Obama’s Failures


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Yes, I wept on election night. I was an Obama supporter. Heck, pretty much everyone in the world who wasn’t an old Southern racist or a blood relative of John McCain was an Obama supporter. But here we are, almost a year after the inauguration, and despite one Nobel Peace Prize, what has the Big O actually done?

Luckily, I don’t have to do the work. The dudes over at Politifact.com have done it for all of us. Their “Obamameter” as of today looks like this:

On the face of it, this does not look like a bad record. Only 7 promises have been broken, 54 have been kept, and the vast majority we just don’t know about yet.

But the analysis assumes that all promises are equal. They are not. Under “promises broken” we have both his failure to “Create a $3,000 tax credit for companies that add jobs” and his failure to “recognize the Armenian genocide.”

I would argue that the former is a failure of his ability to sway Congress, a procedural point, and maybe an indication of compromises to win other battles. The latter, however, is a failure of personal morality. Recognizing a genocide is more than a political position; it’s a stance of character, and character is what he campaigned on. Basic goodness and decentness is what we expect of him, and in this respect he has failed miserably.

I would consider the Armenian genocide question a “leading indicator” of the quality of his Presidency. I would add to that list his failures to allow MediCare to import Canadian drugs (as was promised) and his inability thus far to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (as was promised).

Most disappointing for me is the Obama administration’s decision to block publication of US military abuse photos. The reasons given, that publication would incite further terror acts against Americans, are disingenuous: people who hate America already have sufficient reason to do so. What transparency does, however, is reveal to the world that the new America does not hide from its failings, but takes responsibility for them. Official caching of the evidence serves to make the government post-facto parties in a conspiracy to commit the crimes that the photos depict.

This was supposed to be a signature of the new America, one of the key reasons the world embraced Obama. This decision is a great letdown for many. And this happens while the abuse of prisoners by military personnel continues. Meanwhile, at least House Democrats see the shallowness of Obama’s move, calling it an ill-conceived decision for short term political gain.

This fellow puts it this way:

“He’s not George Bush, we’ll give him that. But no President in history was as bad as George Bush, an outlier’s outlier (not to mention just a plain liar). So not being as bad as Bush is a stupendously low bar to meet.”

The irony is that Obama could do with a little Bush in him. The health care bill that was put forward is a neutered bit of anti-choice nonsense. Bush would have said “fuck y’all” and followed his ideological bent, to hell with the political consequences. I wish Obama would do some of that now.

We haven’t even talked about the so-called War on Terror yet. I’ll give him some time where that is concerned. But he has failed tremendously in at least one respect: failure to close down Guantanamo Bay prison. BBC put it best:

“Mr Obama has previously denounced the Bush-era judicial system… [He] halted the controversial military commissions as one of his first acts on taking office in January, saying the US was entering a new era of respecting human rights. ”

And yet in May, he revived the Bush-era military tribunals, the same ones he spent so much time (rightly) condemning.

It was completely within his personal power to stop them and to place those subjects into the traditional American criminal system. Once more, his failure to act on this matter constitutes, in my mind, a profound moral stumble that he cannot blame on an uncooperative House or citizenry.

Today President Obama announced that he intends to close Guantanamo “next year”. This is a move worthy of some commendation. But colour me skeptical.

He has found the will and resources to ramp up the prosecution of ill-advised foreign wars, and even to essentially start a new one in Pakistan. Yet somehow important moral moves that would cost few resources and the responsibility for which would rest solely with him have failed to find his approval.

He remains my candidate and I am glad for his Presidency. But please let’s stop worshipping at his virtual temple and recognize his failings, especially the ones that indicate failures of courage, honour and morality.