The Obama Presidency: Hope Deferred

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.

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7 thoughts on “The Obama Presidency: Hope Deferred

  1. As someone who was more of a Clinton supporter than an Obama supporter, I think there’s this rush to be somewhat unfair to the President. Let’s look at the mess he walked into. The economy was much worse than he thought. He realized he couldn’t just pull troops out of a mess that this country started; two messes in fact. He pushed through health care, which was good and bad, but forgot James Carville’s words in 1992: “It’s the economy, Stupid.”

    I’m a military kid, so even though I’m liberal I have a much different perspective on its use than most liberals do. I do believe there are times when you just have to send the troops in. President’s don’t go into this stuff most of the time with a war agenda; they get a lot of information from a lot of sources and go with what’s best most of the time. I think Bush as a fighter pilot (trained anyway) was much more inclined to be gung ho than Obama is, and in a way, Obama reacts like you mention, a baby boomer never really touched by war. I think that’s more his failing in how this war stuff goes than anything else; he’s either not decisive enough in pulling the trigger soon enough or debates with himself and others too long and in essence waits for things to work out for themselves.

    I know you want more, but I think you’re pretty much getting the best that can be done at this juncture. I think by comparison he’s much better than Bush ever could be, but not quite what Clinton developed into as a true career politician. Overall I think this proves just how hard the job is, and that intellect sometimes takes a back seat to true political skills.

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  2. Mitch:
    I agree that people have been unfair to Obama–and I think he’s done a very good job on the domestic front–especially given the Republican intransigence.

    I disagree with your premise (as I’m not a military kid) that Obama “couldn’t just pull troops out of a mess that this country started.” That’s exactly what I want him to do. Our problems at home are exacerbated by the immense waste of blood and treasure expended on these follies–and they are impossible to bend to our will in any form that you could call a victory.

    But my biggest gripe with Obama–as with the Bush Administration–is his refusal to dismantle the repressive American regime of torture and violation of civil liberties. His recent statement that the torturous treatment of Private Bradley Manning, the accused supplier of documents to Wikileaks, is receiving “better treatment than he probably deserves” has totally negated his prior principled stands on ending torture. Private Manning is shackled, in a cell for 23 hrs a day and has been beaten.

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    1. I have to admit this, I don’t care about Private Manning one iota. There is no draft, which means he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, and he knew what he was risking when he did what he did. Full civil liberties don’t extend to military personnel; never have and never will, otherwise you have no structure and discipline. It’s the reason I didn’t join the military, even though I had my pass to the Air Force Academy; I knew what it was all about. No sympathy for traitors to the country.

      As to the rest, that’s a different story. I’ll admit to being conflicted by it all. I don’t want torture, yet I want to be safe. I don’t support torture, but if it were my family member and I needed information I’d do it in a heartbeat. If I’d learned that Saddam Hussein had hired someone to kill my father; we’d have been in Iraq a lot sooner than Bush put us there and I’d have told people why; yeah, that’s just me, but you catch my drift. Things always seem so easy but they’re not. We both know that Dukakis lost the election in 1988 when he showed no passion when asked what he’d do if his daughter was raped and beaten to death; true or not, I always try to put myself into the position of the person that has to make the tough decision and try to personalize it to a degree.

      Some things are easy in my mind; gun control, gays in the military, the right to women making their own decisions about their bodies. Terrorists wanting to do bad things in my country that could kill a lot of people and wanting information to stop it, especially if it could kill members of my family or my friends… nope, for me, that’s not so easy a call.

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  3. Obama is on record as a candidate stating that things like forced nakedness and physical beatings is torture. Now he states that the Pentagon assures him that such treatment is necessary and he buys it?

    By my lights, Manning is exposing deep corruption and should not be imprisoned, but rather be protected under by federal whistleblower protection law.

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    1. There is no whistleblower law for military personnel unless someone breaks the law; it’s a totally different animal. He’s a traitor in my eyes.

      As to the other, well, candidate Obama said a lot of things I wasn’t believing, but so was almost every other candidate. The only person who really had any idea of what could possibly happen was Clinton, and she didn’t get the nomination. Frankly, I’ve worked hard on coming to grips with our political system in that most of the time we elect the person we dislike the least rather than support the person we know is the best candidate for the job. That’s what democracy is all about, and for now, it’s the best system we have. Remember, Nixon was elected in ’68 by saying he would get us out of Vietnam, and it took 7 years to do it.

      Ugh, I mentioned Nixon; now I have to go wash up. lol

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  4. Dorothy

    I groan to tell you my son is graduating from college and going into the Army. He rejects the code of self serving, money grubbing his peers are into and wants to serve and have adventure. (Big Groan here) I don’t try to talk him out of it. He is, in fact, a man. As a Mommy I send him off to a world of poor choices. Lets talk about OTB in Syracuse. Tell the Mayor that if the Republicans are not doing it, then it doesn’t bring in money. They do know how to sniff out a buck. We had a Tavern and had Quik Draw for awhile. We got 8 cents on the dollar and had to give up counter space and pay labor to run it. It was not a cost benefit. We need an industry with 500+ jobs in Syracuse and street repair, not money sucking OTB.

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