Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ambition Makes You Look Pretty Ugly...

Title lyrics from Radiohead's "Paranoid Android."

One of the most frustrating facets of any conversation with fervent opponents of President Obama is their unwillingness or inability to see that they are pretty much railing against an administration they were supporting just 8-plus months ago. Indeed, they never seem to argue against Obama as currently constituted, but instead against an apparition of a presidency that had no shot of ever materializing in the first place.

Just as the American left continues to huff the intoxicating fumes of a primary season long since past, the right continues to focus its ire on a fanciful combination of standard political rhetoric and old-fashioned scaremongering. Neither seems to understand that the Obama of the imagination, that master of oratory who would sweep us into an age of world peace and harmony and convert the United States into a vast Utopia, existed only in the minds of those who chose to believe it out of desperation and those that needed it as a large, slow-moving target at which to foist all angst and antagonism.

The reality is, as always, a lot more pedestrian. To the delight of the right, it seems that you don't need a real liberal Leviathan to stir the masses; a mirage works just as well. But for the left, the Inauguration hangover seems to linger. But, as Tom Engelhardt and David Swanson noted, it has been difficult to distinguish Obama's 8 months from a third Bush term. I also discussed some glaring similarities a month prior, but there are plenty more. To wit:

Obama's campaign continually called for a return to transparency in government. A return to the rule of law. Ad infintum. Ad nauseum. He called Bush's use of signing statements an "abuse." Yet, Obama has already committed such "abuses" several times during his presidency, drawing criticism from members of both parties. His defense is of course a familiar refrain: The statements "have been based on mainstream interpretations of the Constitution and echo reservations routinely expressed by presidents of both parties" and "he could disregard the negotiation instructions under his power to conduct foreign relations." In other words: "Screw off, Congress."

The really titillating part of that defense is the "routinely expressed" part. There are many things that have been done by previous presidents, but repetition does not exonerate. And lest we forget, that theorem goes against what seemed to constitute the only plank in his platform, namely a break from the past.

During the campaign, Obama also promised to curb government abuses regarding prisoners in the War on Amorphous Nouns. Despite all the handwringing from Cheney et al, there was never any danger of mass prosecutions for the torture of American prisoners at Guantanamo or elsewhere.

First, never in American history has a government leader been prosecuted for such crimes. Clowns like Jim Traficant can go down, but never for something that calls the whole system into question. Never for proxy wars in Latin America. Never for funneling arms to Islamic terrorists (when convenient). And, as we shall see, never for strapping live leads to someone's genitals. (And really, it's not difficult to agree with the thought that we'd have to do some real soul searching and research to determine whether that does indeed cross some line. Cause, you know, moral lines are hazy.)

This instance won't be any different. At most, we'll be offered up some sacrificial lambs/bad apples who'll be pardoned shortly thereafter. The left's fantasy of prosecutions of Cheney or Rumsfeld are never going to happen. But even in tossing a small sliver of acquiescence to opponents of US interrogation policy, Obama has effectively validated Bush policy.

Though there may be an investigation of sorts, Obama has declared that only those that went beyond the policies instituted by the Bush administration qualify for discipline. In other words, John Yoo's memos are the effective law. There will be no question as to the legality of that one-man legislation. So, while constantly proposing a radical shift from Bush-era policy in speeches, Obama validates and solidifies it in practice.

The same goes for dragnet surveillance, with the administration claiming that the federal government is immune from litigation because of Bush-era legislation. The illegality of its actions have no bearing here. Obama, like his predecessor, claims that by definition if the government does something, it is legal. Three cheers for change.

Returning to US detention policy, Obama seems to have discovered that Bush set him up quite nicely in that arena:

The Obama administration has decided not to seek new legislation from Congress authorizing the indefinite detention of about 50 terrorism suspects being held without charges at at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, officials said Wednesday.

Instead, the administration will continue to hold the detainees without bringing them to trial based on the power it says it has under the Congressional resolution passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, authorizing the president to use force against forces of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

In concluding that it does not need specific permission from Congress to hold detainees without charges, the Obama administration is adopting one of the arguments advanced by the Bush administration in years of debates about detention policies.

It gets better:

But President Obama’s advisers are not embracing the more disputed Bush contention that the president has inherent power under the Constitution to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely regardless of Congress.

The Justice Department said in a statement Wednesday night that “the administration would rely on authority already provided by Congress” under the use of force resolution. “The administration is not currently seeking additional authorization,” the statement said.

Contrary to that claim, this position is not a switch from Bush policy. Bush used that same legislation to justify almost every action he took. Indeed, he was prepared to use that same legislation to go to war in Iraq, until it became evident that a hastily-prepared October vote in an election year would be even more politically beneficial.

Here, the administration is hiding right out in the open. Far from a reversal of Bush policy, the Obama administration is effectively thanking Bush for giving it so much leeway in foreign policy, war-making and wholesale suspension of Constitutional clauses. I'm sure that change is here somewhere. Maybe I just don't know where to look.

How about health care? Surely such an avid socialist like Obama would scare the piss out of the insurance companies with his speech to Congress, right? Well, not so much:

Shares of U.S. health insurers climbed on Thursday after analysts saw no "game changers" from President Barack Obama's highly anticipated speech on health reform.

Following the speech, analysts predicted any changes to the system would be moderate, with Obama backing many initiatives put forth earlier this week by a leading Senate committee. The possibility a threatening public health plan would be enacted also now seemed doubtful, analysts said.

"There wasn't anything said that is drastically changing the outlook as to what might come out of Congress," said Steve Shubitz, an analyst with Edward Jones.

You read that correctly. After the speech, stocks of insurance companies rose. Despite of all the rhetoric and scaremongering, the investors took away from that speech pretty much what I did. Namely, that anything that comes out of a health care bill will actually be a boon for the insurance companies.

First and foremost being the individual mandate. Why wouldn't the insurance companies love that? Everyone has no choice but to pay them (go free market!), but any supposed government competition will never materialize. Those that can't afford the insurance will simply have their premiums paid to the private companies by the government. Somewhere, Ronald Reagan is wiping a tear from his eye with muted applause.


When You Were Here Before...Couldn't Look You in the Eye
Aug 9, 2009
Conventional Folly August 20, 2008
What Orwell Didn't Know August 1, 2008

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1 comment:

al-Husayn said...

Great post and a great blog (I just discovered it then). I think you are totally right about the "Obama of the imagination" as being a kind of illusion that affects both the left and right. It's funny that despite all the talk of CHANGE, people still can't see outside of their own left-right partisan perspectives.

The TV glitz and glamour spreads itself far. Here in Australia, most people are still under the impression that Obama is different than Bush in that he's some kind of 'man of peace' while he expands the wars in Central Asia. It doesn't help that OUR media constantly propagandizes on his behalf as if he were our own president. It's very strange.

Also, regarding the individual mandate for private insurance - I think the good old boys in AIG and the gang just need a little stealth bailout direct from the American pocket. and then people call Obama a socialist for helping out corporations??...and so the cycle continues... until the next president... who will do the same thing...