that he trembles in fear of offending, of all things, the government of Turkey. Obama has officially reneged on his campaign promise to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. When a president doesn’t have the ‘nads to annoy the Turks, why does he bother to show up for work in the morning?
Obama is useless. Worse than that, he’s dangerous. Which is why, if he has any patriotism left after the thousands of meetings he has sat through with corporate contributors, blood-sucking lobbyists and corrupt politicians, he ought to step down now–before he drags us further into the abyss
But Matt Taibbi’s recent post —“Minority Report a la Obama,” written more in sorrow than anger, indicates the serious left’s degree is disillusion with the new administration. There are few more interesting or entertaining writers than Taibbi around today. He covers politics for Rolling Stone and sports for Men’s Journal, and his Taibblog is worth checking out.
I had an interesting discussion with a close friend of mine yesterday, a former journalist who quit the business years ago to get a real job. We were talking about our early impressions of Obama, and while I kept harping on the bailouts and Obama’s bizarre decision to hand the Treasury over to Goldman, Sachs, my friend kept coming back to Gitmo. He said he could understand how Obama, a young president with no background in economics continually blasted for his lack of experience, could be bullied into handing over his economic policy to worn-out Wall Street gorgons like Larry Summers and Bob Rubin. Politically, you can see how that could happen. It’s not as if, my friend pointed out, Obama could just hand over the Treasury to Paul Krugman and Simon Johnson and expect the Democratic Party honchos to go for it without complaint. The Rubin/Summers axis was always going to be the default policy setting for a Democratic president, and it would require spending a lot of political capital to switch to a new paradigm.
Of course there’s the other notion, which is that these pro-Evremonde economic policies are actually an accurate reflection of who Obama is. Everywhere I go I keep hearing people say, “How come Obama is letting X happen or Y happen, how come he’s letting his underlings do Z? It seems so unlike him!” It reminds me of the way people view leaders in Russia. Going back centuries, Russian peasants wrote impassioned letters to the Tsar, sure he was completely unaware that his Grand Dukes were all thieves and his okhranka agents were rapists and torturers. Now that Obama’s on the scene a lot of Americans are demonstrating a similar public desire to believe in the good king. Obama seems so decent and intelligent, it’s hard to imagine that his act is just a big sales job, that he’s really just a smooth-talking shill for a bunch of Wall Street bankers and Pentagon generals. So people tend to scramble for the exculpatory explanation: he’s being tricked, he’s unaware, his hands are tied, and so on.
You can sort of see that, maybe, with the economic policies. If you were bent on clinging to the good-king fantasy, you could hold your nose and imagine that Summers/Rubin cast a spell on poor Barack. But this Gitmo thing is different. It’s not like Barack Obama doesn’t know what habeas corpus is. The guy was a freaking constitutional law professor (or “senior lecturer,” if that controversy over his academic title still rankles you). And yet Obama seems to be determined to preserve the whole concept of preventive detention, which is every bit as jarring and upsetting as the preemptive invasion concept Bush introduced. In fact this whole Gitmo episode should serve as a reminder that the upper crust of the current Democratic leadership has not, for the most part, even publicly renounced preemption.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t get what Obama is doing here. He could have closed Gitmo, created some sort of tribunal system for the current inmates, and then stood up on a pedestal and announced that the United States is no longer a country that detains people without due process. And as soon as he finished that speech he could have gone on doing what presidents have done for decades before Bush, finding the soft spots in international criminal/military law to basically arrest and detain anyone whom they considered a genuinely dangerous suspect. But what he’s done instead of that, seemingly, is specifically endorse preventive detention. He apparently is anxious for people to know that that is in fact what he stands for.
Which to me is just… weird. I don’t get it. What does he gain from making this move? I know what we lose, but what does he gain? Votes in Alabama three years from now? Is that really what this is all about?