Some Disappointments in Obama
Readers of this blog may find this heading surprising in light of my support of Barack Obama as a candidate in the Democratic primary contest, in the presidential election and in the early days of his presidency. I have no doubt that his election over John McCain was to the American advantage. There is much that I approve of since Obama has taken occupancy of the oval office. Previous blogs have praised a number of his decisions including that the U.S. will no longer allow torture, closing Guantanamo Bay prison, making healthcare reform a major priority, upgrading consumer product safety, reigning in the abusive tactics of credit card companies, returning the concept of “protection” to the Environmental Protection Agency and bringing back diplomacy to America’s international relations.
I never expected that I would agree with everything that the Obama administration does. There is a full understanding that most of what Obama attempts will be strongly opposed by Republican congressmen from the viewpoint of ideology, appeal to their hardcore base or attempts to simply save their political derrieres by re-writing history and blaming every ill on the Democrats and Obama. Joining Republican obstructionism is a considerable number of Democrats who, regardless of the state they come from, reside in the pockets of special interests. Obama faces formidable foes and the circumstances of an economy and financial structure in crisis, war on two fronts and countries such as Pakistan, Iran and North Korea that present daunting challenges. Has a President ever taken office in the U.S. inheriting so many challenges?
My problem with Obama involves policies and decisions that did not have to be so weak. There have been decisions that have gone against campaign promises, that have contradicted positions previously taken and in some cases have mirrored George W. Bush’s egregious policies. The vast bulk of Obama’s presidency is yet to unfold. Some areas of improvement that I would like to see:
* Transparency – Open government was a mainstay of the Obama candidacy. “Transparency” was a signature issue on the campaign trail. There have been a number of instances where the Obama Justice Department argued in federal courts to block the release of information about torture and other issues and, like the Bush administration, blocked public access to the White House visitors’ log – especially when it came to secreting the names of the coal industry’s representative visitors, not unlike Secret Dick Cheney’s meetings with oil and gas interests. The downside to secretive government was made evident in the last administration. Public trust can only be established through consistent and responsible behavior by its elected representatives. Only a fool would blindly trust a politician or anyone else for that matter. A democracy best functions in the daylight. When Bush secreted his activities behind opposition to the Freedom of Information Act and the bleat of “state secrets” I had had enough. For Obama to do the same is appalling. McClatchy news services offers examples of Obama emulating Bush. Michael Isikoff of Newsweek authors an article, “Obama Closes Doors on Openness.” During his second day in office Obama promised "a new era of openness in our country." One can only hope that the “new era” will still be in the early stages of his presidency.
* Wiretapping-Spying on American citizens – Many wise legal and constitutional minds cautioned against the provisions of the Patriot Act in spite of government assurances that there are safeguards in place to protect the rights and privacy of citizens. As it became evident under Bush and as it is playing out under Obama, these safeguards are as effective as the Abstinence Only program to protect against teen pregnancies. A recent NY Times article titled “E-Mail Surveillance Renews Concerns in Congress” demonstrates that individuals working in these eavesdropping programs regularly spy on citizens without legal justification and even former president Bill Clinton was illegally spied on. There once was a game show titled “Who Do You Trust?” Today’s answer would be, “No one.” When Obama was a senator he said that warrantless wiretapping was illegal. Does the lofty view from the White House change one’s principles and beliefs? Recall in the first days of his presidency George W. Bush gushed about the importance of following the rule of law. We all saw how that played out.
* Gays in the military – Returning to the Obama campaign trail, his comments and positions on gay rights matters would belie what has taken place since Obama took office. He has not stopped the military’s dismissal of gay service people under the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” At a time when their services are more needed than ever gays in the military are being fired. Obama has the authority to suspend such activity until congress changes the law. He has remained silent.
* Gays not in the military – There has been a rising tide of anger and frustration by the gay community with Obama “slights and deferred promises.” First his Justice Department argued in a legal brief, “The brief insists it is reasonable for states to favor heterosexual marriages because they are the “traditional and universally recognized form of marriage.” In arguing that other states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages under the Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause, the Justice Department cites decades-old cases ruling that states do not have to recognize marriages between cousins or an uncle and a niece.” Conclusion, gay marriages are equivalent to incest! During his candidacy Obama declared he would work to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). During his presidency his legal office is defending a law that deprives a segment of our population their equal rights.
* Shadow Army – When the Bush administration realized that it could not fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the existing size of the U.S. military it began hiring contractors to perform traditional military responsibilities. The waste, abuse and illegal activity that ensued is well-documented. And the paramilitary presence of Department of Defense (DOD) contractors continues to grow. In a recent report by Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC) there are now over 240,000 DOD contractors in Southeast Asia – including 132,000 in Iraq and 68,000 in Afghanistan. The report also raises concerns about the poor or inadequate training some of the (contractor personnel) receive, particularly Third Country Nationals hired to guard US bases and facilities: “Poorly trained and ill-equipped contractor employees providing security for our operating bases put American forces at increased risk of harm.” Some fresh thinking is required and old habits changed. Recall that there have been too many instances of these contractors committing rape and murder, building shoddy military facilities that have resulted in the electrocution of U.S. military personnel, and supplying our troops with tainted food and water.
This is not change we can believe in.
* Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
Barack Obama speech, February 5, 2008