Is Obama dancing with disaster?

Okay, I’m officially getting scared.

For now, let’s just call it a nonspecific, even remote, sense of dread – like the foreboding that often accompanies the first bark of an approaching thunderstorm: hardly an irrational unease, but often a harbinger of nothing worse than a dusting of rain.

Just a sense of unease — yeah, that’s what we’ll call it — for now.

It isn’t that Barack Obama hasn’t been liberal enough for my tastes. He hasn’t, but that’s not what’s unnerving me. It isn’t that he’s starting to break some of his most important campaign promises to the progressive base of the Democratic Party. He’s doing that certainly; but, no, that’s not the source of my unease either. It isn’t even that his administration seems to be placing a higher priority on protecting the pirates of the financial industry than on defending the rights of ordinary workers. They do seem to be doing that and yeah it’s awful, but once again it isn’t what’s scaring me.

What’s scary isn’t Obama’s priorities or even his governing philosophy, however disappointing they may be in some respects.

No, what’s scary is how often — and in such a short time — he’s simply been wrong — dead wrong. And what’s even more disconcerting is how often this wrongness has been the result of his growing tendency to default to inside the Beltway status quo thinking. Time after time, faced with a choice between new directions and conventional wisdom, Obama has been taking the conventional route.

He did it with the bank bailout. Progressive economists, including, of course, Paul Krugman, cried out for temporary nationalization of failing institutions. But Obama didn’t have the nerve, or maybe he just didn’t have the vision. Either way, he elected, instead, to follow the advice of his ever so conventional economic brain trust – Team Money, led, of course, by Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers.

The result? As a non-economist I can’t claim expertise here, but the answer seems clear enough. Hundreds of billions of dollars pissed away — transferred into the accounts of financial giants. And then, as their thank you to the nation for this generosity, the executives of these banking corporations chose not to increase lending one iota. Deciding, instead, to just put the money in the bank, so to speak. They did, however, continue to spend millions of dollars lobbying against progressive proposals.

Then there’s Obama’s growing betrayal of his campaign promises on issues of secrecy and civil liberties. And once again Beltway conventional wisdom rules supreme. We can’t release photographs of torture, we’re told, because to do so could put the troops at risk. Sad, I had all but convinced myself that the use of the troops as an excuse for political expediency was a Bush Administration trademark. But it turns out that Obama’s well publicized post-partisanship extends here as well.

I find myself increasingly, though with great reluctance, drawn to Glenn Greenwald’s conclusion that “ever since he was inaugurated, Obama has taken one extreme step after the next to keep concealed both the details and the evidence of Bush’s crimes, including rendition, torture and warrantless eavesdropping.” And, of course, the Beltway loves it. But what will this essentially amoral response to Bush era abuses bring us in four, eight or 20 years? I hope I’m wrong, but to me it seems like an invitation to repetition.

But the scariest thing of all is Obama’s growing default to the Military/Beltway Complex on Iraq and Afghanistan. Did you hear we’re going to win the war in Afghanistan? We’re going to kick us some Taliban butt and bring peace, capitalism and democracy to the region. No outside force in history has ever had much luck in trying to pacify this tragic but fiercely independent nation, but apparently we’re going to do it. And what’s more, we’re going to do it while at the same time carrying Iraq and Pakistan on our shoulders.

When I think about this ever increasing expansion of our military presence in Afghanistan, I can’t help but hear the echoes of LBJ in Vietnam. He was a president who wanted desperately to pursue other priorities: to do great things; to build a Great Society. But he found himself increasingly sucked into an intractable war he could never win. And just like Obama, he marched into this hell armed to the teeth with the wisdom of the finest minds conventional thinking had ever produced.

As a strong supporter of the president, it pains me to say this, but Barack Obama is dancing with disaster: a potential catastrophe born of a refusal to truly embrace the change he’s come to represent. He is doing much that’s good, but the good can so easily be swallowed up and destroyed by the bad. It isn’t too late to put things right, but the signs that he is willing to do what’s needed have so far been frighteningly few.

And even this early in his presidency, already the time for real change is growing shorter by the day.

4 Responses to “Is Obama dancing with disaster?”

  1. wildhorse Says:

    Well said, Steve. We knew he was pragmatic; I didn’t think he would be so timid. During “Countdown” last night, re:oh-golly-now-we-can’t-release-torture-photos, I found myself screaming “Grow a pair!” I had thought my days of screaming at the president were over. That was a nice feeling, while it lasted.

    Doesn’t bode well for single-payer-not-for-profit-universal- health-care, does it?

  2. spikeheels Says:

    Obama has become Bush-lite.

  3. Larkrise Says:

    Broken promises are an ugly way to start any venture, including an administration. It reeks of hypocrisy and self-serving politics as usual, and will end badly one way or another. Thumbing your nose at the folks who worked hard to get you elected is not particularly astute. Ignoring moral issues, like holding those accountable for torture, is deplorable. Salazar, his Secretary of the Interior, is one gigantic ass and a flunky for Big Oil. Obama has broken promises to help control gun violence. I mention this because Freedom States Alliance has started a call-in drive to remind Obama of his campaign promise. They were surprised by the number of their supporters who criticized Obama and were distressed with him. They shouldnt be surprised. It is becoming a quickly established pattern. Washington insiders think the public is gullible, forgetful, and disinterested. They need to think again. A majority of people have been burned badly by Bush, and are watching Obama very closely. They were promised CHANGE and they do NOT want chump change. Unfortunately, a lot of it is being handed out. The healthcare reform we have been promised is going to be one big farce if the insurance companies are coddled. And coddled they will be, by the looks of it. As for Afghanistan, Obama is going to get his ears pinned back. He is overly impressed and seduced by the military big wigs, who always promise to win, IF, they have more money, more troops, more time. Lyndon Johnson had to slink out of town. Dubya had to slink out of town. Big Egos=Big Trouble. If Obama has the big head, he will soon find out that it has gotten in his way. The torture issue and the wars get uglier every day. He is headed down a well-worn road to perdition.

  4. Politic Says:

    I’m from New Zealand, a right of center voter, and avidly followed the US elections.

    I know that Americans wanted a fresh change after 8 years of Bush, and unfortunately, while you guys got the change of administration that you wanted, you also got inexperience. Obama used the idea of change to gain your support, but did you really believe that a relatively unknown politician could command the kind of support within Congress to bring about credible change? I predicted to my friends prior to the election–and got hammered by them–that Obama would be unable to truly command, and therefore produce the changes that he wanted. If you had wanted change, you should have gone for Clinton, I know that her popularity is very mixed, but she’d have delivered, though I guess that your not culturally or politically ready for a female president, in spite of the powerful positions commanded by women in the government.

    FOX had a special on Obama’s voting record during the elections, according to them he’d voted present, but not “yes” or “no” on an extraordinary amount of decisions. Obama is great at visionary thinking, but unfortunately, he cannot execute decisions, and continuously falls back to the default position of referring a decision to committee. You might not like Bush, everything that he has done regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, and your media may have hammered his “intelligence”, but at the end of the day, he had corporate experience with decision making.

    You might not like it, but Obama’s experience really didn’t equip him for the challenge. More importantly, he’s appealed to some many cross-part groups that as far as I can see, he doesn’t have a close cadre of support beside his close advisers.

    That feeling of dread that you feel is death by indecision…

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