When Obama caved in on regulating “too-big-to-fail” banks, health
care insurance reform, Guantanamo, the debt ceiling fiasco, Bush-Cheney tax cuts, et. al., he did it thinking he could be sporadically engaged, let the rabid Right slap him around like a piece of cheap meat, settling for limp half measures–while life-long Democrats like me hang with him, holding our nose, because Republican alternatives are worse.
But if Obama loses a second term, his modus operani will have been the existential reason for his defeat, for nothing is worse than having your political dreams shafted by your own man. Obama’s odd passive-destructive impulse reached its apogee last weekend, when the president signed into law the 2011 defense bill, containing a rider that authorizes soldiers–soldiers!–to knock on our door at night and jail us without a trial, indefinitely, if the government “thinks” we are loyal to a terror organization or its sympathizers.
This, from a former professor of Constitutional law, over the objections of his own Secretary of Defense and directors of national security and the FBI.
What the hell is this–Pyongyang?
I’ve held my tongue through most of the other Obama disappointments, feeling sure that, at bottom, my man could at least connect the dots to comprehend the Main Event of our age–the political blood war waged by Brown Shirts in Pinstripes against our civil liberties.
On the strength of that, I stumped and spoke for him throughout Ohio on my own nickel for the last month of the ’08 campaign. But Obama’s latest flip flop (he had threatened to veto the bill) is so odious that it might have come straight out of the Dubya-Cheney playbook.
The president’s defenders will say, “What? You expected him to veto the entire defense bill over that one provision?
A Republican president did precisely that to me when G.H.W. Bush threatened to bring down the whole 1992 defense bill because it contained my abortion option for service members and their dependents in military hospitals aboard. My measure cleared the House and Senate with strong majorities. But guess what? When King George gave his ultimatum, Congress folded like a pup tent.
(Memo to Obama: this is how the Other Side plays. It’s called hardball.)
Ah, but now the White House wants us to know it insisted on a presidential “waiver” for some suspects! This sop insults our intelligence. As the New York Times fumed in a scathing editorial, the bill provides no funds for any type of trial but military tribunals, one; and, two, who knows if future presidents will ever use the waiver?
Mr. President, the danger you’ve created for civil liberties and your second term–not to mention the country’s future–is the chasm you inexplicably crafted between the expectations of derring-do and the reality of diffidence. I’m sorry, but being “less worse” than your opponent is never a path to political success–certainly not when our democracy is at a crossroads. Or when, on a civil liberty, you could not be worse.
Years from now, remembering you wistfully, I will think of the quote:
“The saddest words of tongue or pen are–It might have been.”
For further reading:
Glenn Greenwald, Salon: “Three Myths about the Detention Bill“
Andrew Sullivan, The Dish: “Obama Caves Again on Civil Liberties”
International Business Times: “Indefinite Detention Bill: Obama’s Trial of Broken Promises”
The Atlantic Wire: “House Passes Indefinite Detention Bill After Obama Reverses Veto Threat“
The Los Angeles Times: “Wrong Turn in the Terror Fight“
Here are pro-Obama editorials; read them and make up your own mind:
Center For American Progress: “Terrorist Detainee Rules Are Not McCarthyist“
The Intel Hub Blog: “Crushing Disinformation Surrounding Indefinite Detention of Americans Under the DNAA” (National Defense Authorization Act)