Under-reaching

14
Dec
2009

Oh those giddy Republicans are on the upswing, saying that the “American People” are getting bothered by the “over-reaching” of the Obama administration on health care, the environment, you name it. Things are looking up for them they say. America is a “center right” nation. Blah blah blah.

I don’t doubt at all that enthusiasm for Obama has waned a bit since assuming office. Some of this is the inevitable consequence of dream becoming reality. When the rubber hits the road, some things fall out. Things can get messy. But let me give the counter-analysis to the “mainstream” media point of view: Obama and the Democrats aren’t over-reaching. Far from it. They are UNDER-reaching, and in a big way.

Here’s a shocking idea for you: people win elected office based on the promises they make. They win re-election based on the promises they keep. Not delivering in a strong way on the promises one makes during the campaign of course leads people to have a lack of enthusiasm for you. In Obama’s case in particular this is poison, because of the idealism and hope his campaign generated. That hope and idealism had to and has to stand for something more than just ending our long national nightmare under Bush. I, and millions like me, were energized and truly motivated by the sense that we could repair our nation and make things better. We believed, perhaps naively, that the administration, backed by (supposed) majorities in congress, would forcefully act on their campaign promises, and put through a progressive agenda. Despite the feel good rhetoric of the campaign, I really don’t think too many people that voted for Obama were confused by the things he stood for. I wasn’t alone in crying tears of joy on election day last year, happy not only that our long national period of fascism was coming to an end, but also very much hopeful about the future of this country for the first time in many years. Obama was the first presidential candidate in my life that was not for me the lesser of two evils. I supported him from the beginning, and with each policy statement,  pronouncement and campaign promise, I grew more convinced that this was truly my candidate. I knew that I had never before been so politically aligned with any candidate for president in history.

Ok, enough of my school-girl crush. I realized that we were not perfectly compatible (especially on military matters and gay marriage), even during the campaign. I realized (and still realize btw) that enacting such a bold agenda takes time. The man has only been in office 11 months. I won’t be making the harshest judgements until his term comes to a close. I am willing to give him some leeway, and I am of course bound to be disappointed by a few things. And Obama is not alone in the responsibility for changing things. Congress is also responsible. So let me give you just a short list of a few of the things that Congress and the Obama administration can be accused of under-reaching on (with regard to the campaign promises they made):

Obama:

Promises to do away with the excesses of the unitary executive, largely ignored. Glenn Greenwald has a passel of articles on the subject. Obama and Holder sure don’t seem too upset with presidential power and extra-legal or extra-constitutional means of getting things done. All through the campaign were intelligent discussions of the rule of law, the value of our constitution, etc. But once in office, old crimes are ignored and new transgressions justified. This is definitely an area of great disappointment. It shows just how rotten that things were (and how low the standard sunk) during the Bush years that people are thrilled that Obama is better than Bush on these things while still abusing the system.

Promises on gay rights largely ignored. We still hear a lot of pretty talk from Obama, although more muted with each passing day. Don’t Ask Don’t tell and DOMA are largely ignored. You can argue that changing laws is not strictly in the president’s power, but pushing for them to be changed sure is. And one thing that Obama has in his power right now as commander-in-chief is to put a moratorium on discharges of gay service members, pending a full review of DADT. It has very little political risk, and yet he won’t even do THAT.

Obama and Congress:

Promises to fight hard for universal health care: unfulfilled. In fact, he has stayed on the sidelines far more than he should. To be fair Congress is also totally screwing us on this. But if the Democrats and the Obama administration were willing to fight for what they campaigned on, we would be in a better place right now. The bill as it stands now is almost completely gutted of any kind of progressive change. The president gave one powerful and rousing speech on the subject, to great effect. But that was it. He has seemed willing to negotiate away just about everything meaningful in the bill, as long as he can claim a bill has passed at the end of the day. Why won’t Congress get some balls and use the reconciliation process? Why won’t they keep the campaign promises they made? Are they too timid or just in the pocket of the insurance industry? Why are assholes like Joe Lieberman allowed to have such power over this process, blocking what huge majorities of the American people voted for?

Make no mistake, when you campaign on things, you need to make meaningful progress towards those things. People voted for these things, they weren’t confused or deceived. And the people that were most enthralled and most motivated to work for you are the ones who will stay home in droves if there is no progress. It is not because you were too bold. It is because you weren’t bold enough, and made those of us who believed in your promises left feeling like fools for doing so. There is plenty of time to right some wrongs and take action before the next election. I am withholding judgement. But don’t ask me for money and volunteer time again unless there is progress.

Strategies for growing

27
Mar
2009

In the White House town hall meeting yesterday, Obama made reference to one of the most popular voted on questions solicited on his website:

“Do you think legalizing marijuana is a good strategy for growing the economy?”

