Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The end of Barack Obama

First, do no harm.

That's where I start with my philosophy of governance. Maybe it sounds conservative. I don't think conservatives would have me as one of their own, though, because I think it is also wise—where possible—for republican government (as the servant of the community) to provide services we can't otherwise provide for ourselves. A safety net for the poor. Universal healthcare. NPR. Stuff like that.

But a government charged with providing such services to—and on behalf of—the citizens has a basic obligation that supersedes those: Do no harm.

Do not torture people.

Do not lock away people without due process of law.

Do not eavesdrop on people without a warrant.

Do not subject people to cruel and unusual punishment.

Do not deprive people of their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

If a government cannot do those things, the rest—the social services, the safety net—is just a payoff. If a government cannot do those things, then it is probably no longer a government that derives its power from its citizens, but instead is (or is on its way to becoming) a government that rules its citizens. It's not always easy to tell the difference between the two, but the distinction is there—and it is important.

I have lost confidence in the ability of Barack Obama to first do no harm.

He is in charge of a government that—despite promises to end torture—is clearly trying to break the will of one of its own citizens in a military brig.

He is in charge of a government that prosecutes suspected terrorists in whichever format seems most likely to guarantee a win for prosecutors, instead of giving every suspect equal access to the law.

He is in charge of a government that seeks ever more-expansive ways to spy upon its citizens. He is in charge of a government that claims the right to kill a citizen without any kind of legal proceeding. He is in charge of a government that proclaims itself legally immune from efforts to hold it accountable for transgressions. And he is in charge of an administration that reserves to itself the right to make war without permission from Congress.

I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because I was mad. I was mad at George W. Bush for doing everything I've listed above, plus a few other things. I was kind of mad about Republican governance that seemed interested, mainly, in catering to the interests of the rich, but I was mostly mad about how the Bush Administration had reserved to itself unlimited, abusive wartime powers—in the name of prosecuting a war without end. Obama seemed to promise more than that.

He has delivered, on these matters, almost exactly what came before. I can no longer trust Barack Obama, or the Democratic Party, to be truly on the side of civil liberties.

Adam Serwer, a liberal, wrote: "Point is, though, if you voted for Obama in 2008 expecting a restoration of the rule of law, a rejection of the Bush national-security paradigm or even a candidate who wouldn't rush headlong into wars in Muslim countries expecting to turn back the current of history through mere force of will, then you don't have a candidate for 2012. You probably don't have a party either." He is right.

Conor Friedersdorf, a conservative, wrote: "Since his January 2009 inauguration, President Obama has embraced positions that he denounced as a candidate, presided over a War on Drugs every bit as absurd as it's always been, asserted the unchecked, unreviewable power to name American citizens enemy combatants and assassinate them, and launched a war without seeking Congressional authorization. His attorney general's efforts to live up to his boss' campaign rhetoric have been thwarted at every turn. And presiding over the disgraceful treatment of Bradley Manning, he has lost the right even to tout his record on detainee policy. On civil liberties, President Obama cannot be trusted." He is right.

For a long time, I have paused before the decision I find I must make. Democrats are awful, but Republicans are worse. They'll do all of the above—gleefully, without any pretense of a furrowed brow—and they'll do it while doing everything they can to exacerbate inequality between the very rich and the rest of us.

After the darkness of the Bush years, I came to convince myself that the lesser evil is, well, less evil. At some point, though, the lesser evil is still too evil to support. I don't believe Barack Obama is evil. I believe he is better than his opponents—but not in the critical realm where the "do no harm" rule applies. And I do not believe he is good enough.

The president has announced his re-election campaign. At this point, he will not have my vote. He has until November 2012 to earn it back. I do not expect he will.


Steve said...

Joel: While I don't agree fully with your critique of Bush, I agree enough to join in saying we don't need a third Bush term, or two Republican Parties.


Phawker said...

Megadittoes, I am sad to say.

Longus said...

Unfortunately, very, very true. I wonder if there is anything to say in his defense ? Such as: Every change in policies had to be 'bought' with so many concessions to the conservatives, that no single 'democratic fingerprint' remained. But what would one have to expect in a country/government roughly divided 50% republican,50% democratic ... ?

namefromthepast said...


I don't agree with some of your assumptions concerning NPR, healthcare, safety net-but your honesty in evaluating Obama's actions rather than his empty words is great.

Obama, and his crowd, come from the standpoint that civil liberties come from the government so government can take them away. Dismissing civil liberties is not a violation of his personal beliefs.

I still believe garden variety liberals are basically good people who want what is best for the ordinary person but don't stop to think about the void between what is promised by big government and what can be delivered.

"We can't be so fixated on our desire to preserve the rights of ordinary Americans ..." Bill Clinton USA Today March 11 1993