Confessions of an Obamabot

No, I don’t think he’s the Messiah; I think he’s the captain of my team.

Since Atrios’s post about “emo-progs v. Obamabots,” and Kevin Drum’s comment on it, are attracting some attention, and since if you look up “Obamabot” in the Pictionary my headshot shows up, perhaps a comment from me is called for. Anyway, here it is.

Yes, I’m a fervent admirer of Barack Obama: his policies, his politics, and his persona. He is, as far as I can tell, far saner – less sociopathic – than most people who get to the top of either politics or business. He’s thoughtful. He’s funny. He’s not mean. He’s not a hater. Of all the people who have been President in my lifetime, he’s the one I think I would most enjoy spending time with and be able to communicate to most directly, and I don’t really expect to live to see some future White House resident who would change that.

Politically, I wish he were more partisan and more insistent on the threat plutocracy poses to democracy and to social solidarity. In policy terms, he’s been pretty “meh” on the issues I know best: crime and drugs. And the failure to prosecute the torturers of the Bush-Cheney years – including Bush and Cheney – while politically understandable, wasn’t really morally defensible.

But the ACA is a huge accomplishment – and a huge downward redistribution of income – and the Administration has been blessedly scandal-free. On gay-rights issues, I thought from the beginning that Obama’s slow-walking – the opposite of Bill Clinton’s “stroke-of-the-pen” approach – was strategically sound and would wind up in the right place, and I think the record now amply supports that view.

So, yes, I’ve been Obama’s strong defender against some “emo-prog” complaints. (The indictment reads “hippie-punching.”) And yes, I’d rather think well of him than ill. But that’s not the same as thinking of him as inerrant.

My support hasn’t stopped me from being bitterly critical at times. The pre-trial maltreatment of Bradley Manning was a crime, a disgrace, and a blunder, and if it wasn’t ordered from the White House it still should have been stopped from the White House. The obsession with leaks strikes me as both misplaced and weird. And both seem more surprising from Obama than they would have from, say, Bill Clinton. And while I understand the political landmines surrounding drugs and crime, the President could have done – could now be doing – more to make the public aware how stupidly evil it is to keep 1% of the adult population behind bars.

On surveillance, I’d be happy to see a clampdown on what the NSA is allowed to vacuum up and whom it’s allowed to share it with. (And I don’t sense that Obama would be especially unhappy, though he’s clearly not going to lead the charge.)

What the emo-progs refuse to remember – now, and in the run-up to the 2010 election – that I never for a moment forget is that, whatever the failings of Barack Obama the human being, “Barack Obama” the political persona is the leader of the Democratic Party (and thus, effectively, of the entire progressive coalition) in a battle with a well-organized, well-funded, and utterly dedicated plutocrat-theocrat-racist-misogynist-obscurantist-ecocidal Red Team, whose lunatic extremism is now actually a threat to republican governance. If I’m reluctant to help Rand Paul and Glenn Greenwald add NSA! to Benghazi! and IRS! and Solyndra! and all the other b.s. pseudo-scandals designed to make Obama into Richard Nixon, it’s not because I’m in love with “The One:” it’s because, for good or ill, the political fortunes of the cause I care about are now tied to Obama’s political fortunes.

One thing I like about Obama is that I have exactly zero concerns about finding that he has a Monica Lewinsky. But – and here I part company with Al Gore – Democrats and progressives owed it to one another to defend Bill Clinton forthrightly back then. And I expect to be equally firm in support of the next President Clinton, though I don’t expect to have to do so under such distasteful circumstances.

Again, this isn’t hero-worship, though Obama is, in fact, one of my heroes; it’s just practical politics. As Churchill said,

The loyalties which centre upon Number One are enormous. If he trips, he must be sustained. If he makes mistakes, they must be covered. If he sleeps, he must not be wantonly disturbed. If he is no good he must be pole-axed. But this last extreme process cannot be carried out every day.

What makes me want to punch the occasional hippie or emo-prog is their tendency to carry pole-axes with them at all times. The catastrophes of 1994 and 2010 resulted in part from that tendency, and the resulting depressed Democratic turnout.

I still have hopes for 2014 and 2016, and I’ll be damned if I’ll do anything to help the Red Team win.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

124 thoughts on “Confessions of an Obamabot”

  1. Well said Mark. This sort of post is one reason I read this blog regularly: moral passion tethered closely to a ‘reality based’ politics and policy.

    1. Hear, Hear. Is there anything, even one issue, out there today where Team Red is more rational than Team Blue? I feel there has to be, yet none comes to mind. And on the big questions of the day (Environmental: climate change; Foreign Policy: starting a war with Iran, sending ground troops into syria; Economic: stimulus spending, rebalancing of tax rates to be more progressive; Human rights: no torture, supporting of LGBT, etc.) Obama has been on the right side. There are plenty of arguments to say that he has not or is not doing enough, but the other side, Team Red, universally has a worse position on all those issues and seeks to roll back any progress Obama has actually made in the right direction.

        1. Well, Papoon didn’t win… also Obama’s positions are more realist / pragmatic / incremental than the surrealist positions of Papoon.
          Also, if Obama gets Democratic majorities like FDR or LBJ enjoyed in Congress (rather than opposition control of one house), we’d see a lot more action. Not a Papoon related comment, but one I think a lot of folks often forget…

  2. Two points:

    1. Obama’s allowing Bradley Manning to be tortured (solitary confinement and sleep deprivation are not just “maltreatment”) and his attempts to imprison whistleblowers for life with espionage charges (and, in Manning’s case, charges of aiding the enemy) seem to me the actions of someone who is mean and a hater, not merely actions that are “misplaced and weird.” Of course, neither one of us knows Obama’s subjective feelings, but there is tension in your defense of Obama as not mean and your recognition that his actions against Manning were a crime and a disgrace.

