Style & Then Some

The trouble with politics, or, The Obama myth revisited

Obomney '12 American politics Obama Romney

There has been a lot of Obama hero worship going on recently what with his coming out in favour of gay marriage and all. People have been calling him ‘brave’, and presenting him as some kind of champion of equality. This seems ridiculous to me. If this is what he believes, why has he changed his tune now? Why didn’t he say this from the start? Surely he’s only doing it now because he’s already alienated the anti gay marriage crowd with the contraception mandate and so is trying to win back waverers on the Left. It’s not that I am against someone changing their mind on an issue (or ‘evolving’, as everyone is calling it). It’s just that there’s nothing brave about giving the people who are most likely to support you what they want. He’s not losing any votes he might have had, not really. That ship already sailed a while ago. He’s only winning back the admiration and support of people he might have otherwise lost if he had carried on sitting on the fence. Make no doubt about it, he was under a lot of pressure from within his own party to do this. The election is approaching, and he had to do something big, he had to make a statement.

I hate saying this, I really do. I was just as excited about Obama back in 2008 as the next person. He seems like such a nice guy. An intelligent, friendly, funny, well read, eloquent guy; such a refreshing change from George W, who seemed like an illiterate buffoon next to Barack. I would like to sit next to him at a dinner party. One of my ‘Favourite Quotations’ on Facebook is from ‘The Audacity of Hope’: ‘[Empathy] calls us all to task, the conservative and the liberal, the powerful and the powerless, the oppressed and the oppressor. We are all shaken out of our complacency. We are all forced beyond our limited vision.’ Finally, I thought, a politician who sees the subtlety of situations, the nuances, who will consider things on a human level and not just think like all the other power grabbing good-for-nothings in politics. But the problem is, we all idealised him too much. You have to get your hands dirty in politics, and he’s no different from the rest.

A recent timeline by ProPublica compares the Bush and Obama administrations in terms of torture, surveillance, and detention. When you think what a reputation Bush had for being a trigger happy war-mongerer, it’s scary to see how Obama has continued and furthered what Bush started. Obama has upped the drones, and despite declaring his intention to close Guantanamo in 2008, he backed out of this in early 2011. I know people who voted for him because it seemed like he might put a stop to the illegal detention and torture of unproven terrorist suspects. His change of tack on this is a scandalous betrayal of American trust.

So yes, if you are pro-gay marriage, by all means celebrate this moment. But remember that a healthy dose of cynicism probably wouldn’t go amiss, either. There’s a great deal of less-than-savoury tactical manoeuvring going on behind this so-called ‘courage’.

Vote-Democrat-For-Kinder-Gentler-Imperialism Obama and war

Do you think I am being too harsh on Obama? (After all, I do feel bad for the guy – his hair has gone very grey with all the stress of being President… A job I certainly do not envy.) Please do add to the debate and leave your thoughts, below.


About Sophie Caldecott

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5 comments on “The trouble with politics, or, The Obama myth revisited

  1. brightsam
    May 15, 2012

    Much of Obama’s inaction – for example on Guantanamo – has been because he has been unable to push things through Congress. For example, from what I recall (though I may be mistaken) a big part of the reason Guantanamo could not be closed was because Congress would not approve the funds for an alternative regime based on the mainland.

    Speaking out in support of gay marriage is great. But as federal law already does not prohibit gay marriage, this really does not change anything. It’s not such a big deal one way or another. But for what it’s worth, obviously politics plays something of a role in what politicians do and say. If Obama had campaigned on a ‘pro-gay-marriage’ platform last time round, McCain would have had a field day with negative ads. Times change, the population as a whole becomes more receptive, and it becomes more appropriate to speak out about this sort of thing.

    As for furthering and continuing what Bush started. Drone strikes are wrongly controversial – almost zero civilians are now killed by them. What might be controversial is doing them without Pakistan’s permission – though when Pakistan harbours the likes of Bin Laden, it seems difficult to criticise such action on moral (if not perhaps legal) grounds. But in terms of ‘human rights violations’, they’re far better than invading Afghanistan/Iraq. Which was what Bush decided to do. And which is what Obama has pulled out from. Obviously, there is some continuation of policy from one administration to the next. But I don’t think you could say that Obama has ‘furthered and continued’ the neo-con agenda of invading countries to impose democracy. The closest he has come was supporting the action in Libya, which also had the support of most of the Arab world, European states, and a lot of the Libyan population – unlike Iraq, and unlike the mission creep that was permitted by Bush in Afghanistan.

