Obama’s broken resolutions
Issue 450 The New Internationalist by Mark Engler http://www.newint.org/columns/mark-engler/2012/03/01/obama-broken-resolutions-/
Unfulfilled promises may come back to haunt Obama this election year, says Mark Engler.
In June 2007, on a warm Sunday in San Antonio, Texas, presidential candidate Barack Obama rolled up his white shirtsleeves and addressed a crowd of 1,000: ‘We’re going to close Guantánamo. And we’re going to restore habeas corpus,’ he said. The assembly cheered.
The senator repeated his vow the next month, and in subsequent campaign stops: ‘As President, I will close Guantánamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions.’
Wonderlane Under a CC Licence
In November 2008, after being elected, Obama went on the news show 60 Minutes. ‘I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantánamo,’ he stated, ‘and I will follow through on that.’
It is now 2012. The US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba – which has held hundreds of prisoners without trial and has been the site of torture and abuse – remains open. In December, President Obama signed into law a National Defense Authorization Act that, according to the New York Times, will ‘make indefinite detention and military trials a permanent part of American law’.
We have now reached that season when our New Year’s resolutions have been broken. It seems like only a few Facebook status updates ago when we virtually vowed to better ourselves. And yet those neglected promises already feel quaint.
Of course, we know that by the year’s end, the consequences will catch us. We’ll pay when we still haven’t gotten into shape, still haven’t quit smoking – when the change we seek remains at the bottom of a lost to-do list.
In political life, Obama has also broken resolutions. The question is, will they likewise cost him at the end of the year?
It’s not just the issue of detentions. Candidate Obama railed against the ‘devastating’ impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement. But this past fall, the president signed NAFTA model agreements with Panama, South Korea and Colombia – a country with an ongoing history of violence against union organizers. He abandoned the Employee Free Choice Act, labour’s top priority. And he stunned greens by delaying new smog regulations because they would ‘burden’ polluters.
One cannot blame those who had high expectations for the administration and now feel betrayed
To point out such failings is not to say that Obama is identical to his conservative rivals. It is facile to hold that the two parties which have perpetuated corporate rule in the United States have done so equally, or that their differences on social issues are inconsequential.
Republicans have pushed even more aggressively to curtail civil liberties, and they opposed any attempts Obama made to abide by his campaign pledges. Given the chance, they would erase the Environmental Protection Agency and stack the Supreme Court with reactionaries.
Still, one cannot blame those who had high expectations for the administration and now feel betrayed. Maybe we should have been more cynical, more aware of Washington’s limits and more distrustful of the senator’s neoliberal advisors. But Obama, remember, told us not to be. He appealed to idealism. He based his campaign on hope.
On 11 January, the 10th anniversary of the start of US detentions at its shadowy Cuban prison camp, I joined protesters who chanted in drizzling rain outside the White House in defence of due process. They were ardent, but not about getting Obama re-elected. It struck me that he won’t be able to run on hope again.
A week earlier, I sat with conservatives at the Iowa caucuses. There I saw a Right that is full of passionate intensity. Newt Gingrich tells determined crowds: ‘This election is the most important election since 1860.’ Mitt Romney says it is about ‘saving the soul of America’.
Obama’s defenders believe that progressive support will return once his opponent is set and the campaign begins in earnest. Maybe it will. For now, the president’s broken resolutions hover uncomfortably.
Don’t believe in the ‘enthusiasm gap’? Spend some time with the rightwing faithful. Then stop by a protest against Guantánamo.
Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached via the website: DemocracyUprising.
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OCCUPY WHITE HOUSE
The social protests give President Barack Obama rhetorical possibilities in the confrontation with republicans. But will that be enough in November?
By Gary Young
[This article published in: Freitag 1/25/2012 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.freitag.de/datenbank/2012/04/occupy-white-house/print
To understand the significance of President Obama’s State of the Union address, one only needs to see where he will journey next: first Iowa, then Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan, all swing states that he won without great effort four years ago – with the exception of Arizona, the home of his challenger John McCain. His State of the Union was the election campaign speech of an office=holder on the defensive. As such it should be measured by two standards, the traditional top-flight presidential address for television and a speech held amid the republican pre-election campaign.
At the moment, Obama has little to fear. While the publication of Mitt Romney’s tax returns showed that the multi-millionaire only paid at the 14 percent tax rate, Obama can make this injustice into a theme and say: “Because of loopholes in the tax system, a quarter of all millionaires currently pay less taxes than millions of middle class households.”
He counters Newt Gingrich’s claim that Obama seems internationally like a coward by twice recalling his greatest success – the killing of Osama bin Laden. “On that day, only the mission counted. No one thought of politics. No one thought of himself. On one side, this means Obama enjoys the presidential bonus and acts like the only adult candidate next to persons like Gingrich and Romney. On the other side, “in 2011 trust in our economy was not shaken by some event outside our control,” he said in a tone that censures schoolchildren. “This trust was shaken by a debate whether the United States will pay its debts or not. Who profited from this fiasco?”
That is proper for a state-of-the-union speech. An excellent presentation was expected. But that Obama could not report of substantial economic improvement for large parts of the population may be turned against him by his challengers. They could represent him as one who ultimately cannot show any results although he can peddle hope and make beautiful speeches.
Most of what Obama said about energy-, foreign-, defense- and economic policy could have come just as well from a moderate republican if this species in the political class had not almost died out. The cutting parts of his speech did not tackle what went wrong in Washington. Rather crucial parts were marked by the street protests that shifted the focus of attention to the inequalities and injustices in American society.
THE SAME STANDARDS EVERYWHERE
The Occupy movement enabled the resident to steer the mistrust of the population from the poor to the rich and from responsibility and alms – in reference to the rich in general and the financial industry in particular, not in relation to the poor. In one passage, he even turned to the 98 percent of the population who earn less than $250,000. One may never forget, Obama said, “millions of Americans who work hard every day and obey the rules deserve a government that does the same. It is time the same standards are applied everywhere: no bank bailouts, no special subsidies and no preferred treatment or privileged positions. An America built to last must act responsibly. This is demanded by everyone.”
Whether he can convince people in November against their experiences that things would have been worse without him but will only be better with him remains to be seen.