    2. Obama’s failure to prosecute the torturers of the Bush-Cheney years – including Bush and Cheney – was worse than not morally defensible. It fundamentally changed the United States into a nation not of laws, but a nation in which the President is above the law. Bush was a criminal, and, had he been prosecuted, his crimes would not have had a permanent impact on the nation, but only on his victims. Obama and future Presidents can be confident that they may commit serious crimes without fear of impeachment or prosecution, so, in effect, they cannot be criminals. (I have to wonder whether Obama’s desire to be effectively immune from prosecution played a role in his decision not to prosecute Bush.) Of course, Congress shares in the blame, as it could appoint a special prosecutor to prosecute Bush and, now, Obama.

    1. I might add that Obama’s failure to prosecute Bush and other torturers was illegal. The Convention Against Torture removed any prosecutorial discretion that Obama might have had.

      1. I can recall Jonathan Turley, George Washington Law School professor and constitutional scholar, making that same exact point in a reasoned and impassioned manner.

        1. Obama doesn’t want to start a pattern of presidents prosecuting ex-presidents because he’s going to be one in 2017.

    2. Henry seems to be presupposing that presidents can intervene in ongoing legal cases without running into huge issues of the boundaries of their authority. Not being a scholar of these matters, I do not know where those boundaries generally lie, but the presupposition should be identified as such, and its soundness should be examined by a person who knows the UCMJ, its operations, and what the Commander in Chief can and cannot get away with while a case is under military jurisdiction.

      Peggy Noonan thought that as head of the executive branch, he bore some responsibility for what the IRS did with applications of political entities for tax exempt status. True in a narrow sense but not in a realistic sense.

      Similar considerations may apply to the Convention Against Torture.

      1. “Henry seems to be presupposing that presidents can intervene in ongoing legal cases without running into huge issues of the boundaries of their authority. Not being a scholar of these matters, I do not know where those boundaries generally lie, but the presupposition should be identified as such, and its soundness should be examined by a person who knows the UCMJ, its operations, and what the Commander in Chief can and cannot get away with while a case is under military jurisdiction. ”

        Right – he appoints people to do that. In the end, the US had very clear obligations under domestic laws and treaties, and failed to live up to them.

        Now, this might have been because it was politically impossible, but it was still a failure.

    3. The idea that the White House, much less the President personally, would or could reasonably get involved with the treatment of a military prisoner is naive. I think Manning was mistreated and overcharged, but military justice is an insulated bubble. A bigger disappointment to me, because it was a gratuitous sop to the spooks, was when the President said Edward Snowden isn’t a patriot. That was uncalled for, and cut against years of his inclusive political rhetoric.

      1. Obama did get involved. He had Manning removed from solitary confinement after a couple of hundred law professors, including Obama’s professor Laurence Tribe, embarrassed Obama by publishing a letter in the NY Review of Books condemning the treatment of Manning. And Manning is not just any military prisoner. He was the biggest leaker of classified information ever, including of a U.S. war crime. Obama does not like people who publicize U.S. torture or war crimes. He not only will not prosecute torturers and war criminals, but he has intervened to prevent them from bringing civil suits, as in the case of the Canadian man whom the U.S. sent to Syria to be tortured, and whom Canada has compensated.

        1. AFAICT no one reported that the President was involved in springing Manning. That seems to be a myth. The White House asked in anodyne fashion whether DoD was following its usual procedures, which is about all the President can do, and was told yes. Manning was moved later.

          1. You also forget that President Obama pronounced Bradley Manning guilty months and months ago at a press conference(I believe). Regardless of where it happened, he did indeed out loud, very publicly, say that Manning was guilty before the trial had taken place.

          2. Fred Kaplan in Slate today:

            “First, the entire Manning case, from start to finish, has nothing to do with the Obama administration’s avid pursuit of leakers. The military courts operate independently of the Justice Department. If the most purebred civil libertarian were president of the United States, the Army would have gone after Manning no less relentlessly.”

    4. Henry, what you fail to grasp is that Obama is immunized against charges of being a “hater” by virtue of mostly hating the same people Mark does. Mark can’t identify Obama as a hater without self-identifying as a hater.

      1. Not to mention that one can’t even be certain that Obama was born in these United States, as Brett Bellmore has noted in the past.

  3. With respect to the NSA and the CIA and the government activities which continue from administration to administration, these seem to be almost independent of the character and disposition of the presidents under whom they are carried out.

    I can only conjecture about this, but it seems likely that when someone wins a presidential election, the CIA meets and says, “Sir, there are some things that you need to know,” then proceeding to show him things that scare him nearly to death.

    The continuities between administrations overshadow the changes with respect to many things. Presidential personalities are variable, but the national security state, now old enough to go on Medicare, remains invariant in its doings.

    1. “when someone wins a presidential election, the CIA meets and says, “Sir, there are some things that you need to know,” then proceeding to show him things that scare him nearly to death.”

      Yeah, they show him how much they know about him and the people close to him.

      1. J. Edgar Hoover knew how to keep his job even though many presidents wanted to dump him. His body lies a’mouldering in the grave but his spirit is marching on.

