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Am I Being Too Hard on Obama?

October 12th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

My main argument against those who say that Obama is doing the best he can is that he may have made a few small positive changes here and there but he hasn’t done anything to really change the system that’s strangling America to death. He came into office with tens of millions of enthusiastic supporters ready to help him fight for the kind of change he promised, but once he was there he turned his back on them and governed by making deals behind closed doors rather than trying to use public support to pressure the ruling elite—the wealthy businessmen and Wall Street executives who really call the shots—into changing their ways.

But I’m willing to entertain the possibility that these powerful people wouldn’t have changed their ways no matter how much public pressure was put on them at this particular time. Great changes usually only come after great catastrophes, and while the financial collapse of 2008 seemed to have the potential to be one of those historical moments in which opportunity is seized through crisis, it might not have been bad enough.

Obama may simply have considered all of the information available to him and reached the conclusion that big changes simply aren’t possible right now. So rather than push for substantial reform and fail, he’s gone only for what he can get—what the ruling elite will agree to—and accepted that he’s at least been able to do some slight good for the American people.

Of course I think that we’re living in drastic times that call for far more drastic measures than the ones Obama has been implementing, but I recognize that I don’t have as much information as he does and it might look to those in power as though this broken system can continue merrily along for the next few decades before it’ll run over the cliff. Obama might have calculated that he can build up a decent enough legacy for himself without pushing the buttons of those who hold the real power.

Perhaps he would have failed miserably if he’d pushed for things like medicare-for-all or breaking up the big banks. Even if he’d tried to rally his base for support, his base might not have been hurting enough to get off their asses and back him up all the way. Until the average people are really suffering, almost nobody is going to start the kind of revolution that’s called for. Perhaps it’s even better that he didn’t try to start one now, as its failure—while potentially inspiring future revolutions—might have the opposite effect and deter people from fighting the next time around. Perhaps we have to wait until the next financial crisis, when Congress isn’t able to save the banks and keep even the semblance of a real economy going, for the revolution to begin.

That said, even if I cut Obama some slack on domestic issues, he still has no excuse for continuing the gross abuses of executive power that began under Bush and Cheney. The ruling elite don’t rely on extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention. I think they could get by in a country where the president doesn’t have the power to execute American citizens without a trial. These are changes he could have made just by issuing certain orders and refusing to sign off on certain authorizations. No back-room deals with corrupt congressmen necessary.

So in that regard, Obama still deserves heaps of blame—just as much blame as Bush got for the very same things if not moreso. Because unlike Bush, Obama has a fully-functioning human brain and he should know better.

And when all is said and done I refuse to let Obama off the hook even in terms of domestic matters because I really do believe that fighting the hard battles, even if you lose, is good for the country. By making deals with the enemy, he allows them to continue hiding. Had he fought them openly he may have lost miserably, but at least he could have shined the spotlight on the people standing in the way of change so we’d know exactly who they are. There could be no one better than the president of the United States to bring the enemy out in the open, and that’s exactly where we need them.

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