Emptywheel posted another piece insisting that President Obama has failed to live up to his campaign pledges. Once again, I’ve got no problem with robust accountability — but unfair and nearsighted accountability tends to subvert the credibility of the effort. Marcy lists a series of items/buzzwords and writes that the president has done exactly the “opposite.”
These are but some of the major buzzwords, issues and concepts Barack Obama based his candidacy and campaign on to convince the American electorate to sweep him in to office. Mr. Obama, however, has gone significantly in the opposite direction on each and every one since taking office.
While it’s true that the president could be doing more, the “opposite” seems like a ridiculously kneejerk accusation considering the record. But it’s completely in character for the Kill the Bill crowd.
So let’s go through each item/buzzword on the Emptywheel list and see where we are.
Audacity To Hope
The president has done the opposite of “the audacity to hope?” Sure, it’s a very broad concept that’s driven by a common liberal campaign buzzword (Bill Clinton used it in 1992), but I would suggest that he’s fulfilled this notion for a great many Americans who, heretofore, never had someone who looks like them running the White House. Ask an African American student, for example, whether the president has delivered “hope.” Ask a Latina law student. Meanwhile, America’s restored reputation around the world has offered hope. Americans with diseases or injuries that might be treated with stem cells have been given new hope. My daughter, who in several years will enter the work force, has been given hope that she’ll be paid an equal wage. My parents, who are on the verge of needing their retirement savings, have been given hope by a recovering stock market. Should I go on? Certainly there are areas where we could use more hope — hope for jobs, for example — but let’s be fair about this.
Change We Can Believe In
I don’t even know how to address this one. Yes, there have been some disturbing throwback items to bitch about (I’m no fan of Rahm Emanuel), but if you don’t see vast differences between the way Bush ran things and the way President Obama runs things — whether it’s being exponentially more deliberative, pragmatic, thoughtful, rational, etc. than Bush — I don’t know what to tell you. And that only covers “change” in terms of leadership style. There are other dimensions to “change.” Whether it’s the youthful first family or the organic garden or the science and musical events at the White House, the entire tone of the White House is different. In terms of policy, we have to look at “change” in the context of previous presidents and not so much in terms of our personal policy wish lists. This president is clearly the most liberal president in generations. Could he be more liberal? Sure. But the expectation that he would be some kind of uber-liberal simply doesn’t have any basis in reality. Not to sound too hokey, but “change” is ultimately a journey, and not a destination. And it needs to be measured in the proper context.
Rule of Law
This is strange considering how the administration’s adherence to the rule of law has actually been a point of contention with the left (see DOMA and DADT). I’m trying to remember instances, though, in which the president circumvented the law, the Constitution or abused executive power. I’m coming up empty.
If anything, the administration has been overly accommodating on this front. How many administration officials have been forced to resign due to wingnut attacks or, you know, tax problems that emerged in the press. Plus, I think we’re going to be seeing a considerable display of accountability in the coming months as the administration investigates the mistakes in the Underpants Bomber thing. Meanwhile, the Justice Department will be investigating accusations of torture from the previous administration. Compare all of this to the previous administration which even resisted the formation of the 9/11 Commission, and which refused to accept blame for both Katrina and 9/11.
Freedom From Lobbyists and Special Interests
The PhRMA deal sucks. At the same time, however, the president has set up rules about White House staffers becoming lobbyists, and rules about former lobbyists working in similar areas of government. But if there’s one item on this list that the administration could seriously improve their record, it’s this. However, we should be careful what we wish for. Lobbyists include groups like MoveOn, environmental groups, labor, women’s rights groups like NARAL, minority groups, and so forth. Should there be exceptions? Who should be allowed to influence lawmaking and who shouldn’t? Where is the line drawn?
I’m not sure what this references. At least beyond the next item…
Harm From Illegal Surveillance
The president’s questionable FISA vote happened months before the election. I think we all cast our vote in November, 2008 with eyes open, knowing exactly where he stood on this. But again, there’s still time for this policy to be rolled back. After all, the president merely voted against holding telecoms accountable for helping the illegal Bush effort.
Yeah, and…? Or should the president have jumped back and forth from Article II to Article I and shoved Congress around like Bush did. Meanwhile, the president is by-in-large using signing statements in the way they were originally intended — as a way of underscoring constitutionally questionable items in the law, while Bush used signing statements as a means of manipulating and circumventing the law.
Did the Bush or Clinton teams regularly release visitor logs? Or issue multiple executive orders opening up government documents to public scrutiny? Or create a website to track spending on major omnibus legislation? Again, more can be done, but this is a pretty good start.
Predatory Business Practices
The president signed credit card reform into law. It doesn’t go far enough, in my opinion, but again, it’s a start. And what about the dozens of new regulations that’ll be imposed and enforced upon the insurance cartel? There’s also cap and trade, and we have financial reform legislation on deck. Hell, the Obama Justice Department is even going after Monsanto — one of the most evil corporations in the world.
He ordered the place to be shut down. Who stopped him from doing it on time? Congress — even the most liberal members like Bernie Sanders and Russ Feingold — voted against funding the closing. Should the president have circumvented the rule of law or the Constitution and overridden the vote?
Withdrawing From Iraq and Afghanistan
The president never promised to withdraw from Afghanistan. Ever. Despite that, he set a date for beginning a withdrawal. As for Iraq, we’ll be out — minus a military base — within the next three years. Hillary Clinton would likely have done the same, if at all. Same for John Edwards. Hell, even Howard Dean, the progressive candidate in 2004, would’ve continued forward in Afghanistan as “the good war.”
There’s quite a bit of absolutism and blindness infecting certain circles of the progressive movement and it’s really frustrating. The record is clear, but it’s being mostly ignored. We’re supposed to be reality based. We’re supposed to be smart and intellectual. We’ve achieved a Democratic Congress and the most liberal president in generations — a liberal African American president named Barack Hussein Obama — and now we’re attempting to tear him down. You know, to help liberalism.
My ultimate view remains that accountability is good. It makes sense. It’s consistent. It’s honest. But we’re smart enough to come up with a way to do without appearing as kneejerk and spastic as the teabaggers. And, by the way, teaming up with teabaggers or other far-right apparatchiks is simply unacceptable.