via American Extremists.
Andrew Sullivan wrote a much discussed article for Newsweek defending President Obama from criticism by the “unhinged” right and the “purist” left. He said the conservative critics who claim he is some sort of radical socialist are out of touch with reality, while liberal critics ask too much. President Obama has accomplished as much as can reasonably be expected, Sullivan said; his critics from the left are like little children complaining because Santa Claus didn’t give them everything on their Christmas lists. But for me, more fundamental things are at stake.
President Obama threatens the Constitution and the principle of the rule of law by asserting the authority to sign death warrants, to imprison people without trial or without charging them with a crime, to spy on American citizens without warrants and to make it a crime to reveal the government’s abuse of power, as well as committing acts of war on his own authority. He has committed the nation to endless wars that can only result in endless suffering and endless enemies. He has propped up a corrupt financial oligarchy rather than to try to reform it.
To my mind, none of these issues ought to divide liberals and conservatives. Both should defend basic constitutional rights. At different times in American history, both have opposed foreign interventions. Principled liberals and principled conservatives should both oppose use of government funds to protect big Wall Street firms from the consequences to their constituencies.
But in fact, the majority of self-identified liberals and the majority of self-identified conservatives are anti-Constitution, anti-peace and pro-Wall Street. That is why I have a good word for anybody, liberal, conservative or libertarian, to takes a stand against the country’s slide into authoritarianism, militarism and kleptocracy.
These are not questions of whether President Obama has been fair to various constituencies. They are questions of the continuation of the United States as a free, democratic, sovereign and prosperous nation. If my fears are wrong, show me how and why they are wrong. If my fears are not wrong, it is a mistake to pin any hopes on Obama.
True, President Obama is on roughly the same path as his predecessor, main rivals and likely successors. Since everybody in authority is doing the same bad thing, the problem is systemic and it is futile to blame it on a single individual. What makes Obama worse than Dick Cheney or Newt Gingrich is that he appealed to the hope and idealism of young people that constructive change could be accomplished through the political process. That hope has been dashed, and it will be a long time before it is recreated.
Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic asked Andrew Sullivan a pertinent question.
How would you have reacted in 2008 if any Republican ran promising to do the following?
(1) Codify indefinite detention into law; (2) draw up a secret kill list of people, including American citizens, to assassinate without due process; (3) proceed with warrantless spying on American citizens; (4) prosecute Bush-era whistleblowers for violating state secrets; (5) reinterpret the War Powers Resolution such that entering a war of choice without a Congressional declaration is permissible; (6) enter and prosecute such a war; (7) institutionalize naked scanners and intrusive full body pat-downs in major American airports; (8) oversee a planned expansion of TSA so that its agents are already beginning to patrol American highways, train stations, and bus depots; (9) wage an undeclared drone war on numerous Muslim countries that delegates to the CIA the final call about some strikes that put civilians in jeopardy; (10) invoke the state-secrets privilege to dismiss lawsuits brought by civil-liberties organizations on dubious technicalities rather than litigating them on the merits; (11) preside over federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries; (12) attempt to negotiate an extension of American troops in Iraq beyond 2011 (an effort that thankfully failed); (14) reauthorize the Patriot Act; (13) and select an economic team mostly made up of former and future financial executives from Wall Street firms that played major roles in the financial crisis.
Glenn Greenwald wrote for Salon that an honest case for reelecting President Obama would go something like this.
Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.
When Barack Obama was running for office, I was struck by the modesty of his proposals in The Audacity of Hope. I didn’t expect major economic and social change. To obey the law and the Constitution, to withdraw from failed military interventions and to prosecute criminals would have been enough, but evidently it was too much.
Andrew Sullivan said liberals fail to realize that President Obama is playing a “long game.” They should trust Obama’s wisdom, he said. I agree that Obama is an extremely talented and astute politician, and he is indeed playing a long game. I question, however, whether he is playing the same game that Sullivan thinks he is.
President Obama has managed to maneuver the Democrats into putting Social Security and Medicare on the table as bargaining chips for modest tax increases on millionaires and billionaires – an objective that could have been accomplished by simply allowing the Bush tax cuts to lapse. It is an act of political genius to make cutting Social Security and Medicare seem to be the moderate liberal positions.
I don’t see that there is a liberal vs. conservative position on prosecuting financial fraud, any more than there would be a liberal vs. conservative position on prosecuting pickpockets or burglars. Financial fraud was an important factor in the banking crisis which sparked the recession. Yet the Obama administration not only refuses to investigate, it tries to discourage state attorneys-general from investigating and prosecuting.
There is no political gain for him in either stance. The only explanation is that he is a right-winger by conviction.
During the Bush administration, Andrew Sullivan was admirable in his fight against torture. Of all the crimes against humanity, this is the worst, because it aims to destroy the human spirit rather than the body. Sullivan credits President Obama with abolishing torture. What Obama has done is to abolish torture at certain locations, such as Guantanamo Bay, and to state that torture is no longer officially sanctioned. But there are places such as the Bagram center in Afghanistan where people are taken, and no journalist or human rights organization is permitted to look. The treatment of Bradley Manning while he was at Quantico would have been called torture if it had been done by Iran or North Korea to an American serviceman.
During the campaign Barack Obama advocated a public option for health insurance, as a moderate alternative to the single=payer system advocated by Hillary Clinton. Once in office, he didn’t even try to sponsor such a plan. Instead he conferred with representatives of the health insurance and pharmaceutical interests, and bought their neutrality by promising no public option and no controls on drug prices. The Affordable Care Act, which was enacted, is a system of compulsory private insurance. It goes fully into effect in 2014. Maybe it will be of net benefit, maybe not.
The third major achievement cited by Sullivan is repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. This was a good accomplishment, and Sullivan was right to credit Obama’s cautious approach with smoothing the way. Okay, there’s one accomplishment that doesn’t require an asterisk (*) after it. We have created one new right, the right of gay people to serve in the military, while wiping out historic rights such as habeas corpus and trial by jury that go back to Magna Carta. This is not a good tradeoff. It is not a necessary tradeoff.
Click on How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics for Andrew Sullivan’s complete article.
Click on Why Focus on Obama’s Dumbest Critics for Conor Friedersdorf’s complete critique.
Click on Obama’s Long Game, Ctd for Sullivan’s answer.
Click on Why the ‘We’re at War’ Defense of Obama Is Unpersuasive for Friedersdorf’s last word.