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Jan 27 2009

Don’t leave Obama alone!

Irish orator John Philpot Curran said in 1790 that “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.” This has since been abbreviated to “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance” and attributed to many people, including Thomas Jefferson. Those who supported Obama during the campaign should take these words to heart. People have to be extra vigilant when their preferred candidate wins because that is when people let their guard down, thinking that the winners will look after the interests of those who put them into power.

In fact, having your own person win can sometimes lead to times when your interests are most endangered.

Let us not forget that it was Jimmy Carter’s administration that started much of the deregulation process that led to the eventual economic crisis we faced, that it was Carter that supported the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan that later morphed into the Taliban, and it was Carter who supported awful dictators like Suharto in Indonesia and Reza Pahlavi in Iran.

This is not to say that Carter was worse than others. In many ways, Carter has been one of the better presidents of recent years and clearly one of the best ex-presidents. But the point is that you cannot assume that just because a candidate supports some or even most of your interests while campaigning, and may even be genuine about it, that he or she will fight for those interests after getting into office.

Bill Clinton is another example. Because he had the support of liberals, he was able to push through policies that went against their interests such as the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, his anti-poor welfare ‘reform’ program, and letting Wall Street interests dominate financial policy.

It will also be easier for those who wish to privatize Social Security to do it through Obama than through the Republicans, so we will have to be vigilant on that front too.

If one accepts the thesis that what we have is a pro-war, pro-business one party system with two factions, then the interests that elected representative will try to pursue are pro-war, pro-business interests. The only counterbalance to that permanent pressure is to exert counter-pressure.

So one has to be even more vigilant now that Obama is in power because it will be easier for Obama to start a war with Iran because those who would have vociferously opposed Bush on such a move might support Obama on it. Look at how Democrats supported Clinton in his war in the Balkans.

Even though Obama spoke of having talks with the leaders of Iran, he will be under pressure to make unreasonable and unilateral demands of them, to show that he is ‘tough’. These demands will of course likely be rejected by Iran, thus allowing for the manufacture for yet another fraudulent case for war with that country, egged on by political chameleons, those warmongers who have now dressed themselves in new clothing and claim to have been critics of past wars.

Already Obama, despite claims to the contrary by US intelligence agencies in its own National Security Estimate, is making unsubstantiated claims that Iran is making nuclear weapons. Hillary Clinton at her confirmation hearing made the same claim. Remember how we got into Iraq because the Bush regime determinedly ignored facts that were contrary to their agenda? It looks like Obama and Clinton are doing the same thing with Iran. Obama is also rumored to be hiring Dennis Ross, former AIPAC lobbyist whom John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt identify as a member of the Israel lobby that seeks the overthrow of Iran’s government, to advise him on relations with that country.

As the ever-quotable Glenn Greenwald says:

Right this moment, there are enormous pressures being exerted on Obama not to make significant changes in the areas of civil liberties, intelligence policy and foreign affairs. That pressure is being exerted by the intelligence community, by the permanent Pentagon structures, by status-quo-loving leaders of both political parties, by authority-worshipping Beltway “journalists” and pundits (such as the ones who wrote the wretched though illustrative “What Would Dick Do?” cover story for this week’s Newsweek).

If those who want fundamental reform in these areas adopt the view that they will not criticize Barack Obama because to do so is to “help Republicans,” or because he deserves more time, or because criticisms are unnecessary because we can trust in him to do the right thing, or because criticizing him is to “tear him down” or “create a circular firing squad” or “be a Naderite purist” or any of those other empty platitudes, then they are ceding the field to the very powerful factions who are going to fight vehemently against any changes. Do you think that those who want the CIA to retain “robust” interrogation powers and who want the federal surveillance state maintained, or want a hard-line towards Iran and a continuation of our Middle East policies, or who want to maintain corporate-lobbyist-domination of Washington, are sitting back saying: “it’s not right to pressure Obama too much right now; give him some time”?

As an example of the value of applying pressure, during the campaign Obama was emphatic about closing Guantanamo. But he then began saying that closing of Guantanamo and either trying its inmates using the regular court system or freeing them is not going to be easy because some of the people are ‘bad’ people who should not be freed but it may not be possible to put them on trial in regular courts since the evidence against them may be ruled inadmissible because it is ‘tainted’, which is an euphemism for the fact that it was likely obtained using torture and other forms of severe coercion.

In other words, although Obama says that he is against torture, he wants to reserve the right to use information obtained using torture to keep people who have been tortured incarcerated indefinitely. We thus see him sliding into Bush-Cheney mode of thinking, using the same excuse of saying he wants to ‘protect’ us.

Fortunately his remarks caused considerable uproar amongst his supporters who had taken seriously his vow to close the camp immediately, and the next day he issued a statement saying that an executive order would be signed immediately after taking office, although that still leaves him room to delay closing it.

If many of those who vociferous critics of torture under the Bush-Cheney regime now become silent, thinking that because Obama is ‘their’ guy (and by definition ‘good’), he must have good reasons for doing it, we can be sure that those appalling policies will continue. This is the kind of pressure that must be continually applied on your own people to prevent them being sucked into the maw of the pro-war, pro-business party.

POST SCRIPT: The 50 most loathsome people in America

I usually don’t care much for lists of this sort but this one was fun. Obama was #50. Guess who ranked #1?

2 comments

  1. 1
    Elizabeth

    So what do you think is the best way that we average citizens can exert this needed pressure?

  2. 2
    Mano

    Elizabeth,

    The best way that ordinary citizens can exert this pressure is to not fall for the temptation to use a different standard for Obama than what we used for Bush. We should not hesitate to protest, sign petitions, demonstrate, if he does the kinds of things that we think are wrong.

    The mainstream media will swoon over Obama if he continues the pro-war, pro-business policies, so the counter-pressure has to come from bloggers and citizens.

    You can already see the split in the blogging world. Juan Cole criticized Obama’s continuation of US drone strikes in Pakistan, an act that clearly violates international law. He was taken to task by another liberal blogger for criticizing Obama so soon, that he was giving ammunition to the right wing. Cole’s response was dead-on:

    “The notion that we should not say something critical of the policy of a Democratic president because it might give aid and comfort to the rightwing enemy is completely unacceptable. It is a form of regimentation, and equivalent to making dissent a sort of treason. We had enough of that the last 8 years (it used to be from different quarters that I was accused of traitorously succoring the enemy).

    I don’t care what people like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh say or think, and I certainly am not going to self-censor so as to avoid giving them ammunition. Hannity was put there by crackpot rightwing billionaire Rupert Murdoch for a purpose, and he will serve that purpose regardless of what we analysts say.”

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