      2. That’s a cynical response to a valid point, and even at that it’s related to the FBI, not to our foreign intelligence operations.

        What they show him is a litany of threats from around the world, with lucid detail, far beyond what he might have imagined from the outside looking in. And yes, “outside” includes everybody not on the “inside,” so it certainly includes Senators.

        1. “What they show him is a litany of threats from around the world, with lucid detail, far beyond what he might have imagined”

          Or maybe they don’t. How do you know? I’m pretty sure I knew when the Soviet Union had nuclear missiles capable of wiping out the entire world. Is there something scarier than that? Is it something that only XKeyscore and Prism can stop?

          Really, this “the world is far scarier than we can understand” occultism has existed as long as we have had a huge intelligence infrastructure. I wonder who pushes this narrative….

          1. Toasters, I don’t know the lucid detail, or even what all the threats are. But I DO know what I wrote, which is what Ed Whitney wrote above.

            And your cavalier dismissal of “I knew when the Soviet Union had nuclear missiles capable of wiping out the entire world” is not germane to the point Ed made. We all knew about nuclear bombs and missles. What the CIA showed the Prez was U-2 reconnaisance photos with details of how many, where, range, accuracy estimates, support infrastructure, as well as intelligence details of targeting, chain of command authorities in the CCCP, estimates of launch delays, and fail-safe precautions behind the Iron Curtain.

            We all know smoking causes cancer and cancer causes death. The message becomes much scarier when the smoker sees, not just impersonal data, but photos and videos of people dying and the internals exposed in the autopsies.

          2. OK, if your point is that specifics make him excessively afraid for irrational reasons, well, that may be so. It doesn’t really reflect well on him.

          3. I wouldn’t have put it that way. Rather, I’d say that specifics make him more afraid than the general knowledge we all share, which seems somewhat remote until it gets specific.

          4. = = = What the CIA showed the Prez was U-2 reconnaisance photos with details of how many, where, range, accuracy estimates, support infrastructure, as well as intelligence details of targeting, chain of command authorities in the CCCP, estimates of launch delays, and fail-safe precautions behind the Iron Curtain. = = =

            I’m not sure where you are intending to go with that example, since the first U-2 photos showed that the Soviet Union had fewer and less capable intercontinental weapons than they had let on and far fewer than the US claimed they did. The Soviets had gotten out to an early lead in IRBM/ICBM technology, but their bomber fleet was far smaller than they had led everyone to believe (Potemkin!) and their missiles tended to blow up on the launch pad. Eisenhower tried to get this across to Kennedy, but instead we had the “missile gap” election. Great for the security of the US and the human race.


        2. The FBI knows things about presidents and their closest associates which give them some leverage that they can keep in reserve if the presidents grow ornery. Even if Virgil Virgin is elected to the highest office in the land, he is bound to have won the election with the help of people with a few skeletons in their closets.

          The foreign intelligence services could also have information about the time that the president elect was overseas and spent the weekend with those two girls in Copenhagen.

          The permanent interests of the national security state have a vested interest in having a tractable commander above them. One problem with the unregulated NSA database is that these interests know how many times a senator placed a cell phone call to a woman not his wife, even if they never listened in on the conversation.

          The same organizations also have a lot of very scary stuff about unstable regimes with nuclear bombs and about terrorist groups which have sought to acquire live smallpox virus.

          Both kinds of information can secure the cooperation of the White House from decade to decade regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.

  4. Mark: “What makes me want to punch the occasional hippie or emo-prog is their tendency to carry pole-axes with them at all times. The catastrophes of 1994 and 2010 resulted in part from that tendency, and the resulting depressed Democratic turnout. ”

    The reason that people are irritated with this is that people who talk like this don’t have a problem with right-wingers. Punch Megan McArdle, and you’ll regain a bit of credibility.

    1. A man rooting for another man to hit a woman, even rhetorically, has no moral standing to criticize anyone about anything.

  5. yes. but . . .

    “nsa!” is a scandal no matter how much you admire obama and i haven’t really heard anything from him to lead me to your faith in some kind of half-hearted desire on his part to clamp down on the nsa. i certainly admire him for his achievements for the progressive cause but his hedging and dissimulations on the matter of the nsa surveillance programs makes me uncomfortable in the extreme. you seem to be turning ablind eye to some serious lapses here and that troubles me too.

    1. “Turning a blind eye???” Did you really read Mark’s post?

      Mark has been a frequent critic of the Obama administration, and of Obama himself. He doiesn’t give Obama a pass when he thinks the Prez is wrong. But what he wrote here was that he never forgets that the counterpoint to Obama is the Red Team, and AgoraBum clarified that perfectly, stating there is NO issue he can think of where the Red Team has a position he prefers.

      1. i did read the post. did you read my comment? allow me to clarify: i can’t think of any issue where i prefer the republican position to obama’s position either. having said that, i must go on to add that i don’t prefer obama’s position in dealing with the revelations of mr. snowden. as far as i can tell, obama has made a series of hedging, calculated statements–occasionally belied by further information from mr. snowden–which make mr. kleiman’s assertions above that “On surveillance, I’d be happy to see a clampdown on what the NSA is allowed to vacuum up and whom it’s allowed to share it with. (And I don’t sense that Obama would be especially unhappy, though he’s clearly not going to lead the charge.)” seem willfully blind. at the risk of marginalizing myself i assert the right to take a position contrary from either team red or team obama when i find it necessary.

