Your correspondent, who did not make it to Washington DC or even to a bar with a TV for the second inauguration of President Obama, is pleased at the second term but still furious about Guantánamo, drones, the kill list, warrantless spying, TBTF, and the unreasonable rate of imprisonment. So far, so predictable.
But a couple of further thoughts. Yes, I do wish the guy who we thought was Our Guy would raise an executive arm and do whatever lies in his power to blot out those blotches on our democracy. But some of the issues extend past the reach of the executive branch and some of them are hurled forward by the inertia of the office, the polity, existing commitments, the place of the US in the world. To desire that one man stand up and change everything does sound like attributing a dictatorial or messianic role to this president– to recall a discomfort about Obamaism I first heard expressed in the summer of 2008.
What we should be doing is convincing the citizens, one by one, that these things are scandalous and will end up doing us great harm. At present these policies must benefit from indifference or a short-sighted cost-benefit calculation. Just to focus on drones: they kill without putting any of our young people in direct danger, they are touted as efficient and surgical means of doing in “bad guys,” they have massive high-tech appeal: I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that drones are more popular than the Congress among the people of this country. The arguments against them are stronger, in my opinion: they create global resentment precisely because they kill from a distance with expensive high-tech, they sidestep basic personal protections that have been on the books since Magna Carta, and sooner or later our enemies will get them too, so we get to experience them from the other end.
Similar arguments can and must be made about the other ugly aspects of Barack Obama’s legacy, whether or not they are inherited from earlier administrations. And yes, we need to recognize the good things these four years have brought, for some of us at least.
But it would be more democratic to build up a groundswell of opposition, rather than to concentrate on lobbying a Leader who may not care all that much about listening as long as we are a slender sliver of opinion represented more typically in law faculties than in all-night diners.
All right. You’re free. Go party.