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April 17th, 2011

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12:50 am - Musings on President Obama
I've been thinking about President Obama lately - about both why and how he has been a disappointment. From my PoV, he's not a terrible president – unless one wishes to create a whole new vocabulary of political badness – terrible should be reserved for the likes of Reagan and Bush I, while Shrub and perhaps Herbert Hoover rate appellations like "incredibly bad" or something more colorful.

However, I also don't consider Obama to be a good president. We've had very few of those in my lifetime. Clinton was a somewhat bad president, and if Obama ends up doing any better, it won't be by much.

However, I can also see several reasons as to why Obama has been as problematic as he has been. The two reasons come down to politics and race.

Politics: The current political climate in the US is insane, in large part because we have one entire party which elects monsters, crazy people, or crazy monsters. When you have a party who runs and elects Senators like Rand Paul, something is seriously wrong with both the Republican Party and US politics as a whole. Moreover, you have an entire Republican Congress which has essentially devoted itself to blocking or at least lambasting all of Obama's efforts, even if these efforts are to accomplish actions the various Republican congress-people have previously stated that they agree with.

Worse yet, we have a mass media that either actively supports the crazies and the monsters or at minimum, treats insanity like global warming denialism or vileness like opposition to providing basic services to all Americans as controversial issues where both sides have equally valid points.

Bill Clinton faced a hostile Congress and often handled them badly – Barack Obama is facing a Congress where the Republicans range from hostile people who loathe his policies and care more about opposing him than about the good of the nation to crazed fanatics who think (or at least claim to think) he was born in Kenya and is likely also a Muslim.

Negotiating with such people is problematic, and especially for someone with Obama's political background. He comes from Illinois politics, which may be often corrupt, but is generally not insane, and where compromise is the way things get done. Unfortunately, Obama is not dealing with people who are willing to compromise – he offers X and they demand 3X, and he clearly has little or no idea how to deal with such people. His negotiation skills are simply not up for dealing with them, and Obama seems unwilling to accept that most of these people will hate him and attempt to sabotage him, regardless of what he does.

Race: This last point gets into the most complex aspect of Obama's presidency - race. Barack Obama is a black man in a racist nation where black men are objects of fear and loathing for much of the population. Less than six months about he became President, Obama spoke out against the ludicrously racist arrest of Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates. What Obama said on this issue was perfectly reasonable, and in fact quite mild, and in response, there was a huge outcry about Obama being a white-hating racist.

This is hardly surprising, black people, and especially black men who speak out against racism are often treated similarly, and clearly being president provides no protection. Also, one of the major complaints I hear from progressives is that "Obama is weak" in that he doesn't stand up and angrily denounce all the crap the Republican party is pulling. When a while man, like Shrub, or even Bill Clinton gets angry and speaks to the American public, they're strong and heroic.

When a woman, like Hillary Clinton does something similar, they are "shrill" and "overly emotional". Similarly, when a black man gets angry a whole lot of white people feel a mixture of hatred and fear. Obama isn’t getting openly angry, because if he did, the reaction would be very bad indeed. Even many progressives accuse him of being "cold" and "emotionless", but the alternative is coming across to much of the nation as an angry threat.

I got to thinking about this when I saw this article about Obama being caught saying what he actually thinks about the efforts of the Republican Congress and wondered what sort of political price he'd pay for being caught saying what he actually believed. I don't think he's a particularly good president, but I also can understand many of the problems he is having. To me, perhaps the hardest thing about him being president is realizing he's also essentially the best sort of president we're going to get as long as we live in a nation where more than 40% of the voting population are people willing to vote for the likes of Shrub or Rand Paul. I'd far rather have a hard-line progressive, but there's currently no way to elect such a person as president.
Current Mood: sadsad

(10 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:April 17th, 2011 10:57 am (UTC)
crazed fanatics who think (or at least claim to think) he was born in Kenya and is likely also a Muslim

...and who think "Muslim" is an unforgivable thing to be. The current level of Islamophobia in the West is really scary.

I've been feeling disappointed with Obama lately too (though I'm not American, so it's not like he owes me anything). I think that as well as the problems you state, it's also that his sales pitch was so good it was almost impossible to live up to. "Hope and Change" sounded great; clearly I should have read the fine print -- "Contents may settle during shipping." :-/
[User Picture]
Date:April 17th, 2011 12:13 pm (UTC)
Given he ran as a moderate, not a progressive, (and is likely as progressive as we were going to get right now) what would you have him be doing differently?

I'm disappointed too, but I think he's probably doing the best job anyone can given his position. It would be nice is Guantanamo was closed by now, but I'm not shocked the situation is more complicated than that. His support of gay rights is somewhat begrudging and slow, being a Christian moderate, but he does support them, again, pretty much what I expected.

