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November 30th, 2009
Freethought San Marcos: Facing the truth about President Obama (Part 1)

Freethought San Marcos: A column

I voted for Barack Obama just over a year ago, not because I expected that his policies would be far different from those of his predecessor, but because I had hope that they would be substantially different, largely due to Obama’s background and experiences. I hoped that as president, Obama would lead us out of despair.

Despair is what I have felt for nearly 45 years of trying to find presidential candidates for whom to vote who were more concerned with average Americans than with the corporations and wealthy, who control much of our government policy. Both Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter exhibited concern for the average American to some extent. Obama’s background as a community organizer gave me hope that here, finally, was a candidate who identified mostly with the people, not the elites, and that his organizing experience would affect his decisions. He grew up surrounded by people from a wide variety of backgrounds, nationalities, and experiences. He had even lived in foreign countries. This had to count for something positive, I hoped.

I’m sorry to say that my hope has not been justified, at least to this point in Obama’s presidency.

As I have looked at Obama’s actions since his election, I see now that I viewed some of his decisions less than critically. Others I glossed over. And some that I have criticized can be fairly viewed as the actions of an establishment mentality.

The expectation that a professor of constitutional law would do better than the feeble MBA mind of his predecessor on the great constitutional issues of the day was unjustified. (I don’t count his appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court as a great constitutional issue, though her appointment is one that I have applauded.)

My belief that a candidate with a first-rate, rational mind (in spite of his nods toward the supernatural community) would make better, evidence-based, and more humane decisions was as wrong as a belief in the Tooth Fairy.

When he appointed Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, I cringed, but thought that perhaps it was a pragmatic decision. In spite of Emanuel’s adherence to neoliberalism, at least he knew his way around Washington and could be helpful to Obama. I told myself that the international trade agreements that have eliminated millions of jobs needed by America’s families, the privatization of vital government functions (including war), the low wages of American workers, the increase in control of our government institutions by corporate power, the over-incarceration of Americans, the bullying of most of the rest of the world through military power, the cruelty of the welfare system that brought us Workfare without the day care–all policies pushed by President Bill Clinton and supported by Emanuel–would not matter for someone functioning as a super secretary/receptionist, or so I thought. I was wrong. Rahm Emanuel is helping to make an Obama presidency as neoliberal as was Clinton’s presidency.

When Obama appointed some of the people who caused the financial crisis–Lawrence Summers, Timothy Geithner, and others with Goldman Sachs connections–to correct what had gone wrong with the financial system, I thought that maybe it was smart to put people with such insider knowledge in charge. Who was better positioned and who would know better how to fix the problems they had had a hand in creating? Once again, I was wrong to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. His financial team has protected their friends in banking and investing, while ignoring the plight of everyday Americans who are trying to scrape together enough money each month to pay their mortgages and put food on their tables.

When Obama appointed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, I thought that it would help heal divisions in the country, and having a smart woman with better values than Condoleeza Rice involved with foreign policy might be a good move. How wrong I was. I have concluded that people without real military experience–Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Rice, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama–feel inferior to those who have been in the military and tend to yield readily to calls for further militarization of our foreign policy.

I know now that Jack Kennedy had decided to end American involvement in Vietnam a month before he was assassinated. He was a war hero who could not be flummoxed by the war barons in the Pentagon. Dwight Eisenhower, the leader of allied forces in Europe during World War II, after serving eight years as president, realized how difficult it was to control the military-industrial complex. He warned us, but no president other than Kennedy seems to have heeded his warning.

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has been a major supporter of the escalation of the Afghan War, a step that President Obama apparently has decided to take. While Afghanistan is not Vietnam, it puts us in a position not far different from the one that Lyndon Johnson faced in 1965. Johnson could not stomach being called weak, or lily-livered, or afraid of the North Vietnamese, or indecisive, or the person responsible for losing southeast Asia to communism. He worried that American prestige would be forever damaged if we pulled out of Vietnam. These are some of the same calculations that have gone into the decision to escalate the conflict in Afghanistan. There is no evidence that it will end any better than did Vietnam, though I have hope that it will not result in as much loss of life. However, my hope is about as useful as is a divining rod for finding water.

After the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan by the mujahideen, who received covert American assistance promoted by former Texas Congressman Charles Wilson, Wilson called for investing a relatively small amount of money ($1 million) in schools for Afghan children as a way to help that country progress into a more modern nation. No one in Congress listened to him. Had we provided funds for schools, the history of that country could be far different today and more hospitable to American interests in combatting terrorism in that region. Certainly, the work of Greg Mortenson in Afghanistan and Pakistan shows what one person can accomplish by means other than war. (See New York Times bestseller “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission To Promote Peace… One School At A Time”).

When Obama decided to keep Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, I did not focus on the advantages of continuity in that office, which was the most oft-heard positive comment about that appointment. I thought that here is a former CIA man, a Bush man, who is committed to building bigger the largest defense establishment in the world. This can’t be good for world peace, but perhaps Gates’ views will be tempered by voices outside of the defense establishment. I was wrong again. Gates has allowed Generals Petraeus and McCrystal to thumb their noses at the civilian military leadership and promote policy, rather than recommend military strategies and tactics. And they may have done so with Gates’ approval. They have been as insubordinate to Obama as MacArthur was to Truman, but they have paid no consequences for their aberrant behavior in leaking to the news media their military advice to the President.

Every time I have given Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt I had, it has been a mistake. I’m determined not to make that mistake again.

There is much more to analyze in Barack Obama’s actions as he gets closer to the end of his first year in office. Perhaps foolishly, I continue to have hope that he will make better decisions, but I no longer have confidence in that hope. I will get into more specifics in subsequent columns.

© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins

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9 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: Facing the truth about President Obama (Part 1)

  1. I feel that Barrack’s election and subsequent actions highlight sharply the false dialectic of our political system. He ran on a platform of change, and has changed nothing from the disgusting Bush administration, except to open more holes in our spavined economy (something for which the executive branch is less to blame than the historical mistakes which created the fed).

    The bottom line is that both sides have one goal: self-interest. Except that “self,” here, is defined as the life and size of the government. The right will do it by diverting attention of the magical terrorists which hate our freedom (not our fault, right? Remember what we did to Iran in 1953?), while growing the military industrial complex. The left diverts our attention to the bad bad corporations (whose existence and rapacious grasp are due, in part, to government involvement in the market), and then grow the size of the government to stop the corporations.

    End of the day, it’s all the same. The government got bigger, and the powers of the average citizen diminished equally.

  2. While I agree with Mr. Hankin’s assessment of President Obama’s performance, I hope he does not paint all MBAs with the “feeble-minded” brush. Not the least of those things that distinguish MBAs from JDs is their ability to see shades of gray and act upon those shadings. The JDs, unless involved in mediation/arbitration, tend to assess only the black versus the white. Beyond the MBA/JD context, the performance of either can be tainted by placing self-interest above public service and that appears to be the case during the past three administrations. A parliamentary form of government might be better at this point in our nation’s history and for our nation’s survival.

    Bill Haney, MBA, UCLA, 1970

  3. To Bill Haney:

    You make good points. I did not mean to cast aspersions on MBAs in general. Bush was a lackluster student and never a teacher. The use of his mind was never important to him. However, any lawyer who does not assess the black, white, and gray of a client’s case is not doing his job. To best represent a client, an attorney needs to know the strengths, weaknesses, and ambiguities in a client’s case. After 32 years of practicing law, I can tell you that there are plenty of feeble-minded lawyers. In fact, I met so many feebleminded lawyers in the seven years after I finished college that I decided that being a lawyer must not be too intellectually demanding. There are smart, hardworking people in all professions, just as there are slackers in all of them. Bush was a slacker.

  4. President Obama has fulfilled many of his promises for change already and we aren’t even one year into his presidency. In addition, he is well on his way to passing real reform for our health care industry. Not a small feat. Here is a list of other things he has accomplished:

    -Ordering the closing of Guantanamo Bay military detention facility and abolishing “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

    -Setting a fixed timetable for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq.

    -“Returning science to its rightful place” by lifting the Bush restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem cell research.

    -Signing laws to expand children’s health insurance (financed by a 61-cent per pack increase in the federal cigarette tax).

    -“Forge a meaningful statement from the United Nations” criticizing North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile.

    -Lifting travel and remittance restrictions for Cuban Americans who seek to travel more frequently to the island and send more US currency to their immediate family.

    -Appointed the first Latina to the US Supreme Court.

    -Engaging world leaders in Europe, Turkey, Latin American and the Caribbean with “strength and humility.”

  5. Okay, you admit you were wrong. No big deal.

    What is important is that you admit to having a real problem making good choices and that your logic skills are poor at best. And we’re supposed to look forward to reading more columns by you on this subject?

    You said Bush was feeble – what is this – the comedy column?

  6. To Dewey:

    You must have read someone else’s column. I did not say that I made a bad choice in voting for Obama. Given the choices that were available to me, I picked Obama. I would still do that today. What I was wrong about was not voting for him, but having too much hope that government policy would change dramatically. As an optimist generally, hope comes naturally.

  7. Great article. Too much expectations and this was bound to happen. As with Obama and with other US Presidents is that they are living in the same fool’s paradise that US has already lost its importance to create any good impact on the world at large because it has caused more negativity by its self inflicted occupation and wars in the Middle East.

    Financially USA is not the same that it was at the time of the Vietnam war so that it can help other poor countries that it has attacked or other nations that it wants to help or create some sphere of influence based on financial help.Its fighting these wars on borrowed money amounting to $ 13 trillion at this time so the hands of the leadership are tied while they are living in past grandeur when USA had its real assets!!

  8. Dear Mr Hankins,

    your problem is very clear. Elections in the US are decisions one has to make whether he will choose plague or cholera. That’s all.
    Michael Moore said ” Democrats are just republicans but wearing cheaper suits” How true.

    The stunning fact is that Mc Chrystal became famous as the leader of a group doing illegal killings. He made insubordination all the time by by-passing the chain of command. Indeed, like Mc Arthur. And he succeded. I can imagine that Petraeus could run for president in 2012. And his vice president Mc Chrystal. Thanks God I’m not 20 anymore. So I hope to pass some years through the looming desaster.
    A canadian friend warned me not to speak too open in such blogs. He had to remind me that the CIA is reading them as well which I don’t doubt for a second. My coordinates are 51 degree north 15 east. I can help with more precise data to ease a drone attack started in Ramstein.

  9. Its a shame y’all don’t know a socialist/communist when you see one. If you are unhappy about your choice just wait until civil war is rampant in the U.S. You refuse to see what is right just because it isn’t ‘fair’ and the choices are hard and you really want everybody to love you. Your great-grandfather would disown you and kick your butt. I have just witnessed serious acts of treason on the part of our own elected officials and not one thing was done. Had I been elected rather than GWB there would have been some folks against a wall in front of a firing squad. The majority leader would never have lived to see today. We now face a true and serious posibility of armed insurrection because of your current president. I will no longer support any sort of socialistic policies. They only open the door to what we have now. A WANNA BE COMMUNIST IN THE WHITE HOUSE. Get ready for a fight. This is my home and the home of my fathers going back longer than there has been a USA. No communism on our soil. Ever.

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