    Finally, what’s the alternative? McCain, famously filmed singing ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran’ at a campaign event in front of vets? Obama is certainly far less trigger happy than he (though I do have a lot of respect for McCain).

    Or Romney, who in socio-economic issues is basically Obama-lite, and who on social issues is stuck in the last century thanks to a disproportionately influential conservative Religious Right that dominates Republican decision-making? (I know that last statement opens a can of worms…)

    And the suggestion that it makes no difference whether you vote for Obama or Romney is incorrect. Even if it were the case that they had similar personal views on most things – which I doubt, though both are clearly pragmatists – one is dragged to the left by Democratic liberals, and the other is dragged to the right by the Tea Party/Religious Right. Resulting in really quite different approaches to issues as they arise.

  2. Sophie Caldecott
    May 15, 2012

    You make some good points, but I don’t buy the Guantanamo/drone stuff. I’ll have to research this some more, but basically I’m sure he wanted to do the right thing and had good intentions and encountered genuine problems, but when you make a pledge in your election campaign like that you shouldn’t just backslide and let it peter out into nothing. Increasing the use of drones is an incredibly dangerous step in foreign policy because you’re not risking any soldiers’ lives, and you’re essentially moving towards a situation where you have people playing war like computer games from a distance. It may be good on the surface not to put soldiers’ lives in as much danger, but actually the fact that you’re risking your own troops’ lives is an important safeguard against recklessness. I’m no expert at all, and actually it was Greg who convinced me about the drones, but now I don’t think that’s a positive direction to take at all. (Even though my first reaction was to be glad if Greg’s life isn’t placed in danger, obviously!)

    Yes, the Obomney ’12 photo is really inaccurate and not entirely fair, I just thought it was funny. I was being a bit antagonistic with that. It gets across my point that he’s not some saint amongst terrible politicians; they’re all in the same game. Perhaps that seems like an obvious point to be making, but I really think it needs to be made, from the starry eyed way people talk – and continue to talk – about Obama.

  3. Sophie Caldecott
    May 15, 2012

    Also, I get what you’re saying about the timing being right for the gay marriage thing. That’s kind of the point I was trying to make; don’t get over excited and call him brave and make him into a big hero figure. That kind of rhetoric doesn’t fit with the fact that he waited (as anyone in politics would do, with very good reason) for the moment when it would help his campaign out.

  4. Chaz
    May 16, 2012

    To say that Obama’s Drone strikes are “wrongly controversial” and have killed “almost zero civilians” is an outrageous and disgusting lie. There are many heinous aspects of his Presidency, but the Drones are amongst the worst. In Pakistan alone there have been 267 Drone strikes ordered by Obama. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that between 391-789 civilians were killed, including 160 children. This is a conservative estimate, and only applies to Pakistan. Yemen is another story, and that’s why civilian protests against these drone strikes in Yemen happen all the time. It’s funny, but people don’t like the idea of unmanned and unaccountable drones reigning bloodshed over their villages. It’s also funny how so called liberals were up in arms when Bush wreaked destruction on the middle east, but give Obama a free pass.