        1. Right.

          You’ll note in my previous that it was the phrase “turning a blind eye” that I was addressing. Mark Kleiman has never turned a blind eye. He has been an outspoken proponent of what he believed was right, irrespective of the Prez’s position.

          1. mr. rhodes,

            i have delayed and delayed putting a reply to your last comment but after watching the deceptions continuing to be busted by the releases of information and watching the behavior of the u.s. and allied governments, particularly the uk, towards the leaks and people associated with them, i must say that i thought i was giving mr. kleiman some benefit of the doubt in that turning a blind eye is somewhat a sin of omission but if your position is the correct one then that makes mr. kleiman’s moral and ethical lapses in not giving a full-throated denunciation of the profoundly disturbing and deeply authoritarian turn the obama administration has taken towards the nsa revelation even more profound than i had originally thought.

            i want you to understand that i am a lifelong liberal democrat who was an obama delegate to the texas democratic convention of 2008 and an obama voter in both 08 and 12. i am not some fair-weather democrat who flees the scene when things get difficult. i live in texas and i shrug off the contempt and hostility i face from most of the people i work with and most of my relatives for holding such a “despicable” ideology. but i will not hedge, even when it is my own side with which i disagree. so, sir, if mr. kleiman is not turning a blind eye then i must assume he is willfully and actively excusing conduct on the part of the obama administration which is contemptible and nearly inexcusable and must share in the opprobium that conduct deserves.

  6. The thing about Obama is, while he has many fine qualities, he is the ultimate Establishment guy.

    He’s moved up in the world through a series of foundation boards. He appoints Senators and Governors (damn the electoral consequences) to his cabinet. He refuses to ruffle the feathers of powerful war criminals, but Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are Public Enemies #1 & 2. He refuses to ruffle the feathers of the people who wrecked the economy (right wing psychosis notwithstanding), and can’t be bothered to help people underwater with their mortgages– after all, insiders like Geithner and Summers have no interest in handling –ugh– mortgages. He almost went with Evan Bayh as his VP, for fuck’s sake.

    He wants to make things better in a polite liberal way, but he doesn’t want any enemies in his class. He is who he is.

    1. In other words, Barack Obama is the prince of moderate Republicans. He believes, in his heart, that plutocrats ultimately will act out of enlightened self-interest.

      ACA, although an ugly kludge, is a major improvement of which he can be justifiably proud. The Obama administration did a good job with the financial part of the financial crisis–but then again, it was a mere continuation of Bush’s policies. The real economy aspects–not so much, especially with housing. I really can’t think of much more else with the economy, although I suppose you can blame 2010 for that in part. But no interest in unions or increased minimum wage and little interest in income inequality, and a pathological interest in NCLB and technical education as the cure-all for income inequality. He’s not awful on taxes, I suppose.

      He’s been good on gender issues, but that’s about it. Sorry, he’s also been good on immigration. By no coincidence, the plutocracy supports both. As they did his handling of the financial crisis: both the effective part involving the banks, and the ineffective part involving everybody else.

      He’s swallowed the 9/11 mindset hook, line and sinker. Yes, he withdrew from Iraq: another Bush policy carried to completion. He’s been passive in the War on Drugsâ„¢. He despises Netanyahu as much as anybody else, but lets him do his thing.

      Yep, Barack Obama is the most liberal Republican President since Nixon. And I suppose the best since Ike.

      1. 100% correct. At least he’s not a crook like Nixon. But not quite as liberal. He’s a bog standard center right Republican, before the insanity struck during the Reagan years. And this is so inspiring to Mark and his ilk.

      2. He’s been good on gender issues, but that’s about it.

        Tell that to Janet Yellen. How is he good on gender issues considering all the leaks we’ve seen come out re: Yellen v. Larry Summers lately? Did you ever read Suskind’s The Confidence Men?

          1. True but at the time he knew that he would need the support of women for his reflection, just as he knew that he needed to walk a fine line politically. Neither of these women is exactly a flaming lefty. But, more to the point, now that he’s left to his own devices, the leaks mentioned above suggest that his views on gender issues are not necessarily as you claim.

        1. I doubt he’s so much against Yellen as he is for Summers. Hey, he’s a former Harvard student who had (and will have again) a former Harvard president working for him! It’s ALL about Obama’s status within the elite.

          1. Oh good grief! Obama’s a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law. He won a Nobel Peace Prize, and he’s the freakin President. That’s all the status he needs.

            On the other hand, I think you’re absolutely right in your first sentence. He isn’t against Yellen. He just has more confidence in the guy he favors. Confidence which I believe is misplaced, but not everybody sees every issue they way I do.

          2. Yes, of course, someone who has relentlessly sought status his entire life stops when he becomes President. This is why people who set out to become millionaires stop trying to amass wealth when they’ve met their original goal. It’s not at all a personality characteristic. *rolls eyes*

      3. I disagree on immigration. He’s been quite awful. And it was obvious months ago that nothing was going to come of the push for reform, except for exec branch things he could have done first term. What did he have to lose? That the right would go nuts? They did anyway. In slow motion. For years. He really just gives away the store.

        1. I think that’s exactly right. On immigration and gay rights Obama stalled, pleaded that he was powerless to help but endlessly promised “jam tomorrow”. Eventually both groups said they wanted what they saw as their due based on past support and if they didn’t get it right now, no more support regardless of how bad the Republicans were, regardless of Sarah Palin and they didn’t want to hear about “jam tomorrow.” Voilà! Instant evolution.

