a lot of disappointments, one infuriating failure

(Image from sodahead.com)

Just over a year and a half in, and while I certainly don’t regret voting for Obama, I am mostly disappointed in his Presidency. But looking more closely at what I like and don’t like about his performance to this point, I think that there is a sharp division between those things that he has done that disappoint me and those things that he has done that anger me.

I am disappointed that Obama has failed to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” yet. According to the Palm Center at UCSB [PDF], it is within his power to do this without legislative approval. Instead, he has waited . . . and waited . . . and waited, hoping for a legislative solution. The man who promised to “work with military leaders to repeal” DADT now has no mention of LGBT issues on either the White House “Issues” page or the Organizing for America “Issues” page. While I think (hope) that a repeal to DADT will come under this administration, I feel like he’s allowing this to drag on to avoid taking a potentially politically harmful stance on the issue, which is disappointing. Doesn’t anger me, but certainly disappoints me.

I am disappointed that Obama didn’t push harder for a public option in the health care reform process. To be clear, I am not saying that I am disappointed in Obama because a public option didn’t get included in the final bill. Rather, I am disappointed because the same man who said “any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange . . . including a public option to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest” is supposedly in charge of the administration whose lack of support “made keeping the public option in the bill an uphill struggle“. But I recognize that the very passing of a health care reform bill is a huge deal, so while the exclusion of a public option is a disappointment, it is only that.

I could go on, but all of the things that disappoint me about Obama’s presidency are pretty much in the same vein. I’d like him to be more progressive, and in many cases I think that he promised to be more progressive, but I’m willing to concede that this is all part of politics: politician makes promises, politician breaks those promises if politically convenient.

But there is one issue that straight up angers me. This is an issue that I believe is so important that it should be above politics, and Barack Obama had the chance to treat it as such and failed. He had the chance to take the right stance, even if it resulted in falling poll numbers, even if it severely impacted his ability to pass his agenda and get re-elected, and he has not. That issue is the treatment of detainees in the war on terror and, more generally, the eroding respect for civil liberties that started under the Bush administration and continue uninterrupted under the Obama administration.

Glenn Greenwald at Salon has documented this with much more depth and experience than I could ever bring to bear on the subject, but basically, it comes down to this: is it really worth it to protect America if it requires the sacrifice of the very principles that make us America?

It infuriates me that Obama has refused to investigate whether out nation’s leaders committed war crimes. “Look forward, not backward”? Are you joking? It almost makes me want to go out and get arrested, so I can use that as my defense. Rather than holding the people who make the decisions that will resonate throughout the world and history to a lower standard, we should be holding them to a higher standard and finding out the truth of what they have done. Best case scenario, America discovers that we’ve let our imaginations run away with us, and that the reports of torture that we heard were just a few bad apples in an otherwise generally well-behaved intelligence branch. Worst case scenario, we find out that the things that the rest of the world already thinks we’ve done are in fact the things that we did do, and we can start trying to make that right.

It infuriates me that Obama continues to use the “state secrets” defense to keep cases from being heard, even in cases like Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. where the extraordinary renditions at issue are already public. The Declaration of Independence states “That to secure [the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” I cannot and will not give my government my consent when they will not allow me to review the actions done in my name.

There are a lot of things that I would like Obama to have done during his presidency, most of which he has not achieved. I’m willing to give him a lot of leeway on that, because the United States is a huge entity with a lot of inertia, and big changes often take time. I’m upset with the pace of his improvements, but I do honestly believe that on almost all accounts, Obama is trying to shift the direction of this country closer to the direction that I would like to see it go. But I cannot condone the sacrificing of our core principles, and our holding other governments to a higher standard than that to which we hold ourselves. That is what angers me.

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One Response to a lot of disappointments, one infuriating failure

  1. Nicholas Kramer says:

    I am proud to say I did not vote for Obama, but I see where you are coming from in terms of your disappointment and anger. However, having worked in Congress, it is my belief that it matters very little who is in office in terms of the bulk of federal government policy and resource allocation. We could elect, for instance, the 100 best people as US Senators and very little of substance would change – it is the system (both electoral and governmental) that is broken, and it is that system that must change. This is why I never bought into the whole Obama craze of excitement about “Change”, and why I’m not particularly surprised with the lack of progress thus far in his administration.

    You write that “I cannot and will not give my government my consent when they will not allow me to review the actions done in my name.” This is a laudable statement, but so long as you pay taxes, vote in elections, and go about living your day-to-day life while your government commits its many crimes, you are giving it your consent. And, my above statements asides, while it would be nice to think that we could elect a leader who would actually lead us in a positive direction, most politicians will always do what is politically advantageous for them at any given time (Russ Feingold being the obvious exception). If a substantial portion of the American people actually cared about torture (or whatever else), the President would respond accordingly. (Similarly, if enough Americans had been against the wars in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, they would have never happened, or at least would have ended long ago).

    Of course this ignores the fact that the system is biased toward the powerful, and the powerful have always gone to great lengths to manipulate the public, so that could be said to mitigate the effects of our collective idiocy to some degree. Nevertheless, we are responsible for the actions of our government, whether we like it or not.

    For more on Guantanamo and torture, I’d suggest Andy Worthington’s “The Guantanamo Files” ( http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/the-guantanamo-files/ ). Also, Scott Horton of Harper’s has done great work on torture and murder at Guantanamo ( http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/01/hbc-90006368 ). He estimates that the confirmed and documented number of people tortured to death in US custody in the “War on Terror” is now over 100. I think it’s safe to say that our imaginations have not run away with us.

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