Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
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. HankinsEmail | Print