I think his promised transparency in government was probably undercut by information on what some of the previous administration was up to and he's probably running some damage control behind the scenes. He hasn't lived up to his promise of speaking to the American public like adults, but we've proven over and over we can't handle being treated like adults.
[User Picture]
Date:April 17th, 2011 04:50 pm (UTC)
It'd be nice if he wasn't torturing a US soldier. (Bradley Manning.)
[User Picture]
Date:April 17th, 2011 06:18 pm (UTC)
Indeed. That's one of only a few actions of his that I find both completely unforgivable and baffling. Guantanamo being open is clearly almost entirely the fault of the Republicans in Congress, Bradley Manning's situation is equally clearly Obama's fault.
[User Picture]
Date:April 18th, 2011 02:13 pm (UTC)
I think Bradley Manning is lucky he's not facing execution. The morality of what he did can be debated, but legal consequences of giving classified military information to a foreign organization during war time is clearly treasonous. Manning, as a soldier has sworn all manner of oaths to be given access to that info, it's not just whistleblowing. I'm not saying there was no value to that info becoming public knowledge, but he's playing chicken with the US government and they need to make an example of him, but without prosecuting the fullest extant of his crime.

I'm also highly skeptical of his treatment being torture, particularly since it hinges on his solitary confinement. They don't have much of a choice, if you released him into the general population of a military prison he probably wouldn't last a week before some helpful fellow prisoner decided to execute the traitor.

Manning put the government and the president in a very awkward position.
[User Picture]
Date:April 18th, 2011 03:34 pm (UTC)
Facing execution? He has yet to face *trial*.

The torture charges hinge more on how he's been treated in solitary confinement. And the refusal to let him meet the UN rapporteur on torture unsupervised.

"Amnesty International expressed concern in January 2011 about the conditions in which he is being held, calling them harsh and punitive, and 295 American legal scholars signed a letter in April saying that the detention conditions amounted to a violation of the U.S. constitution."

He's in maximum custody, and
"If Manning were to try to speak to any of them, the guards would view it as disruptive,"
"He was being allowed outside his cell to walk for up to one hour a day, shackled"
"His lawyer said he was not allowed to sleep between 5 am (7 am at weekends) and 8 pm, and if he tried to, was made to stand or sit up. He was required to remain visible at all times, including at night, which entailed no access to sheets, no pillow except one built into his mattress, and a blanket designed not to be shredded. Until March 2011 he was required to sleep in boxer shorts"
"being required to sleep without clothing and present himself naked outside his cell for morning inspection"

Etc. etc. He's not having his fingernails torn out, but he's being punitively sleep deprived and humiliated. Perhaps you should learn more about the case?
[User Picture]
Date:April 18th, 2011 05:00 pm (UTC)
It's not a stretch to say someone might be facing a common punishment for a crime they are accused of and pretty clearly committed.

Yes I can cherry pick lines out of the wiki too, I just don't find it productive. A difference of opinion is not a lack of knowledge.
[User Picture]
Date:April 18th, 2011 09:17 pm (UTC)
From what I've read about his treatment, the justifications you are giving reminds me a whole lot of similar statements about how water-boarding isn't torture. I'm not remotely impressed by either argument. No one ever needs to torture or abuse another person.

Manning put the government and the president in a very awkward position.

Which is an excellent reason to put him on trial (personally, I'd give him an award, but that's a very different argument), not to use the tactics they're using on him.
[User Picture]
Date:April 17th, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC)
Personally I think he's doing fantastic considering the political climate. The Republicans are fighting him tooth and nail, to the point that they are trying to get rid of things that would even BENEFIT them. President Obama is basically fighting a swarm of people showing irrational behavior, while remaining outwardly calm about the whole thing. He's said things that are firm, but never angry, and seems like he's doing his damnedest to keep Healthcare on the table, and not allow douchebags to do things like take down planned parenthood.

There has been some other fallout, but there had to be. When you're dealing with the way the Republicans are right now, and you're trying to appear at least somewhat likeable to multiple parties (Democrat, Libertarian, some Republicans, etc) you have to compromise on some things. There's only so much the president himself can do with bills and laws. Right now the problem isn't so much our president, as the amount of Republicans frothing at the mouth sneaking things into House bills. When you're running out of time on a compromise to stop the government from shutting down, and the compromise is to take wolves off of the Endangered Species List, and prevent funding for abortions in DC, as opposed to getting rid of the EPA, and all of Planned Parenthood... well, the lesser of the two evils is going to be the compromise.

With the amount of fear the Media was producing over the idea of a Government shutdown, whether it ended up actually being a big deal or not, the reactions of the people buying into media BS would have been catastrophic. I think our president did what was the best for our country given the circumstances, even though it was just the lesser of two evils. He's doing what he can to keep the country together, and set us on the road to join the modern era.
[User Picture]
Date:April 24th, 2011 09:54 pm (UTC)
I think Obama is a good president. However, since I disagree with his political philosophy, I find him disagreeable as a President, at least in a theoretical way. At times, I want to pull my hair out. Then I read the news the next day and discover he has managed to do something I wasn't even sure could be done this decade, like regulating credit cards. He is pragmatic, which I admire, balanced by the fact that he is middle of the road politically, which I find exasperating.

The fact that the GOP has seemingly gone insane and entirely lost its mind can be traced in part to the election of a man who embodies the center of American politics, but stands in opposition to key GOP platform planks.

Compared to Bill, he is economically progressive and less hawkish, but not so much more progressive as to be in a different category. Fundamentally, Obama is trying to regulate and reform the economic policies of the mid 80s, rather than trying to replace them.

I don't have a very clear thought of who I would want as President, as it would have to be someone electable, and even if someone unelectable became president by serendipity, it would have to be someone who could reach a compromise position with Congress on many issues. Although Obama has been criticized for being a soft negotiator, I think in many ways he is winning the war.

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