    And here’s a few more reasons why Obama is just as bad, if not worse, than the Republicans. 1) He has locked up more whistleblowers than EVERY OTHER PREVIOUS PRESIDENT combined, despite promising the most transparent administration in history. This is perilously close to totalitarianism, and it scares me to death. Basically, if you dare to speak up against the government in Obama’s America, you must be very, very brave. 2) He went into Libya without congress approval, and has turned the country into a much bigger mess than it was in before. Not to mention the weapons that are now flooding into neighbouring countries. If Bush did this, every democrat would be livid. 3) Obama has now made it legal for a US President to kill US civilians without due process and presenting ANY evidence (this is, for me, the scariest aspect of his Presidency. What do we have without due process? Nothing). Of course he also does the same to non-US citizens, as Bush did, but not at the same level. As Chomsky said on Tuesday: “If the Bush administration didn’t like somebody, they’d kidnap them and send them to torture chambers. If the Obama administration decides they don’t like somebody, they murder them. 4) Obama has resumed arms sales to the regime in Bahrain, in a move that has “has incensed opposition activists in the tiny Gulf kingdom who see the deal as a signal that the US supports Bahrain’s repression of opposition protests.” 4) Not one single banker has been locked up post-GFC. I imagine the main reason for this is that Goldman Sachs have been one of Obama’s biggest contributors. If only Bradley Manning had contributed to Obama’s campaign he might not be locked up in inhumane, tortuous conditions, without trial, just for telling the truth.

    I could go on and on and on. Really. George Bush must be wondering why he got such a hard time and Obama gets to do whatever he wants! The Republicans and Democrats are just as bad as each other, but at least when the Republicans are in power, anti-war sentiment is widespread. But with Obama in power, war is apparently ok, because the President is a decent man. Well try telling a Yemini mother who lost her children to a drone attack that he is a decent man. Anyway, thanks for the initial post. I do hope more people realise the myth of Obama. But alas the first comment was so depressing, and seems to be the most popular, mainstream view (and that, I assume, is because it’s the view that our hopeless media push at us). Everyone should read Glenn Greenwald for more on Obama. He was one of Bush’s biggest critics (writing several books) and he’s now one of Obama’s fiercest critics, and unlike Fox News, he criticises Obama with irrefutable facts:

  5. brightsam
    May 16, 2012

    On drone strikes: I’m no expert, like most people I know what I read in the various newspapers and hear at events. What I believed was that whilst in their early years, strikes tended to impact relatively heavily on civilians, in recent years this has not been the case.

    Having done a bit more research, I see that the figuers are controversial. At the top end, the figures that you quote above are suggested. At the other end, many people suggest that those declaring that civilians are killed tend to be associated with the targeted militants, and so inflate the figures to increase anti-US sentiment and so on.

    If the figure, to take the middle of the range, is around 500, that is obviously a bad thing. But put it into perspective. The numbers killed in Bush’s (and Blair’s) forays into Iraq and Afghanistan number in the tens of thousands – indeed, the Lancet estimates over 600,000 deaths in Iraq from 2003-2007 alone. THat is without counting additional longer-term effects, and effects on other states.

    If you accept that it is necessary to combat terrorists and insurgents – which perhaps you do not – you would agree that some kind of force must be used against them. In that context, far better to use the very preceise weaponry of drones than it is to pursue the sort of large-scale aerial bombardment seen in places such as Libya and Kosovo, or to invade as we did in Iraq or Afghanistan.

    If you don’t accept the need to use force against terrorists and insurgents – well, that might be our point of departure.

    I wonder how many US civilians have so far been murdered by Obama under the legislation you mention? I know very little about this, but haven’t heard of any.

    There has been an evident marked shift in US foreign policy since Iraq. To put it bluntly, they haven’t invaded other countries. Libya was an aerial bombardment, not an invasion, and was certainly not uncontroversial. But with the support of regional bodies and the UN, at least international law was complied with. Which is more than could be said for Iraq – or in fact Afghanistan, not that mnany people seem to have noticed.

    I’m not saying Obama is a saint. But things have to be examined in pragmatic terms, and from the perspective of looking at the options available. With drone strikes, I’d be happy to hear your suggestion for a cleaner way of combatting violent militants wishing to attack targets in Afghanistan, the US and so on? Their might well be one. As I say, I’m certainly no expert!

    As for locking up bankers etc – that’s a wholly different issue. That is not Obama’s job. Maybe there is evidence that he has blocked prosecutions or interfered with the judicial process? Not something I know much about, but I certainly haven’t heard any evidence in that direction. I haven’t come accross many bankers being locked up in Britain either, and I certainly don’t think you could accuse our judiciary of lacking independence when it comes to prosecuting people.

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