Friday, May 22, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking President

I have to admit that even I was surprised to see, in the face-off with Cheney, such vivid confirmation that the President Obama is not only unprincipled and gutless, but he’s also pretty stupid too. Why would Obama elect here – be in such haste even – to go on the record first? Why make the President the warm-up and Cheney then the key-note? This seems the strategic equivalent of the New York Air Force 2 flyover. I suppose going first might be thought a good thing by one totally spineless, sparing one as it does the opportunity and responsibility of rebutting to Cheney’s lies point by point (Think of the shock headlines: President Calls Cheney Liar! Limbaugh calls for return to civility.) But it also further emboldens Cheney, and removes any temptation the former Fuhrer might have to leaven his rhetoric with truth. I mean, why should he hold back? If the President’s not going to call bullshit on him who is? David Gregory? Chuck Todd?

Of course Obama’s performance yesterday was completely consistent with the cluelessness that led up to it. Long ago his whole immunizing stance (“looking forward” lest we remember….) announced to Cheney et alia, that he and Holder lacked the will to take them on. (I know it’s not the President’s call exactly – but this situation recalls a criticism of Holder’s record: he’s a total yes-man for the President.) It’s quite probable that Cheney would have been a lot more circumspect, and less prone to go on record legitimizing torture with his boasting lies, if he thought there were a real chance he might be held accountable for his crimes. But absent that concern, emboldened by his opponent’s refusal to attack him where he’s weakest, why wouldn’t he go on the offensive to rebuild his image and his party’s brand? It’s not like he’s going to have a change of heart. Obama’s “looking forward” evasion immediately made any accountability less likely, interlocking with and endorsing the GOP’s favorite meme: prosecution of Republicans’ crimes is criminalizing policy differences. The abandonment of the Ted Steven’s prosecution, and inexplicable endorsement of the Don Siegelman atrocity reinforces that sense.

In Obama’s speech there were, as usual, some very good and well-articulated points. But they were largely undercut by his recent actions, failures to act, and his proposals (preventive detention?) within the same speech. Thanks to Obama I now find myself in agreement with some people I would normally wish to spit on, like Bill Kristol: “Obama’s is the speech of a young senator who was once a part-time law professor–platitudinous and preachy, vague and pseudo-thoughtful in an abstract kind of way. . . .” Kristol is right in at least this small point, because Obama talks the talk, but that’s it. Platitude becomes principle when it’s enacted, and only then.

Obama talks incessantly about “the rule of law,” just as Bush talked all the time about “freedom.” This is indicatve of how Obama merely continues Bush’s Owellian lingual and adminsitrative practice, for freedom retreats precisely to the degree that government officials exert authority with impunity to legal penalty or remedy. To the degree that the state is ruled by the law, and not by the men who fill its offices, the people who elect those men are free. But again and again Obama sides with the autocrats: the official shall have secrecy and impunity, the people shall have neither privacy, nor redress. The official, whether following orders, issuing them, or concocting legal cover for them, shall pay no penalty, ever. And yet we’ll march forward under Obama’s “rule of law,” so long as we undertand that it’s just a suggestion, a rough guideline, as it were.

A question for the President: how is it serving the rule of law to imprison without trial some people who “can’t be prosecuted” and refusing to try others who openly admit to war crimes?
Some say that Obama is just being extremely circumspect. That he wants to do the right thing, but like FDR, he wants us to make him do it. That way he’s not out there on the limb of high principle all by himself. I doubt this more and more as time goes on. I fear, with a revulsion close to nausea, that President Obama, is all too similar to George Bush – another empty suit with a will to power, and not the slightest idea what to do with it, nor what it does to him. He seems to me, more and more, an “in the rear with the gear” desk-jockey, rather than the leader we need now, the leader he promised us.

Perhaps now is the time to urge all the elderly Supreme Court Justices to step aside. I still have faith Obama will appoint decent replacements for them. I have no faith he won’t blow it so badly his own replacement will be a Republican. At present rate, he won’t get my vote again.


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