    2. >>The thing about Obama is, while he has many fine qualities, he is the ultimate Establishment guy.>>

      Gee, the “ultimate establishment guy” in my lifetime of Presidents was FDR. Is “ultimate establishment guy” a bad thing, prima facie?

      1. It’s one thing to come from the Establishment, it’s another to relentlessly pursue entree into it and continually celebrate it and reinforce its privileges.

  7. “Of all the people who have been President in my lifetime, he’s the one I think I would most enjoy spending time with and be able to communicate to most directly…”

    I don’t know how old you are, so it may not apply to you, but I would go with Carter. He is not only a fundamentally decent person: he affirmatively attempted to use his office to advance the cause of decency. (That he was largely unsuccessful is beside the point.) Even more remarkably, he has used his post-presidential bully pulpit to work to improve the lives of poor people. Most former presidents fade away onto the golf course, and the ones who don’t we generally wish would. Carter is unique within recent memory in spending his time performing good works. He also is the only president from within my lifetime whom I have absolutely no doubt attends church regularly, even when there are no cameras present, and he actually believes all that social justice stuff Jesus kept droning on about; unlike so many self-identified Christians who somehow manage to read the Bible and come away with the notion that it is a book about sex.

    Oh, and home-brewed beer. He all owe him a great debt of thanks for that one.

    1. Carter is the greatest ex-President of all time, perhaps: but what were the accomplishments or even initiatives in office for which you credit him? The claims against him by Repblicans are mostly nonsense (in fact, he increased military spending and deregulated industry), but what are the proud moments you cite? You can cite Egypt and Panama, perhaps – but what domestically?

      1. • Cheaper airline tickets.
        • Cheaper interstate rail and truck shipping.
        • Microbreweries.

        That’s more than some presidents accomplish.

          1. Sure – see above, where I said “Egypt”. I used that word to distinguish it from a wider peace, which it wasn’t, and also because it wasn’t the only Middle East Peace Deal – see also Clinton, Bill. Also, note I asked about domestic advances.

      2. Making a focus on human rights a key element of U.S. foreign policy, especially in Latin America. Before Carter, most Latin American countries were nasty right-wing dictatorships. The policies he put in place are a big part of the reason that Latin America is almost 100% democratic today.

        The four years of the Carter administration were the first and the last time that I wasn’t ashamed of my country’s foreign policy.

        1. I’m inclined to like human rights, and the promotion of human rights. And I think Carter’s desire for a humane foreign policy was sincere, which is more than I can say for many of his peers (the most striking recent one was all the noble pronouncements of Jack Straw’s Foreign Office, reflected by not so much as a change in the punctuation of the UK’s foreign policy). But I think Clinton had noble ideals for his foreign policy, despite the questionable handling of Somalia, Serbia, and Rwanda; and I think Obama does as well, for all the questions of Drones and Af-Pak. I don’t credit ideals I’d call noble to Nixon, Reagan, or especially Bush II – but, surely, it’s deeds that count. And that’s where you leave me mystified.

          Giving credit to Carter (or, rather, to Carter’s time in office) for progress in Latin America is inexplicable. None of that progress happened during his time, nor for years afterwards; indeed, most happened after the Reagan administration, which was characterized by a bloody swathe of proxy wars, dirty wars, disappearances, and massacres across Latin America. Similarly, the drug wars, intensified under Reagan and still more since then. Any progressive intentions you might accord to Carter’s Presidency were thoroughly undone by his successor. And I don’t offhand even recall great events in Latin America under Carter: it was important in order for us to uphold our professed ideals that we renounced our claim to Panama, but as I recall we signed that agreement with a military-backed dictator. Pinochet may not have been beloved of Carter as he was when Kissinger or Kirkpatrick were calling the shots, but his grip on power never wavered while Carter was in office; similarly Duvalier, the generals in Brasilia, etcetera.

          Carter has done great work in promoting Latin American democracy out of office, through the Carter Center, and I’m sure he would have liked to see more Latin American democracy while in office. And I’m certainly not suggesting we should act militarily to impose democracy! But his time in office saw neither progress nor even memorable failures in Latin America. I really have no idea what you are referring to.

        2. And to add, Carter’s focus on human rights did much to delegitimate the Soviet Union internally. Ford deserves some props for Helsinki, but Carter kept pushing on it. Also, Carter’s military buildup pressured the Soviet economy externally. Jimmy Carter may have been the most effective anticommunist President we’ve had, especially since he didn’t confuse anticommunism with right-wing thuggery.

          But going back to Warren Terra’s point, he wasn’t as impressive domestically. I’d give him Paul Volcker, deregulation (a very mixed legacy), and beginning to pull the Democratic Party back from the 1960’s. He showed that moderate conservatism was consistent with anti-racism.

      3. I’d say that some of that deregulation was good. Also, energy; he at least pointed the ship of state in the direction against oil. Imagine if that had been followed through on instead abandoned by Reagan. Also on the environment, the Superfund law to help clean up our most polluted areas. First president to support gay rights (or at least oppose new discriminatory measures against gays), and amnesty for vietnam draft dodgers (hey, if Nixon gets a pardon, why not them? start the healing…). And some additional progress on OSHA. But the recession and oil crisis made things tough…he tried, but failed, to get health care passed.

        1. It’s not I think accurate to say he acted meaningfully on energy. He meant well, and he said important things – but he did or proposed nothing of significance with respect to policy (no big energy taxes, no big funding of alternative energy, no big recycling program). He installed some solar panels on the White House roof, which his successor removed, and he wore a sweater and turned the heating down. Those were about it.

