February 19, 2012

The Obama Gambit

First of all, to state the obvious, if Barack Obama were the ordinary type of American President, that is, a white guy from a somewhat privileged background with a room temperature IQ and a sketchy resume (the apotheosis of such specimens being George W. Bush), we would never hear a word about "Birthers" or Kenyan ancestors or the rest of this racist nonsense. We all know this to be true; the rage, the intemperate screaming from people like Orly Taitz, the Queen of Birther Nation, would just never happen. Look at the old pictures (such as that above) of the intolerant Southerners who made the lives of African-Americans a living hell in the Jim Crow days; look at those faces, those masks of hatred and bigotry, that irrational madness that was Southern racism. That's what "Birtherism" is, all dressed up in its Neo-Fascist finery. The pretense of "protecting the Constitution" is a lot of happy horseshit; sadly these days, nobody really cares about the Constitution anymore, except for a few diehards like Glenn Greenwald, Jonathan Turley and even, on my better days -- me.

Unfortunately, the list of those who don't care much about our Constitutional framework must also include Barack Obama himself. I have come around gradually to the idea that Mr. O, that preternaturally gifted political chameleon, has grokked in his pitch-perfect way that the current political consensus is that the Constitution can be safely bargained away, that the Bill of Rights is just a negotiable, political "issue," and that the Beltway doesn't have time in its mad scramble to raise campaign cash and line up lobbying jobs to worry about the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Ninth Amendments, to name just the most important and most serially-abused of the original charter.

Obama knows that he can get away with this approach. I imagine, in our debased civics culture, that the average Man on the Street is unaware of the content of the Bill of Rights; indeed, some studies have suggested that the majority of those interviewed, when not told of the origin of the rights being described, have found the first Ten Amendments vaguely "radical" or maybe even "Communist," and that there is little chance, starting from scratch, that we would enact the same set of basic civil liberties again.

I find that passing strange, but then - it's probably just me. So anyway, to return to the theme, the text for this Sunday morning sermon: I don't know exactly what I expected, but I was sort of hoping that Obama would not treat Constitutional rights, or the whole question of the impartial application of the rule of law to everyone, as just another politicized "issue" to be bargained away when convenient to do so, that he would not immediately succumb to this Look Forward, Not Backward mantra that he used to evade all difficult questions about looking into the obvious war crimes committed by the previous Administration, and all his other sell-outs.

But he did. He's got a big job, the biggest in the country, and with that job comes the responsibility to make tough decisions, decisions that might make it extremely uncomfortable, for example, to stand in group photos with "all the living Presidents" in the Oval Office on account of your Attorney General is busting your predecessor for multiple-count violations of the international Convention Against Torture and the War Crimes Act. Naturally, such a scenario is unthinkable when we reflect on the true nature of the ever-accommodating, always-compromising, go along to get along President, who is guided by one thing and one thing only, the effect of a given decision on his reelection chances. And then in his second term, the effect on his golf schedule.

Thus, Obama has taken his place in the gradual evolution of the American Presidency from the days when we had strong and resolute leaders, such as Teddy Roosevelt, FDR or Harry Truman, people who were willing to make hard decisions when the circumstances demanded them, to the modern version, where the office is really more a part of the Public Relations industry. The whole idea is to be vaguely inoffensive, to be lenient and to let everything slide, to never make a member of your powerful Peer Group in the least bit uncomfortable or inconvenienced. If we are offensive and violent, it's always at the expense of some completely overmatched Muslim country over there someplace that we bomb into the Stone Age while here at home we worry and fret primarily about whether Americans are exhibiting sufficient "demand" for consumer goods and services, in order to "get the economy moving again."

I don't think that's really unfair at all, as a characterization, as a description of Mr. Obama's modus decidendi. Thus, the question: how do you get excited about the reelection of Obama for a second term if you look at things that way? I'm continually amazed at the way liberal commentators in the media have gotten on the Obama bandwagon, people such as Randi Rhodes or Andrew Sullivan, who used to positively excoriate George W. Bush for doing things such as escalating the war in Iraq, or running a due process-free concentration camp on Cuba, and yet simply overlook the exact same offenses when committed by Mr. Obama, as he escalates the war in Afghanistan by a factor of three or refuses to shut down Guantanamo, for fear of looking "soft on terror." Or the easygoing acceptance by the same liberal pundits of assassination of American citizens on Presidential whim with no objective standards and no explanations.

The point being, if you continually adopt practices for the sake of looking "tough" and "realistic" that undercut basic American civil liberties, and establish the atmosphere of a police state, all in the proclaimed effort to "save" the American way of life from the evils of terrorism or whatever it is that we say we're doing, don't you eventually arrive at the point where there's nothing much left to protect? And shouldn't Obama be talking about that?

Thus, that is the central mystery to me of the Obama Gambit. Not the Kenyan grandfather. I don't care about the Kenyan grandfather, I am perfectly content to believe that Barack Obama was born in Honolulu in August, 1961, an American citizen, as American as I am, as or more American than his Birther antagonists. That's all a ridiculous sideshow, a disguised form of saying that a black man should not hold what the Birthers regard as a white man's job. I just wish we had an American citizen, born in any state of the Union, of any color or mix of "races" (as mythical as the whole concept of "race" actually is in light of our common African Mother), who would stand up for American citizenship.

1 comment:

  1. hammerud2:09 PM

    Again good article. I do think there may be more to the Birther thing though. I'm not sure why it is not easily put to rest. Regarding the "intolerant Southerners who made the life of African Americans a living hell," the sad reality is that we human beings are all the same. The manifestation of evil might be different in different venues, but evil nevertheless manages to manifest itself in one way or the other. As a Christian, I find it interesting that Jesus did not consider human beings to be "good," but rather "evil" (Luke 18:19. Matt 7:11) even though He loved us enough to die for our sins. Sadly, I don't find much hope for our country anymore when the majority of those who vote are unthinking and easily manipulated; and many of those who do think have core beliefs and values that differ from mine.