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The Lesser Evil: Four Years Later

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(Article changed on November 1, 2012 at 19:17)

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As the election arrives in a few days, there has been much talk in the media in defense of President Obama's "progressive" policies. The Democratic apologists are coming out in full force declaring the president's good intentions and hopefulness for progressive policies. At the same time, recognizing the lack of progressive reforms over the past four years, the Democrats quickly blame Republican obstructionism for the faults of the administration. I believe it is time to put the apologists back in their place and reveal what really has been going on for the past four years.

In 2008, Americans voiced their preference for one Wall Street candidate over another and elected Barack Obama, a candidate whose top donors included Goldman Sachs ($1,013,091), Microsoft Corp ($852,167), Google Inc. ($814,540), JPMorgan Chase & Co ($808,799), Citigroup ($736,771), IBM Corp ($532,372), and General Electric ($529,855) (OpenSecrets). What does a million dollars earn Goldman Sachs? Besides receiving billions in taxpayer-funded bailouts, such a campaign donation earns Tim Geithner the Secretary of Treasury. Geithner used his position as Treasury Secretary to further Goldman Sachs' interests against their competitors by refusing to "grant Lehman Brothers the right to become a bank-holding company -- a status given to both Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs just days after Lehman Brother filed for bankruptcy" (fflambeau).  Robert Rubin, who was one of the chief architects in the repeal of Glass-Steagal in 1999 (a beautiful example of bipartisan consensus! Introduced by Republicans, voted for by Democrats, and signed by Bill Clinton), became an economic adviser to President Obama. In other words, the man who helped deregulate the financial market and crash the economy is now advising the president on how to fix the mess created by his class. Larry Summers is Obama's chief economic adviser and head of the National Economic Counsel. Summers' boss at Goldman Sachs was "none other than Robert Rubin" (fflambeau). Summers was another who hailed the repeal of Glass-Steagal as elevating America into the 21st century, a "historic legislation [that] will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy" (Labaton). 

While the majority of campaign contributions come from individuals giving $250 or less, the weight of individual contributions is heavily on the side of the corporations. A million-dollar check will have more of an impact on policy than 4,000 checks of $250. Nothing shows this more than the supposed "financial reform" bill, Dodd-Frank. Dodd-Frank fails to address two key issues at the core of the 2008 financial crisis: banks that are too-big-to-fail and regulation of derivatives and other risky financial schemes. Even Kevin M. Warsh, former member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, admits that "the Dodd-Frank Act has only reinforced the view that big and troubled banks will receive special government assistance. ... By sanctioning some list of too-big-to-fail firms -- and treating them different than the rest -- policy makers are signaling to markets that the government is vested in their survival" (Morgenson). Combine that with a complete failure to regulate the derivative market, and nothing has changed since 2008. Let's remember who appointed the federal judge that "threw out the Dodd-Frank provision that empowered the Commodity Futures Trading Commission" to monitor and regulate derivatives: Barack Obama (Dayen).

Moving into the realm of civil liberties, Americans have seen a dramatic increase in government intrusion in private life. Obama has re-signed and expanded the powers of the Patriot Act. He refused to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), "a defense-spending bill that codifies indefinite detention without trial into US law ... and ... does enormous damage to the rule of law both in the US and abroad" (HRW 2011). Democratic apologists assured us of Obama's good intentions. "He won't use it! He even wrote a signing statement saying he wouldn't." Of course, facts once again rule over hopes and dreams. The indefinite detention provision was challenged in a federal court by "Katherine Forrest, [who] ruled against [the] provision ... authorizing the imprisonment of anyone deemed a terrorist suspect anywhere in the world without charge or trial ... arguing [that] the provision was so broad it could easily infringe on freedom of speech" (Goodman). 

If the apologists were right, Obama would have welcomed the court's ruling, since he supposedly never wanted to use the indefinite-detention measure anyway. However, the Obama administration within 24 hours appealed the ruling claiming that the injunction "could cause 'irreparable harm' to the national security" (Johnson). Apologists have been largely silent on this, baffled by their president's outright lie.