          As to the rest, much of it I know nothing about. Did Carter, while in office, support Gay rights, or at least oppose additional anti-Gay measures? It’d have been a worthy move, but I’ve never heard it said before. RE Superfund and OSHA, those seem more like a continuation of acts begun by the Democratic Congress under Nixon (EPA, Clean Water) than anything else – especially on OSHA, as Carter was not a friend to labor. Did Carter push for health care legislation in office? Not that I’ve ever heard of, not even when the history of health care legislation was all over the internet a year or four ago. Certainly, he did less there than either of his elected predecessors!

      4. “The claims against him by Repblicans are mostly nonsense”

        The chief claim I hear against him, is that, if you were a despotical regime wanting your show election to be certified as free and fair, Carter was your go-to guy.

    2. He was also an excellent race baiter back when he was a politician. I am very happy to have Carter as an ex-president.

  8. A major disenchantment of mine, for Obama, is his enthusiasm for his increased employment of drone attacks despite, or could it be possibly, because of the high number of civilian casualties they inflict. Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist for the New York Times, Mark Mazzeti has recently written a book ‘The CIA, a Secret Army and a War at the Ends of the Earth’ that:

    (Drone) strikes resulting in collateral damage are ‘cheered in private’, even if the administration’s official line is that there is no joy in ‘the Predator joystick’. Richard Blee, the former head of the CIA’s bin Laden-hunting unit, told Mazzetti that the CIA lowered the bar for identifying targets because American spies no longer ‘wanted to know who we were killing before anyone pulled the trigger’. The architect of the drone stikes more concretely, ‘America’s kill list’, during Obama’s first term, was ‘co-ordinated in the basement office of John Brennan’. Under Bush, Brennan was “an outspoken defender of indefinite detention, rendition to countries with abominable human rights records,

    To use Mark’s word, Brennan was ‘a sociopath’. So far, from punishing such men for encouraging torture or keeping them in check, Obama has promoted them. Brennan is now Obama’s Director of the CIA and apparently by some accounts, “his father confessor”, his new Jeremiah Wright.
    I have come to the conclusión that Obama doesn’t have enough strong, moral beliefs or they can be easily suspended or rationalized away. Having rubbed shoulders with so many more experienced Bush Republican war horses he has appointed to his defense and security team team, Barrack always adept at conciliating, ingratiating or as he puts it “turning the page, has a little too eagerly forgotten who he was before he became president. Mark wants us to forget who we were when we voted for him in 2008, or why we did, simply because of the ‘crazies’. Obama hasn’t made it easy for his progressive supporters or those with a conscience to be as maleable as Obama.

  9. = = = he catastrophes of 1994 and 2010 resulted in part from that tendency = = =

    This analysis might be a bit more palatable to the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party if there were at least the tiniest bit of acknowledgement that the disaster of 2010 also resulted in part from Obama’s desultory campaigning and Emanuel’s absolutely and utterly disastrous management of the DNC from afar. Emanuel’s track record in picking House winners and stiff-arming those who he thought of as insufficiently manly was AFAICS near perfect: very close to 100.0% failure at the ballot box. But we’re not supposed to ever discuss that, because Emanuel was savvy and those who point out his incredible record of failure are for some reason not savvy.


    1. Amen. Rahm is my favorite kind of guy: a mean blowhard who is always wrong.

  10. A recent guilty pleasure has been watching the occasional episode of “The Tudors” using my Amazon account. What strikes me about the series, aside from the preternaturally clean hands of the 16th Century characters, is that we now seem as safe from arbitrary actions of the government as anyone in Henry’s court. I thought Obama would return us to some semblance of Constitutional government; he promised as much. He also promised at least a fight for a “public option.” Those were the only reasons I could see to prefer him over his primary opponent. Silly me. And it’s not that he has had to deal with an intransigent GOP. That was a given. As was the fact he would probably lose more than he would win is also a given. But it never occurred to me that he actually be

  11. Is a simple call for us to expropriate the expropriators too much to ask for?
    How hard can it be to seize the commanding heights of the economy for the people?

    You won’t catch me voting for Obama again….

      1. @Warren Terra: Well, we know for sure that the part about “not voting for Obama again” is genuine. : )

        1. Well, he could run for Congress, just like John Quincy Adams, who, like Carter, was also a pretty decent ex-president. Then people in that district could vote for him again.

          For that matter, he could still run for Vice President; the 22nd Amendment only says that he shall not be elected President again.

          1. For that matter, he could still run for Vice President; the 22nd Amendment only says that he shall not be elected President again

            That’s good political trivia. I can’t imagine a former POTUS wanting to be VPOTUS as a general thing, but what if you had a very ill president and wanted to give a former POTUS a third term?…I sense a Washington potboiler in the making…call my agent pronto!

          2. No he can’t. 12th amendment, last line: “But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.”

          3. The Twelfth Amendment may prohibit his election as VP.

            It would probably end up in the Supreme Court if a former President attempted this. The 12th is about qualifications to be President while the 22nd is about being elected.

          4. He is not constitutionally ineligible to the office of president, only ineligible to be ELECTED president. He could still be VP and succeed a president if the office became vacant.

      2. Are those not logical, rational expectations to have of a Democratic president?
        Am I not entitled to be angry when they are not fulfilled?

  12. In general, yes, I have an obligation to defend him because of who his enemies are and what they want to do. I get that. And I think it’s possible to do that without being dewy-eyed about him or thinking he walks on water.

