I must admit my part in a horrible mistake. In 2008, a lifetime ago from the perspective of my political and intellectual development, I supported the campaign of Barack Obama for the Presidency of the United States. This was back when I still believed that change and reform could come from the current political system and its elected leaders. I believed that a charismatic, kind seeming, friendly, ambitious and intelligent young liberal could bring about some change and move us forward as a society. I no longer suffer under this delusion. Barack Obama was and remains a remarkably talented people-pleaser and political operator.
Unfortunately he has used his talents to further the interests of friends and colleagues in corporate finance, big business and in the lobbyist class. Obama is not a Muslim nor is he a Kenyan…but he is a corporatist, a militarist and an avowed capitalist. He is no socialist. If he were I would seriously have to reconsider my political philosophy. A socialist does not sell the government to the highest corporate bidder and he does not open his arms to all the bankers, investors and financiers who ruined the economy you have pledged to repair.
My problems with Barack Obama began when I realized the extent of his support for covert warfare and high tech weapons. He seems to have taken the profane security apparatus put together by the men and women who controlled George W. Bush and used to it further an ever expanding war on terror. He has surrounded himself with ex-Bushies and former defense contractors and manufacturers who tell him that there is no limit to what must be done to protect the “homeland”. Unprompted preemptive drone warfare is now seen as a legitimate way of maintaining our always tenuous feeling of security. Our government now tries to claim the authority to assassinate US citizens abroad who they deem to be a “terrorist” or even just a “supporter” of terrorism. Even Bush did not go this far. That is not to say that Obama is “worse” than Bush. This is a red herring thrown out by liberal apologists trying desperately to justify the rejection of the ideals they claimed to stand for when it was a conservative who demanded unlimited extra-judicial military power.
The point is not who has done more wrong but what wrong is being done and how is it being justified? The “traitors” have become the “patriots” and the left has taken the place the right monopolized for the past decade: as the representatives of national security, government power and institutional preservation. The left may be less crass and overtly bigoted in their exercising of the patriotic prerogative but they are just as skilled as the establishment right at manipulating the fears and anxieties of a society told for decades that they are one major terrorist attack away from societal collapse. The point is not that one president is worse than the other on these issue, the point is that with each new president the national security apparatus is expanded and built up upon the foundations created by the last. The presidency has become a creeping pseudo-dictatorship that exploits political loyalties and genuine goodwill for their imperialist and corporatist causes.
I truly tried to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt. I naively believed that change to the system could occur within the system itself by replacing leadership. I, along with many of my left wing comrades, bought into the euphoria surrounding the election of a charismatic and amiable leader with a fascinating and compelling background and story. But I slowly came to realize that black, white, latino or otherwise the presidency is the presidency and it possess an allure and an intoxicating sense of ethical invincibility that verges upon the delusional. It is the office itself that is corrupting, it is the system that demands that a president must abandon principle in favor of self-justifying realpolitik. The executive now has powers and a scope never contemplated by the founders, flawed as they were, and for the most part the people are dazzled into complaisance by the glamour and spectacle of an imperial presidency. Who doesn’t like pomp, circumstance and feel good nationalistic self-importance, especially when it comes wrapped in a smiling face and a self-deprecating sense of humor? We are coached by our media and by our popular culture to see the president as a sort of uber-American, the personification of all our aspirations and values. How can the man who roles easter eggs with adorable children on the White House lawn be the same man who orders drone strikes on farmers and Islamic militants without provocation?
The “preemptive” warfare condemned by the left under Bush II has now become the new normal under an Obama administration increasingly obsessed with its own power. The same anti-war left that took to the streets over the disgusting abuse of power by the Bush administration now hems and haws when confronted with the fact that the man they elected to erase the stain of the Bush years as largely embraced his predecessors national security philosophy. Where then is the moral core of the establishment left? When the left resorts to apologizing for what it once found morally reprehensible when practiced by a member of the opposition why is there any reason to believe they have our interests at heart?
As the Manning case, the Al-Awlaki assassination and the general criminalization of public dissent demonstrate, the perimeters by which terrorist activities are defined continue to expand exponentially. Journalist Jeremy Scahill, during an interview on MSNBC, noted that by choosing to carry on with this targeted assassination program we are forced to deal with the very elements of society that we claim are out to get us. We are “out-sourcing our kill program” to “warlords” and Al-qaida affiliated thugs. He goes on to say
“One of the things we see under President Obama is the expansion of “signature strikes”, this idea that [accused militants] are engaged in pre-crime like [The book and film] Minority Report, where we are targeting people based on a pattern of life.”
A pattern of life and behavior that has a priori been labeled a threat by the powers at be based on perameters that we are not privy to, nor should be be privy to according to those same powers. How is this in anyway a “liberal” position? Was this the sort of “change” from the Bush administration that millions of liberal minded voters wanted from the man they elected president twice? Why do accept near-tyrannical exploitation of our fears and anxieties when it is done in the name of liberalism? And while the gnashing of teeth from the Right over these abuses smacks of the most hysterical sort of hypocrisy their anger serves to confirm the idea that when you give unlimited power to one you trust that same power may be used by someone someday who you would less like to see wield it.
Add on top of all this the emerging facts about an NSA domestic spying program that dwarfs that undertaken by the Bush administration during its nadir and one can begin to realize that there really is no substantive difference between the Democratic and GOP positions regarding the national/homeland security state. The only difference is cosmetic, really a matter of PR. Obama may actually be the best sort of liberal the capitalist system can offer: a happy intellectual who tells us how he will keep us safe and that we should not worry our pretty little heads about programs that we were never supposed to know about in the first place.
So once more I must admit my mistake. I bought into the simple-minded politics of fear and faction when I voted for and supported Obama. When Exxon, GE, Lockeed Martin Goldman Sachs and faceless security “analysts” have more say over the policy of the US then do 300 million citizens is it really time to quibble over whether the person who caters to their every demand has a D or an R after his name? Obama is not the solution or the problem. He is in fact quite irrelevant in the scheme of things. The real problem is the ever expanding power of the executive and his officers. We must stop expecting change to come from the presidency because the presidency as it has been reimagined since 9/11 is an office dependent upon ethical and societal stagnation, or at least apathy in regards to our own human rights. We must reject the allure of the traditional political process easy jingoistic scapegoating and strike out on our own in a new direction, a new path that leads to true democracy and an empowered people and society, a nation that is not dependent upon the suffering or exploitation of a world we are constantly told we must fear. We must give up on our political “heroes” and begin to see the potential within ourselves. We are better than Bush, we are better than Clinton and we are better than Obama. Change will come when we begin to realize this fact.
UPDATE: The NSA whistle-blower has come forward and it is Edward Snowden, a former analyst and adviser for the NSA. Here is a an interview with the man, who is now on the run from the US government http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/jun/09/nsa-whistleblower-edward-snowden-interview-video