Beating around the BushNovember 6, 2009 at 10:36 am | Posted in International | 3 Comments
Despite all the quadrennial talk of ‘change’ and the blitzkrieg ferocity of political debate, there’s always far more that stays the same in American politics than really changes. Lobbyists are still writing cheques, politicians still act out of calculation as much as conviction, and there’s always someone, somewhere, who wants to seccede from the Union.
Similarly, Presidents inherit most of the sins or virtues of their predecessors without seeking or succeeding to change them. Sometimes they are constrained by the Constitution, Congress or political expediency, sometimes they are too timid to attempt change and sometimes the policies they inherited just happen to work.
The continuity which underlies the frenzied war games of Washington D.C. is – or should be – a fairly basic observation for anyone acquainted with American politics. However, such is the level of discourse at the New Statesman, this fact that some Presidents can inherit the misdeeds of their predecessors has been treated as some profound front page revelation.
Just last month they published a piece by Mehdi Hasan comparing President Obama to George W. Bush and noting the areas in which the Democrat had failed to roll back some of the most egregious misuses of executive power: Guantanamo is still open, rendition still occurs, state secrecy is still forcefully invoked and those suspected of authorising the use of torture have not been prosecuted.
The Obamaniacs didn’t like my take. They don’t want to hear about assassinations in Pakistan, renditions in the Middle East, torture in Gitmo — that all stopped when Bush left for Dallas, right? Wrong. In several areas but, in particular, in national security policy, Obama has picked up Bush’s baton and run with it.
Possibly. Alternatively, maybe being the kind of writer who’ll describe supporters of this President as ‘Obamaniacs’ means you’ll just irritate a whole bunch of people without knowing it. By throwing around this crude little put-down, Hasan is implying that support for the President can only come from ignorance or irrationality; we are either blind to the black marks against his Presidency or, drunk on hope juice, we blithely slur that we’ll love him whatever he does. This is really just thinly-disguised political misanthrope; it’s crass when Melanie Phillips uses it , and it doesn’t come across as any more sophisticated when it’s used by someone on the left.
Of course President Obama has made some mistakes and bad decisions. He’s been too timorous in restoring transparency & human rights to the field of national security, has heavily-diluted some of the more progressive planks of his election platform, has been lamentably slow in pushing for gay rights and America’s foreign policy is guided more by naked self-interest than at any time since Bush 41. But he’s also being blamed for a bunch of things that aren’t entirely his fault, and critics should remember that the President cannot get much through Congress (including healthcare & a climate change bill) without 60 votes in the Senate. If you don’t recognise how difficult that is, then your expectations at the start really were too high.
Furthermore, it’s completely possible to accept the existence of all those mistakes and still feel that the President has made a reasonably good start to his first term.
In less than a year, he’s ordered an end to the use of torture, passed a $787 billion stimulus package, voided most of the petty ‘signing statements’ of his predecessor, expanded health care to around 4 million children, begun moves towards reducing America’s nuclear arsenal, instructed the EPA to start regulating carbon emissions, worked to repair relations around the world, announced plans for high-speed rail networks, reversed the previous administration’s prosecutorial stance on medical marijuana, ended the travel ban on people with HIV, overturned the global gag rule, pledged $900 million in aid to Gaza and $300 million to flood-ravaged Haiti, signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, supported a UN statement calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, encouraged tougher financial regulation, proposed a decent budget and appointed a progressive to the Supreme Court.
Ultimately, America is in a better place than this time a year ago, and there is still scope for major achievements in the future. If none of this is enough to rid him of the comparisons to ‘Dubya’, my guess is you’re giving Bush far more credit than he deserves.