    As it happens, going back to the 2008 primaries I’ve always thought of him as a center-right Democrat so most of my policy disappointments have been much less acute than others’ seem to have been. In economic stuff I have been surprised at how deeply committed he seems to be to the Chicago school, or the Chicago-Wall Street axis. Someone not so bound would have seen the value of turning Justice loose hammer and tongs after two or three prominent finance malefactors– only a couple would have been needed, pour encourager les autres, to hearten the troops, and to confirm the country’s sense of what’s right and what’s not. That ranks pretty high with me.

    There have been other issues along the way, but the one that has me most wondering about him or questioning my own judgment is what happened early on. His communications and messaging operation during the first campaign was brilliant, I thought, and his election gave him about half a year when the enemy was completely rocked back on its heels. They didn’t know what they could do, how far they could go with racial stuff, or anything. They were completely off-balance. An LBJ would have had both a legislative agenda and a communications plan ready to exploit that confusion. The Obama people didn’t, apparently, know how to follow it up before events inevitably overtook them, as was bound to happen.

    The thing is, I thought people smart enough to do what they did in the campaign would have made it a number one priority to maintain the public initiative. It doesn’t seem to me that they did, which is a shame. Instead there was a sudden shift to the inside game, is what it felt like, and a dust cloth went over the bully pulpit most of the time. So it became, and remains, hard to figure out where he stood.

    Obama has broken new ground in many ways and has faced really unprecedented difficulties, being who and what he is (suppose everything else was the same but his name was Barry Williams, for example– would there be the same Tea Party today?). But imho he’s made some of these difficulties harder for himself by stepping too far away from the people and groups that stand for things he wants to achieve.

    1. Instead there was a sudden shift to the inside game, is what it felt like, and a dust cloth went over the bully pulpit most of the time.

      I knew that was going to happen as soon as he appointed Rahmbo chief of staff, if not before. Also, too, remember he appeared in a public setting back in ’08(before the financial crisis really hit the fan) with Bob Rubin. That was a bad sign too. And no, Hillary would have been no different policy wise.

      1. >>And no, Hillary would have been no different policy wise.>>

        But sadly, in retrospect, we might guess that Hillary might have pursued the same policies that we favored, like ACA with a single payer option, a lot more aggressively, and with a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” attitude, and with what Altoid suggested–both a legislative agenda and a communications plan ready to exploit that [Red team] confusion.


        1. @Ken, I don’t think Hillary would have had any moments of confusion to exploit. They had the hymnal out and the selections all lined up for her– it would have been the 90s all over again, starting the second the election was called. That was, in my mind, a good reason to prefer Obama. At least at the time.

          1. I think perhaps you’re giving the Red Team too much credit. For two years the Dems had the majority in the House and the hold-proof majority in the Senate. Prez Obama used that power some, (think ACA), but I think not nearly so much as Prez Hillary might have done. She never struck me as one who would try to hold out the olive branch and get the Red Team to “come, let us sit down and reason together.” That seemed cool (to me) at the time, but in retrospect all he got for it was wasted time and lost opportunity to wield his big bat.

          2. With respect, the Democrats did *not* have a “hold-proof” majority, if by that is meant a filibuster-proof majority, for two years. They had it from the time Al Franken was sworn in after an incredibly long recount process until the time Ted Kennedy died: 14 weeks.



            One can certainly criticize Obama’s negotiating strategy on several occasions, as I have too. But doing so based on the false memory, encouraged by Republicans, that the Dems had 60 votes for two years will lead to comically faulty judgments.

    2. Well said, Altoid. And even on health care, they almost blew the messaging and we are still suffering for it. Imagine if the President had said repeatedly, I’m flexible on the details, but health care reform needs to do these (say) four things, a,b,c,d. Today they could be saying, folks, the four things we fought for are coming, don’t let the Republicans take them away. Instead, most people still only know vaguely of something called “Obamacare” (a moniker that, luckily, we can live with, but imagine if his popularity had tanked) and none of the substance.

  13. “Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
    Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”

  14. I think it’s very sad that I’m forced to vote for the Democrats primarily because the opposition is no longer loyal nor sane.

    Ever since Nixon, whose ’68 campaign I worked for as a volunteer before I was old enough to vote, there comes a time in every politician’s career when I can no longer stand to listen to them. I still read their speeches, but I stop listening.

    With Obama, it came with his casual dismissal of the abuse of Bradley Manning in prison. He said something to the effect that the military had assured him that Manning was treated in the usual manner. That made my blood run cold.

    He’s not a lesser sociopath. He’s as sociopathic as the rest of them. The latest research shows that sociopaths don’t lack empathy completely, but they can turn their empathy off and on to suit their goals. I made an exception and listened to his remarks on the Zimmerman trial. He spoke from the heart, with many fewer er’s and uh’s than usual. The empathy for Trayvon Martin was turned up to 11. Too bad the empathy for for Bradley Manning, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and the victims of American torture is turned to zero. He could be them also.

    I appreciate and understand what you wrote, Mark. But I have to say I wouldn’t want to be in the same room with Obama despite the fact I voted for him twice. I grieve for the Republic that we are reduced to such choices.

  15. What amazed me about Obama is how long it has taken him to recognize that his enemies are never going to step up and do the right thing for the good of the nation. At first I thought he was putting on a show of reasonableness to win public support but I finally accepted that he really believed he was going to wear them down.
    It’s been said before but bears repeating: Credit where credit is due. The right knows how to use power when they have it. The left seems to have forgotten that art about a generation ago.

