I’m one of those people incessantly wringing their hands about President Obama’s performance since his election. I was an early and fervent supporter, publicly endorsing him in January of 2007 in a post entitled: “He’s Ready, Why Wait? Obama in ’08!” My top reason was explicitly clear:
National politics isn’t always relevant to our everyday lives. However, in an attempt to spread the freedoms of democracy, the current Commander in Chief sends young men and women overseas to die, tortures enemy combatants and suspends the constitutional rights of foreigners and citizens alike. It doesn’t get more relevant than that. We need a strong advocate for the dismantling of our current policies. Obama is one of the few declared candidates that has opposed the war since the beginning.
Many of my other rationales for the Obama candidacy have been fulfilled: as compromised as they are, he did muscle financial reform and health care reform through Congress–and has done scores of other amazing things, eg: reforming college loans, rescuing the domestic auto industry and eliminating the discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell.” military policy. However, a major flaw still exists, calling into question for me what Wonkette recently called Obama’s “hopey, changey thing.”
Yes, that terrible angst-filled dread about torture and unilateral war and the Bush/Cheney axis of evil has not been eliminated–in fact, it seems to have been exacerbated.
Now we’re in a new war in Libya, Afghanistan is still a revolting mess (catch the recent expose on American death squads killing innocent Afghan civilians?), the Iraq War will apparently never end, Gitmo is still open and Obama is now supportive of the kind of torture he campaigned against, when he “lent his personal weight behind prisoner abuse” in the case of Bradley Manning, the American soldier accused of giving confidential material to Wikileaks.
Obama’s leadership style is contradictory to the point of being schizophrenic. My theory on his failure to lead on issues of war and torture is that he has fallen in love with the military. Obama, like so many others born at the tail end of the baby boom, has had no real contact with military service. With no draft and no compulsory wars, most tail-ender baby boomers’ experience with the military has been limited to renting Platoon or Top Gun DVD’s at Blockbuster. Obama, as commander-in-chief, has gotten a close-up view of the military and likes what he sees: can-do attitude, racial diversity, meritocratic advancement and a focus on technology and data management. The President positively shines when he visits military posts and shoots some hoops with the troops.
I believe this attitude has clouded Obama’s judgement–because the fog of war is never far behind the outer sheen of the military–lies, death, destruction, psychosis and a warped belief in force to solve problems. Earlier Boomers got a whiff of the Viet Nam conflict and its decades-long twisting and sullying of our nation’s soul. Say what you will about our most self-involved generation, Baby Boomers don’t usually buy into this military shit. But under the younger Obama, we seem to have traded the “Viet Nam syndrome” that conservatives believed undermined any support for the military, for a new, uncritical belief in military prowess. Remember that priceless quote from Secretary of State Madeline Albright, trying to shame then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell into going to war in the Balkans: “what’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about, if we can’t use it?”
As Bob Herbert mentioned in his farewell column at the NY Times, as a nation we seem to have lost our way:
Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home. New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed.
I am certain we need new ideas in this country. I wonder if I will reach the point when I also will believe that we need new leadership. Obama’s lucky that the GOP has a bunch of idiots waiting in the wings as challengers.