Relentlessly they had offered trenchant, scathing criticism of the blood-soaked, oil-drenched policies of the Bush administration. They had done it for years. It was understandable that they would become enthralled with the soaring liberal rhetoric of a young African-American Senator from Illinois, improbably running for president. After then-Senator Obama voted for the FISA Amendments Act — despite having promised he would not do so under any circumstances — it became clear that Barack Obama would disappoint. It was by no means clear then how much he would disappoint. Four years later, it is.
Thus it was whiplash-inducing to see top liberal mastheads, media, blogs, pundits and anti-war activists become full-throated shills for the unconditional reelection of Barack Obama. They might have repudiated him as thoroughly as they did his predecessor, and for exactly the same reasons. Alas, that would require having principles beyond blind partisan loyalty of the inconsequent New York Yankees vs. New York Mets fan variety, or the dismal, self-defeating calculus of lesser-of-two-evilism.
The Nation's pre-election editorial "Reelect the President" provides an outstanding specimen of such "principles," served with a steaming helping of delusion or, less charitably, deliberate deceit. Contemplate the contorted logic underlying the statement that "Obama’s defeat would embolden the Blue Dogs and New Dems," when the president is admittedly a Blue Dog himself. Or consider this nugget:
“But the moment the new administration took hold, LGBT activists cajoled, educated, applied pressure from the inside and protested from the outside, creating the conditions for Obama’s ‘evolution’ on same-sex marriage.”
This narrative nicely elides the fact that in the 2010 midterms, the percentage of the LGBT vote going to Republicans(!) doubled(!!) to 30%(?!!) while support for Democrats dried up. Democrats lost the House in part because of the backlash from LGBT constituents whose votes they had long taken for granted without representing their interests in any meaningful way. But then, a wondrous thing happened: during the lame duck session, before Nancy Pelosi handed over the Speaker's gavel, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed and the Obama administration ceased pressing its appeals in support of the Defense of Marriage Act. A Christmas miracle! I suppose LGBT activists "cajoled, educated, applied pressure from the inside and protested from the outside" could be construed as "defected to the Republican Party." But if so, it suggests a strategy incompatible with The Nation's advocacy for the unconditional reelection of the Democratic president.
After denouncing the lack of focus on "catastrophic climate change and staggering rates of poverty to the militarization of foreign policy and the continued growth of the national security state," the editors make an impressive attempt at the world record for dishonesty and disinformation packed into a single, short sentence: "To his credit, Obama presided over the end of the Iraq War and is bringing the war in Afghanistan to a close." This is of course the exact opposite of reality. As one blogger succinctly noted:
“He tried and failed to extend the Iraq War past the deadline Bush negotiated. And he's presided over four more years in Afghanistan (some of it with near triple the Bush-era force, and with a doubling of US fatalities), and he may drag it out for two more years... and beyond.”
Even The Nation's condemnations of Obama's more egregious transgressions are, to put it generously, understated and inaccurate to the point where one may well wonder whether the editors have ever read their own publication. Or any publication:
“Obama promised to close Guantánamo, then reversed himself.”
The president did indeed try to close Guantánamo. But he did so only in order to relocate it wholesale, with its panoply of Kafkaesque injustices intact, to Illinois. Suffice it to say that objections to the Guantánamo Bay prison are not rooted in its Caribbean location.
“He did not end military tribunals and restore the rule of law for terror suspects.”
Compounding that perversion of justice, neither did he restore the rule of law for political and financial elites. One might even conclude that he has precisely zero respect for it, despite the rule of law being a foundational principle of our democracy as well as one of the greatest triumphs of Western civilization, with roots stretching back to the 13th century.
“He launched a drone war that is killing civilians and fueling a backlash against the United States throughout the Muslim world.”
The Nobel Peace Prize winner and constitutional scholar went well beyond that:
“Obama has expanded drone attacks in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. He has involved the US in aggressive cyber warfare and possibly other forms of military aggression against Iran. He has established and is now looking to expand what AP calls a "covert war in North Africa". None of this has been debated, let alone voted on, in Congress. The one time Congress voted on a significant Obama foreign policy - the war in Libya - it voted against its authorization, and Obama
blithely ignored that vote and proceeded with the war as though Congressional rejection never happened.”
The Nation also helpfully informs us:
“And he has not rolled back the imperial presidency of George W. Bush, as he promised; indeed, in some instances, more power has been concentrated in the White House by a president who now reserves the right to extrajudicially assassinate US citizens.”
Nevertheless, it was imperative that we reelect a president who "now reserves the right to extrajudicially assassinate US citizens," goes to war without congressional authorization, and kills massive numbers of civilians with an ever-expanding army of drones. With no apparent awareness of the vertigo-inducing dissonance, the editors conclude "No matter who is in the White House, a revived peace and antiwar movement has a lot of work ahead of it in the next four years—but it is impossible to imagine any progress on that front with a Romney administration in power."
It is impossible to imagine any progress on that front with an Obama administration in power.
The Nation was far from alone: Esquire's Charles Pierce offered up an equally convoluted screed, which blogger vastleft deconstructed beautifully here. MSNBC offered more pro-Obama coverage than Fox News did for the Romney/Ryan ticket. Even MoveOn.org, ostensibly an anti-war organization, got in on the action: I received from MoveOn no less than twenty-one emails in 2012, all of them urging the president's reelection. As early as a year ago, the largest U.S. labor union had already endorsed Obama. And that's to say nothing of DailyKos, Michael Moore or Bill Maher, all of whom are also inexplicably under the impression that there can be some reckoning and accountability, some pressure successfully brought to bear — after the president is safely reelected.
By unconditionally supporting the reelection of the president, every one of these entities divested themselves of all leverage. What was necessary, and only possible before the election, was a credible threat to withhold that support. Any prominent pundit, blogger, publication, talking head, union or activist organization — or better still, a consortium of them — could have taken a stand: no support until you pledge to [x], where x = [take your pick]:
- get out of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Iran, North Africa and everywhere else you're secretly bombing civilians, and refrain from new military action unless and until the U.S. is directly threatened.
- take serious action on climate change, including permanently blocking the Keystone XL pipeline project and banning fracking.
- take concrete steps toward single-payer universal health care: Medicare for all.
- prosecute alleged terrorists swiftly with fair trials in federal courts.
- accept no cuts to Social Security or Medicare.
- eradicate child poverty in the U.S.
- free Bradley Manning and give him a medal.
- disband the grand jury and cease all criminal investigations in connection with Wikileaks until there is evidence it has committed any crime other than journalism.
These standard liberal demands are now pipe dreams. It would be hard enough to pressure the president had he made such a pledge; it is all but impossible now. Instead, we have Bill Maher after the election:
“New Rule: Now that he's been reelected, President Obama must get back at all those right wing hacks who tried to paint him as an angry black man pushing a liberal agenda by becoming an angry black man who's pushing a liberal agenda.”
Must he? Or else what?
The president has no interest in pushing a liberal agenda. Unless by "liberal agenda" we mean more illegal and counterproductive wars, more privatized health care, more attacks on Social Security and Medicare, more get-out-of-jail-free cards for war criminals and too-big-to-jail bankers.
Instead, we have Robert Reich's "Dear Democrats, Please Stick To These 8 Principles." Pretty please?
Or else what?
Meanwhile, just last week the president quietly signed a bill shielding U.S. airlines from carbon fees in Europe. The administration is trying to change FCC rules so that Rupert "Fox News" Murdoch can acquire the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. The U.S. military is now explicitly targeting children.Too late.