To which he answered with a smirk,

“No, I do not think that legalizing marijuana is a good strategy for growing the economy”

It is sad that there are certain things that are untouchable in politics, even for someone as gifted as Obama. He must know what an abject failure the drug war is, and that treating drug abuse in this country as a criminal justice problem (rather than the public health problem it is) is likewise a costly failure. But there is a belief that there are some issues so radioactive one must never challenge the status quo, no matter how awful the status quo is. These issues exist on both the left and the right of course. They are kept in place by the willful ignorance of the electorate, and steadfast denial of reality (which would be fine if it wasn’t so costly and didn’t result in so much violence and death).

Obama apologists can hopefully and helpfully point out that he didn’t say he was against legalization, he only said he didn’t think it was a good idea for growing the economy. But the fact that he brought it up in the context he did, and passed on one of his teaching moments (remember how great the race speech was?) rather than ignore it completely was designed to appeal to a certain audience (and hint, hint: it wasn’t the legalization crowd).

Overwhelmingly, I have been pleased with the actions Obama has taken thus far in his tenure. And I give him wide berth on a number of things, waiting to see how these will pan out in the coming months. I understand strategically why Obama, with everything else on his plate, was reluctant to go there with anything resembling the cool logic he applies in most other circumstances. But it sure wasn’t pretty to watch.

Change.gov agenda goes poof

10
Nov
2008

I have been following with some interest the change.gov presidential transition website. I think it is a great idea to tell the public what is happening, and give them information about where the incoming Obama administration wants to take the country. I don’t remember another administration doing this before, and I think it makes a lot of good sense. A few days ago I was perusing the agenda section, which had a drop down menu of the many areas the administration will be focusing on in the coming months. There were a large array of topics from “economy” to “civil rights” to “defense” to “education”, etc. If my memory serves, there were probably about 20 to 30 topics, each with its own page highlighting the priorities.

I say “if my memory serves”, because all of that has been replaced by two short paragraphs of boilerplate generalities. I should mention here that in my grief over Proposition 8 passing, I was a little upset to see nothing in these priorities that said anything about repealing DOMA, a oft-repeated promise during the campaign. Using the “Submit your ideas” feedback form on the site (which has since been modified and moved as well), I sent a brief note asking if this would soon be included in the priorities. I said that I understood that there are much more pressing matters to attend to, but that I hoped we would be at least on the agenda.

I must not have been the only citizen rooting about in the agenda, and apparently the Obama administration (or whoever is running the website) got a little nervous and decided it was better to say too little rather than too much. I personally feel this is a mistake and a step backwards, especially after the last 8 years of intense administration secretiveness. Transparency is better, and we deserve that from our government.

I will give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt for now, as I worked very hard for his election and overall I am thrilled with the direction in which he wants to take the country. But we should all keep in mind how important it is to hold our government accountable for its actions, and to raise our voices to make sure that issues are addressed fairly and openly.

A turning point?

18
Mar
2008

I sure as hell hope so.  If you haven’t seen (or read) Obama’s speech on race (and care at all) click here.  I found myself incredibly moved by the content of the speech (which I read beforehand) as well as its delivery.  This was the first time in my political memory that someone stood up to declare that not everything can be reduced to a sound-bite, that issues such as race are complex.  I have watched the political discourse in my country erode over the years to simple shouting matches with no real substance.  I have watched the news media encourage this kind of simple blather.  I have watched them avoid issues which didn’t reduce to neat mottos or phrases.  I have watched this complete disservice to the American people in order to sell more scandal and acrimony.  Obama took what could have been a crisis for his campaign and used it as a teaching moment, reaching out in a balanced and nuanced way to every American that has a stake, which is to say every American.  His speech implored us to be honest with our feelings, and honest in searching for solutions.  It appealed to the very best in all of us, and made me proud and humble at the same time.  With every step forward such as this, I have a little more hope that we can move beyond the hatred and shouting matches and towards a politics of honest dialogue.  This is why I support Obama.

My reasons

27
Jan
2008

1. I want a president who inspires, and gives hope.

2. I want my country to live up to its best ideals.

3. I don’t believe it is good for our democracy to maintain dynasties.

4. I strongly believe we need to move beyond rank partisanship.

5. I want someone in power whose highest value is public service, not power itself.

6. I don’t want someone in power who will say or do anything to get elected.

7. I want someone in power who will attack the problems that our country faces, not someone who will attack “enemies”.

8. I don’t want to have to pretend to be French when out of the country.

For all of the above and more, I strongly support Barack Obama for president. No candidate is perfect, but having looked at his stands on the issues, I find myself in greater agreement with him than any other candidate currently running. And Barack has the ability to inspire and move people in a positive way that I have not witnessed in any other candidate. I want to believe that we can move out of the darkest period I have ever witnessed. I want to be able to believe in my country again.