As the reality-show Presidential campaign of 2012 hits its stride, simple truths are swept away by a maelstrom of mythmaking. While Obama was elected in 2008 on a mandate for change, in three major areas his presidency has been marked by striking continuity with Bush: the War on Terror, commitment to a top-secret national-security state, and guardianship of corporate and financial interests.
Obama has become comfortable at the helm of what MLK described as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” ruthlessly prosecuting the War on Terror through the expansion of drone strikes that regularly kill Muslim civilians in multiple countries; engaging in an unauthorized war in Libya; tripling the troops in Afghanistan while destabilizing a nuclear Pakistani state; adopting Bush/Cheney policies of indefinite detention, extraordinary rendition and secret prisons; and celebrating in extrajudicial assassinations of official enemies, including US citizens.
While few in the West have paid attention to the unsavoury facts, the perennial victims have but little choice. A recent poll showed Obama has lower approval ratings in the Arab world than Bush, with pluralities citing “US interference” as the “greatest threat to peace and stability” in the region. Obama now proudly touts these “successes”, alongside a mounting campaign for war against Iran, as major elements of his re-election campaign.
Domestically, Obama has quietly normalized a powerful, top-secret national-security apparatus that has readily suppressed civil liberties. Far from repealing the Patriot Act, Obama has renewed and expanded its powers, recently enshrining into law indefinite detention without charge or trial of American citizens. Warrantless wiretapping and constant surveillance (the NSA intercepts and stores 1.7 billion communications per day) has been enthusiastically intensified. And while campaigning on the idea of “transparent government,” Obama has routinely invoked ‘state secrets’ to preclude legal challenge of executive acts, using secret evidence via secret warrants to arrest, detain and convict individuals in secret courts.
Obama has also acted as the guardian of big corporate and financial interests, filling his cabinet with devoted neo-liberals and Wall Street financiers such as Tim Geithner, Larry Summers and Robert Rubin- all of whom played critical roles in fomenting the 2008 crisis. Unsurprisingly, this team has done little-to-nothing to re-regulate the financial sector or prosecute the most egregious examples of fraud; instead choosing to impose the notion of ‘individual responsibility’ on the 25 million unemployed and 14 million families who’ve lost their homes. And while recently introducing the largest military budget in American history, Obama now seems poised to make substantial cuts to Social Security and Medicare (cuts Bush was unable to accomplish).
As for Obama’s biggest campaign promise- a public health-insurance option- it was quickly abandoned for a plan written by the right-wing Heritage Foundation following secret negotiations with Big Pharma and the insurance industry. Even more, Obama has quietly engaged in record-setting deportation of immigrants (double Bush’s annual average), 97% of whom are Hispanic.
Simple truths matter. And it’s a simple truth that if one examines how he has governed, rhetoric aside, Obama is not progressive- but a neo-liberal war-hawk devoted to unconstrained executive power. It’s up to progressives to push progressive causes and demand Obama adopt them, rather than to push Obama’s causes and demand progressives adopt them.