"I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical-marijuana users. It's not a good use of our resources," said Barack Obama on August 21, 2007, while campaigning in New Hampshire (Laugeson). Once again, "hope and change" dissipates when confronted by brute facts. Under Obama's presidency, medical marijuana raids "go far beyond anything seen under the Bush administration, with more than 100 raids, primarily on California pot dispensaries" (Graves). Perhaps the President and his team of apologists should personally visit those patients, who require medical marijuana in order to achieve a quality of life worthy of a human being, and say that they're sorry. That will surely make up for the half a million users of medical marijuana who will now have to either find marijuana from illegal street-drug dealers or settle with less effective medicines (ProCon).

Democratic apologists often blame Republican obstructionism for many of Obama's failings or policy reversals. While it is undeniably true that Republicans have obstructed Congress, let's examine an area that the President has undeniable control over: foreign policy.

Drone strikes have been praised by apologists as a cheaper, more life-saving way of fighting the War on Terror. I'm not going to dispute the pecuniary cost, but let's not ignore the thousands of innocents that die due to drone strikes throughout the world. Apologists like Peter Bergen often make the erroneous claim that "the estimated civilian death rate is at or close to zero" (Friedersdorf). For a wonderful analysis of drone-strike statistics, see Conor Friedersdorf's article in The Atlantic and Chris Wood's article in TBIJ. In short, the numbers don't add up to the independent investigations. Human Rights Watch quotes legal and policy director James Ross:

"CIA drone strikes have become an almost daily occurrence around the world, but little is known about who is killed and under what circumstances. So long as the US resists public accountability for CIA drone strikes, the agency should not conduct targeted killings" (HRW 2012).

How many innocent civilians have lost their friends and family? How many go to sleep at night wishing death to America all because of collateral damage? It would be unthinkable if Syria launched a drone strike in Atlanta, Georgia, killing hundreds of civilians in retaliation for American support of the rebels. No liberal academic would ever find that just. None would praise the great "human cost" of drone strikes, if it was someone else doing the bombing. The argument between full-scale invasion versus illegal drone strikes is a false dichotomy. Neither protects the United States. Drone strikes further terrorize innocent civilians around the world, subjugating them to fear until their anger reaches a limit that, once attained, produces retaliatory terrorist attacks. In the wise words of Noam Chomsky, "everybody's worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there's a really easy way: stop participating in it." Drone strikes are attacks against civilians that create terror in the towns subjected to bombing. The question is not drone strikes or invasion. We must decide between peace and nonintervention or war.

Listen, Democrats! You are part of the problem. Your obedience and passive acceptance of your party's shift to the right contributes to corporate domination. Democratic apologists remind me of Catholic apologists. Always focusing on personalities and finding the "right" person, Catholic apologists are blind to the utter moral decadence and rottenness of Catholic institutions. Democrats are the same way. You did not select the wrong Democrat in 2008. The entire party structure and institutions are corrupt and susceptible to corporate control. It is time to stop looking for the right Democrat and break away from the party.

As you go to the voting booth on November 6th, remember that you are selecting between two candidates largely supported by Wall Street and the military-industrial complex. You will hear the same mantra incessantly: voting is the most powerful thing we can do as citizens. Jean-Jacques Rousseau acutely saw through this illusion: "The English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during election of members of parliament; as soon as the members are elected, the people is enslaved." Voting is the least powerful tool we have as citizens. The two-party duopoly renders voting virtually powerless. Choosing your preference between two factions of the business party does not get rid of corporate domination of our political process.

Direct action is the only method by which citizens can truly take power out of the hands of the corporate elites. This is not to say voting is useless. We must use all tools available to us. However, voting alone won't solve anything. Every successful social change in history occurred because of mass movements of people demanding a more just society. Women did not gain the right to vote by voting. We cannot expect corporations to give up their power over the political system by voting for one of two business parties. Whoever wins this presidential election, we must not expect change to come from above. If we want social justice, we must seize it ourselves.

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I study social movements and the tactics that ordinary people use to make political change. I also take an interest in state violations of human rights.


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"Hope and Change" was the slogan of Obama's 2008 p... by M. on Thursday, Nov 1, 2012 at 5:23:14 PM
You got that 100% correct.Evil is evil, no matter ... by Richard Pietrasz on Friday, Nov 2, 2012 at 7:59:47 PM
As this article points out, the Obam... by Raymond Lotta on Thursday, Nov 8, 2012 at 10:58:18 AM
I will spread this around... by M. on Friday, Nov 9, 2012 at 5:31:08 PM
I'd like to ask this question to the users of OpEd... by M. on Tuesday, Nov 13, 2012 at 6:02:18 PM