Thursday, July 9, 2009


I remember why I voted for Barack Obama. It was partly because I loved the idea of having a smart, well-educated person in the office of President, making decisions based on a rational appraisal of effectiveness rather than ideology, and with a thorough understanding of Constitutional limits. It was partly because I was truly frightened by that pathological liar and Christian Dominionist that McCain chose for a running mate. But it was mostly because I felt we needed a significant change from the failed policies of the previous Administration, and it seemed that "McSame" would not provide that.

Let's look at what he's actually done, though. Sure, the Republicans have attacked his every move, but that's purely reflex with no apparent cerebral involvement, so we should probably look a little closer. Shall we start with the economy?
  • Continued the TARP bailouts. I'm not saying that was the wrong thing to do - a collapse of our banking system would have been a bad thing, though I do feel that direct assistance to those facing foreclosure would have been more effective for both the homeowners and the banks, and possibly cheaper. But as that was a Bush-initiated program, there's certainly not much change there.
  • Massive stimulus package. New program, yes. Clearly, though, TARP was a stopgap to save the banks, and was never expected to totally solve the economic woes. No doubt McCain would have come up with a different focus, and different marketing tactics for his plan - but from what I've seen of the consensus from economists, pumping massive amounts of borrowed government cash into the economy was the only realistic answer to the short-term crisis. (It causes long-term harm, yes - but if the country is on the verge of economic collapse, long-term is not really the issue.)
  • Transparency of the process. This is something Obama promised for TARP and the stimulus. I really haven't heard much about it since he took office, though. Anyone know if he actually provided such a change? Do we really know where that money is going?
  • Nationalizing GM. Clearly not something the Republicans would have done, right? But I seem to recall a major public outcry about the lack of control we kept over AIG and the other financial institutions, who took the TARP money and used it to pay their executives, instead of actually, you know, benefiting the economy. When it came time to bail out the car companies, McCain would have been under heavy pressure to put some strings on that money, to maintain some control over how it was used. I believe that, again, it would have been spun a little differently. That would have been easy - the Republicans wouldn't have complained since it was their own plan, and decrying Socialism really isn't a normal Democratic position. But regardless of the change in spin, the effects would have been similar.
  • Health care. Not that Obama has yet accomplished anything there, but he's trying. Here's a spot that I think I see a little difference...but mostly in timing. Health care reform has been put off for a long time, and public opinion was clearly pushing for action. McCain might have been able to delay working on that, but I think the economic problems - especially massive layoffs with the attendant loss of insurance - would have forced him to do something about it sooner or later.
So, not much change there. Okay, what about the War on Terror?
  • Closing Gitmo. On his first day in office, if I recall. Yeah, McCain wouldn't have done that. But it turns out that's more of a pretty symbol than anything substantive. It's been six months of the promised year, and there's still 245 prisoners there. And now, it seems, Obama's own Justice Department is arguing that these prisoners can still be detained even if they are acquitted of any crimes.
  • Iraq. It seems we are finally, slowly, getting out. I believe, however, that the timetable was set before the election - admittedly, partly because of pressure from Obama and the rest of the Democrats. I suppose President McCain might have changed it, slowed it down, but I don't believe public opinion would have encouraged him in that. While I'm glad Obama is moving the right way here, I still can't count it as a change.
  • Afghanistan. Honestly, I haven't been following the news there like I probably should. I counted both Iraq and Afghanistan as long-term failures years ago - we may or may not be able to maintain peace there for as long as we stay, but it will fall apart when we leave. So I lost interest in the details. Anyone want to fill this one in for me?
Okay, how about civil liberties vs. executive privilege? This is where I was really hoping to see something significant.
  • State Secrets Privilege - Bush's Department of Justice asserted that if the Executive Branch declares material related to a court case classified, then the court must dismiss the case entirely. This in effect removes any check on executive authority from the Judicial Branch - the courts are not even allowed to hear evidence of government wrongdoing, let alone rule against it. Obama's DoJ has repeatedly asserted the same privilege. In press conferences, he speaks of more limited means to protect classified information in court case - but when his spokesmen are actually in court, he continues to claim an expansion of executive authority that would completely nullify the checks and balances against him.
  • Protection against false imprisonment - we've already discussed that one. Obama is willing to continue to hold a person found innocent of any crime, as long as he can claim a national security reason.
  • Fourth Amendment protections - Obama reversed himself on the question of immunity for telecom companies for warrantless wiretapping even before the election. At best, he has promised not to use the authority to wiretap without a warrant - but he doesn't seem to agree that the authority doesn't exist.
  • Torture - Bush, of course, enabled and approved it through the use of poorly reasoned legal justifications and renaming it "enhanced interrogation." Obama railed against it in the campaign, but since then he has threatened our closest ally, the United Kingdom, with the reduction of intelligence-sharing if they revealed memos detailing torture. He has retained and even promoted some of the Bush Administration officials that oversaw the torture and rendition programs. And he has called for investigation and prosecution of torture committed by other nations, while steadfastly refusing to take such actions here in our own. The net result is basically the same as his position on wiretaps - he's promising not to use the authority, but he is leaving the door open through a lack of legal action and precedent to change his mind, or for future Presidents to revisit it.
Very disappointing. How about other social issues?
  • Supreme Court nominee - the more rabid conservatives have attacked Judge Sotomayor on her empathy, her race, and her gender, but frankly they were threatening to filibuster even before Obama picked her. Again, their objections are reflexes with no connection to objective reality. In the real world, Sotomayor appears to be a very moderate selection, with a tendency to support authoritarian claims of power from police, prosecutors, and presumably the President in his attempts to retain the excessive authority Bush claimed for himself. At best, we can hope that the Sotomayor pick might be better than an right-wing extremist the McCain might have (or Palin certainly would have) chosen.
  • Gay marriage - Obama's DoJ has argued against overturning the clearly unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act. Many of the states have been moving forward on this, but apart from this one negative move, Obama hasn't done any more than McCain would have.
  • Gays in the military - Obama hasn't done anything towards removing Don't Ask, Don't Tell - exactly as we might have expected from McCain.
  • Medical Marijuana - Obama has made statements that his DoJ would stop harassing people who grow, distribute, or use marijuana in accordance with state law, even if that conflicts with Federal law. But the DoJ was still raiding medical marijuana dispensaries as late as March, and the Attorney General confirmed that the arrest and conviction of Charlie Lynch for operating such a dispensary is completely in accordance with the new Administration's policies.
  • Legal Representation - Obama's DoJ even encouraged the Supreme Court to overturn the long-standing principle that a suspect should not be questioned by police without his attorney present, once he's asked for one.
Conservatives have spent the last several months crying about how that change we asked for is going to destroy the country. Maybe they're right. Before I can believe them, though, I think I'd have to see some of that change...and so far, I haven't.

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