Obama On The Ropes

I have been warned by a fellow-blogger whom I respect not to push the parallel between Barack Obama and George W. Bush too far, though the similarities are at times disturbing. So I will stay away from that button. But I will push another: in attempting to please everyone, Obama once again proves that you can please no one. This time it is about the pilfering of private information in the name of “national security.” As a recent story notes:

Into his fifth year in office, President Obama knows well attacks from the right. Obamacare, Benghazi, IRS shenanigans, he’s taken his lumps from Republicans and conservative activists. “Impeach him!” many cry. Only occasionally is he whacked from the left (see Guantánamo Bay prison camp).

But these days, it seems like the roles are reversed. Liberals are after Obama, while the likes of Republican political operative Karl Rove are in his corner.

The subject, of course, is government secret surveillance of phone records, a vacuum-cleaner approach whose purpose is heading off terrorist attacks but which pokes into what most people think of as private information.

It would be an exaggeration to insist that we are headed for Orwell’s world of 1984 — a few years late. But at the same time, there is some truth in the fact that this sort of nosing into the privacy of citizens of this country, presumably guaranteed by the Constitution which the President is pledged to serve is un-American, if it doesn’t smack of totalitarianism. It is certainly Machiavellian, since it embraces the notion that the end justifies the means — any means, apparently. It’s not at all clear that our “national security” is at risk, except in the minds of the paranoid. This is assuredly not something we would have expected from this man when he was elected, and the fact that he is pleasing Karl Rove is doubly unsettling. The man seems to lack a backbone: he is unable to find a principle he can embrace and defend. He is perfectly willing to disappoint those people who voted for him in the hope that he would lean at least a little bit toward the left on one or two important issues.

But he has ordered an escalating number of drone strikes in the Middle East, and inhibited the right of reporters to write what they regard as the truth. Further, he has shown himself unwilling to take a strong stand against the Keystone Pipeline, which many conservationists regard as the penultimate step toward environmental disaster. And recently he has indicated his willingness to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list, virtually guaranteeing open season on those animals that have struggled to make a comeback. And now he is checking on our phone calls and private correspondence. In a word, he is disappointing those who elected him to office seemingly because he doesn’t seem to know where he stands on any given issue and is willing to bend with the wind. And I dare to say that the wind blows strongest when it issues forth from the hot air that inflates the greed of the corporations that are increasingly finding this man to be their friend (I am thinking on Monsanto here, primarily, but the Koch brothers must be sleeping more soundly at night realizing that this man doesn’t seem to care in the least what they might do with their millions.)

In any event, even those who continue to support this president and hope that he will eventually “come around” must admit that he is far too conciliatory, too eager to please. As a result he seems to have managed to alienate folks on both sides of the political aisle. And in that regard, the parallel with George W. Bush does break down.

Nixonesque?

The HuffPost story begins as follows:

The Obama administration woke up on Tuesday to another morning of scorching criticism about the Justice Department’s decision to secretly obtain months of Associated Press phone records.

The DOJ tracked the incoming and outgoing calls on more than 20 AP phone lines, as well as the home, office and cell phone lines for six individual journalists involved in writing a national security-related story about Yemen that the Obama administration did not want them to write.

While many of us who supported this president are dismayed by this story and its ramifications — given its open attack on the first amendment — there are those who will insist that the president is in no way connected with this sort of suppression. How could he be? He’s a liberal democrat, after all, and Democrats are champions of a free press. But the story goes on to point out that

[Buzzfeed editor Ben] Smith wrote that the nuclear nature of the probe could, in part, be traced back to Obama, who has made it a policy to aggressively go after leaks in a fashion not seen in any of his predecessors. Though the White House said it had nothing to do with the probe and referred reporters to the Justice Department, Smith wrote that it was not hard to see Obama’s hand in some way: Elements of this approach, Obama’s friends and foes agree, come from the top. Obama is personally obsessed with leaks, to the extent that his second chief of staff, Bill Daley, took as one of his central mandates a major and ill-fated plumbing expedition. Attorney General Eric Holder, who pressed the leak policy, is a trusted Obama insider.

This obsession with leaks and attempts to suppress the news is disquieting indeed. I must admit I found Obama’s first term as president unsettling, given his urge to make everyone happy and reach compromises that violated fundamental principles he embraced during his campaign. But I figured that when he gets a second term and doesn’t have to run again he will come out strong on the principles one identifies with liberal thinkers and politicians who aren’t simply holding a finger up to see which way the wind is blowing. But there he is with his finger up — and it appears to be his middle one and it is pointed at us!  The man doesn’t seem to know what a principle is and he is acting very much like a paranoid Richard Nixon or George W. Bush, saying one thing while he does another. Shades of Watergate and the invasion of Iraq clouded in lies in the name of “freedom.”

It was terribly disappointing, for example, to see that even though 91% of the people in this country wanted some sort of background checks on gun sales the man couldn’t wheedle the Senate into a vote to support gun control. Is he really that clueless, not to mention inept? He seems to be sleeping with corporations like Monsanto who are determined to ignore ethics completely in the name of higher profits. Moreover, he promised to close Guantanamo where prisoners at this writing are still on a hunger strike to draw attention to their inhumane plight. And while the drone attacks started under Bush, they have escalated under Obama to an alarming extent — and he refuses to “come clean” and appear before committees to explain what he is up to. His tendency toward secrecy and his inclination to resort of prevarication when confronted smacks of the very thing we all hoped we were getting way from with this president who promised to be open and honest. He does, indeed, appear to be a Republican in Democratic clothing, fearful of “the enemy” and devoted to increasing corporate profits. It’s one thing to be a closet Republican with his hand in corporate pockets (there are a number of them in Congress), but it is quite another to pretend that he is anything but. It’s the duplicity coupled with the growing lack of trust that causes the greatest concern. Just who is this man?