“Whatever is going on inside the White House, from the outside it looks like moral collapse — a complete failure of purpose and loss of direction.” -Paul Krugman
“The captors [Republicans] will win this battle, if they haven’t already by the time you read this, because Obama has seemingly surrendered his once-considerable abilities to act, decide or think.” -Frank Rich
Before the 2008 election, an argument often leveled against Obama was that he wasn’t enough of a fighter, that he was too enamored of compromise, and that the Republicans in Washington (not the compromising sort) would chew him up and spit him out. Paul Krugman made this argument many times, and — silly me — I just looked at Obama’s anti-Iraq war speech as evidence that Obama really had the backbone to stand up for something in the face of overwhelming opposition.
I should have paid more attention to his FISA vote. I may have been wrong about Obama.
We’re pretty deep into Obama’s term, and it’s now almost impossible to keep making excuses for him. Frank Rich and Paul Krugman both went apoplectic over Obama’s performance last week, when he froze federal salaries and refused to take a stand against the Republicans’ disastrous plan to extend the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy, but last week was just a continuation of what we’ve seen from Obama since the election. Where is the change?
Economically, Obama has been nothing more than pedestrian at best. Forget for the moment my pet peeve that he failed to do what I would have done, and fire John Dugan. He surrounds himself with retreads like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, argues for a one-time stimulus bill that was too small and that would probably have been on the order of what George W. Bush would have argued for had he still been President (TARP, remember, was all GWB), doesn’t push very hard for anything specific in the financial reform bill, much less for actually bringing back something like Glass-Steagall and for actually breaking up the too-big-to-fail banks, doesn’t fight for Elizabeth Warren, and now freezes federal salaries and makes a show of wanting to compromise with one of the most perverted and extreme cohorts of legislators that the Republican Party has sent to Washington in many years. Thinking about all this, the tone of Rich’s and Krugman’s columns makes more sense.
But it’s not just economics.
Foreign policy: yep, still in Iraq, still in Afganistan. No end in sight to either of those wars. Escalating military force in Yemen. Still remotely possible that we’ll give Netanyahu what he wants, and attack Iran. Gates still the secretary of defense. Where is the change?
What about executive power? Just like Bush, Obama’s Justice Department is still abusing the “state secrets” privilege to prevent victims of torture and other executive branch lawlessness from even having a day in court. Obama is cracking down on government whistleblowers more than Bush did. Guantanamo? Still open. Obama supports and indefinite detentions not only in cases where there has been no trial, but even in cases where the detainee has been acquitted at trial, on the grounds that the President knows that the imprisoned is a Terrorist. Like Bush, Obama says, “Trust me,” but what’s worse than Bush is that now, both the left and the right in this country say “ok, we will.” Worse than Bush, Obama says that he can kill American citizens on Presidential say-so alone — no evidence or trial required. You don’t have to be Glenn Greenwald to figure out that the rule of law in America has not seen a renaissance under Obama’s leadership. Where is the change?
In the recent past, I have sometimes been right when many of my colleagues and friends who disagreed with me have been wrong. That the Iraq war turned into such a quagmire isn’t something to gloat about, but it did remind me that sometimes I have been the only one in the room that was making any sense. It’s good for the ol’ self-esteem.
Then, there’s Obama. I’m afraid I may have been woefully wrong about him. Oh, well… being wrong is good for the ol’ humility.
Before the election, people like Daniel Larison said that Obama was a garden-variety politician that people were too willing to project their own hopes and desires onto. I thought that was a petty and cynical way of looking at my guy from Hyde Park, but I’m afraid Larison will be proven right in the end. I feel let down, and maybe it is because I projected what I wanted to see onto Obama. I certainly didn’t fantasize about Bill Clinton Lite, but it seems like that’s the Obama we’ve got.
So maybe I’m going to have to eat a bunch of crow. It won’t be the first time. I’m sure I’ll survive it.
Despite my disillusionment about Obama, I still think it’s absurd that someone like Hillary Clinton would have been much better. Apart from being a woman President (certainly a good thing), there’s nothing to suggest that Clinton would have done anything to significantly alter the status-quo. Even more than Obama, Hillary exemplifies the late-imperial American status quo. Although Obama’s been a disappointment, that doesn’t mean that I should have voted for Hillary. You should read this ex-Hillary supporter’s description of their Obama disappointment though.