On Admiring Obama

Our President is a cool guy. He sings Al Green and cracks jokes, many of which are quite funny. By all accounts he is a faithful husband and a good father. For these reasons he is widely admired and loved by Democrats. New York Times commenters rave about his temperament; Facebook friends of mine “like” BuzzFeed’s latest post about him — “26 Babies Charmed by Obama’s Nuanced Understanding of Constitutional Law” (or whatever).

In his speaking, Obama expresses a hesitance to go to war to achieve his ends, acknowledges the threat of climate change, and shows tolerance toward people of all genders, races, and sexualities. Well-meaning people across America are soothed; this is their guy.

There’s only one problem: we must distinguish between a politician’s rhetoric and his or her policies. Obama’s have been, at times, vicious. Let me list a few of them:

1. Massively expanded the War in Afghanistan. A quick Google search shows that in 2007 there were around 25,000 U.S. troops there. In 2010, after Obama had been in office for two years, there were 100,000. Another quick Google search puts (indirect) civilian casualties resulting from the war on the order of tens of thousands.

At this point, a question usually arises: aren’t we justified in preemptively killing terrorists who threaten Americans? If you’re wondering this, I implore you to consider whether Iraq would have been justified in killing tens of thousands of Americans (in 2002, let’s say) in order to preemptively defend itself from Dick Cheney. In fact, this analogy is favorable to Obama, since Dick Cheney posed a much greater threat to Iraq in 2002 than the Taliban does now to the United States.

2. Financially and politically supported Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

3. Funneled money to Saudi Arabia that it uses to wage war on Yemenis.

4. Bombed Libya, leaving behind a failed state.

5. Massively expanded the use of drones to execute people, without trial, who we suspect might one day try to hurt us, thereby legitimizing this practice. Not to mention all the people killed by drones who just happened to be near a suspected terrorist, like children (otherwise known as “enemy combatants”).

6. Allowed the NSA to collect information on anybody without a warrant. If you believe some variant of “people don’t have anything to fear if they don’t have anything to hide,” plug “Fred Hampton” into your preferred search engine.

7. Vindictively persecuted whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Chelsea has had to endure extended periods of solitary confinement. Powerful people don’t like being embarrassed.

8. Protected George Bush from prosecution for war crimes.

9. Ignored or defended, and therefore enabled, corporate-led coups in Brazil and Honduras.

10. Oversaw an expansion in fracking, as well as in oil and gas production.

11. Bailed out the banks.

12. Didn’t break those banks up, despite that this is well within his authority. They’re now more than 30% bigger than they were before the 2008 crash.

13. Didn’t have his Attorney General prosecute any executive involved in the crash — again, despite that this was and is well within his ability. Instead, he relied on the advice of the financial elite (e.g. Timothy Geithner) and appointed them to key positions in government.

14. In the spirit of friendly compromise, tried to cut Social Security. It’s good when elderly people have to choose between heating their homes and eating three meals a day. Builds character.

15. Supported the TPP, which is absolutely the most dystopian law I’ve ever heard of. It deprives governments of the ability to regulate industry by allowing corporations to challenge regulations in an international court run by unelected lawyers.

There are more, but you get the idea.

During his tenure, Obama has had to endure obstructionism from Republicans that is probably unparalleled in American history. I do believe that he would have done more good in some areas had his political enemies been easier to work with. Still, I want to point out that nearly all of the policies I’ve listed above have basically nothing to do with intransigent Republicans. You can’t pin this stuff — the violence or the abandonment of working people — on John Boehner.

“The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.” -Orwell

Turns out the same is true of many Democrats. There’s nothing wrong in principle with enjoying the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, or finding Bo cute, or being moved by Barack and Michelle’s marriage. But there is something wrong with not hearing about the atrocities of your own side, and I sense the former often facilitates the latter.

The partisan instinct to defend Obama from attacks and the delusion that we know him personally — the sometimes funny, sometimes serious, always thoughtful baby-giggle-inducer — has enabled many of us to ignore his crimes. Let’s rise above this false sense of connection, this dumb loyalty, and challenge politicians, especially those in our own party, to help us forge the world we want.

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