  16. Mark: The quintessential Kleiman post and a great read.

    Who you personally would like to hang out with and who was the most normal person in the Oval Office may be different. David Gergen said, and I agree, that of the five Presidents he worked for, Gerald Ford was the most mentally normal. Of course Ford never wanted to be President, he fell into it, which may tell us something.

  17. The take-over of the Republicans by insane and cruel fundamentalists. Fascists, bigots and grifters has given Onama an enormous amount of room to run to the “center” that used to be fairly far to the right, and he’s made most of it. After all, if you don’t support Obama, where you gonna go? Rand Paul? And stripped of the “I like the personally” stuff (utterly irrelevant) that’s pretty much what Mark is arguing.

    1. This is a recurring fantasy on the left: that Obama is marching to the right and progressives have no choice but to support him because he’s “less reactioanry.” Hogwash. He raised taxes on the rich, instituted universal health care, ended the war in Iraq, and has aided in major advances for gay rights. There are a host of issues where he is well to the left of the prior Democratic president, and an even longer list of stark differences with Bush. Science policy and climate change; civil rights (yes, the treatment of women and minorities counts); competent administration overall. And there are issues where they are closer than I’d like. But it’s silly to pretend that a major shift in political direction is actually a drift to the right.

      I grant that radicals can’t tell the difference between Democrats and Republicans, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any.

      1. “well to the left of the prior Democratic president” – that’s not saying very much.

        The question is, has he done as much as he could? From where I sit, he didn’t even try. That doesn’t answer the question, but it does make me less interested in the answer.

        Overall Mark is right, in the end we still have to pick the better choice. But don’t ask me to be happy about it.

  18. How much would you approve of Obama if he were white? The American people´s electing and reelecting a black man to the White House (though not an African-American) has been a huge gain for racial equality, even if Obama didn´t do anything there. It´s not feel-good sentimentality to put this in the equation.

    Against, we must also put his pusinallimous hand-wringing on climate disruption. He just might get round to having the EPA regulate coal emissions by the end of his second term, that´s about it.

    1. If Obama were white, he’d be much more free to speak out and be confrontational. He got hammered on the Skip Gates breaking into his own house incident, not because he was wrong (he wasn’t), but because there’s a ton of latent racism out there. So it’s a trade-off between what a black president who has an exemplary personal life does for societal norms, and what an activist Democrat could have done for policy.

      1. …which is not to say we would be guaranteed an activist by any means. Hillary was the alternative in 2008, not John Edwards or Howard Dean.

        1. Right. But I like the word “activist” to mean one more actively involved in pursuing his policies out in front of his troops. While Hillary would not have been more “progressive” in her policies, I suspect that we missed out on having a Prez more “activist” in leading the charge to push her program.

        2. Hillary was the alternative in 2008, not John Edwards or Howard Dean.

          … neither of whom was remotely the steadfast liberal icon their supporters chose to see in them, it’s worth pointing out.

          1. I agree somewhat, but they also had much more willingness to upset the DC apple cart. Why do you think Obama was in such a hurry to move out the (very effective) Dean as head of the DNC?

    2. As opposed to fighting it tooth and nail, as Bush did? Climate legislation passed in 2009 at great cost to House members. “Not acting like a dictator” isn’t the same as “hand-wringing”, and I think his successes on gay rights make a good case that he’s trying to do things that will stick as opposed to quick decrees.

    3. How is the offspring of a parent from Kenya and a parent from Kansas not an African-American? A quick read of the linked article suggests that West Africans are Africa but East Africans are not?

      Hey, even Charlize Theron is African-American (at least since she became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2007).

      1. In common usage, ¨African-American¨ denotes descendants of West African slaves. I dropped the hyphen to make an interesting distinction.
        My post nowhere suggests that East Africans are not Africans. You don´t have to read it, but if you do, please read it slightly less quickly.

  19. This is a well-written and interesting read.

    My main point of disagreement is in the argument that Gore et. al. had an obligation to defend Clinton. While his atrocious personal conduct wasn’t relevant to his presidency, I believe it pretty clearly led him to commit the crime of perjury.

    Rather than deserving defense, I believed then and now that President Clinton had an obligation to resign the presidency. President Gore would have trounced Governor Bush in 2000, and history would be very different.

    1. While his atrocious personal conduct wasn’t relevant to his presidency, I believe it pretty clearly led him to commit the crime of perjury.

      This is why I could not bring myself to vote for Clinton in 2000.

      1. This is why I could not bring myself to vote for Clinton in 2000.

        I did. But I voted for Obama in 1996. Is that weird?

    2. I completely agree that Clinton should have resigned. Dennis Hastert gave him the perfect occasion by double-crossing him on the resolution authorizing the Kosovo operation in April 1999. The fact that he passed up an obvious opportunity to assure himself of a Democratic successor is one reason I’m not as much of a Clinton fan as some others are.

      But that’s about Clinton. Given that he wasn’t going to resign, it was idiotic (and, in Gore’s case, politically suicidal) for Democrats not to close ranks around him.

      1. Please tell me you’re kidding. He should have cited Kosovo as his reason for resignation? The Democrats would not have recovered yet from such a failure of will.

      2. I disagree that Bill Clinton should have allowed himself to be driven from office by a bunch of ass clowns and preening media whores like George Stephanopoulos and Cokie Roberts. And his successor, by which I mean the guy who actually won the election, was indeed a Democrat who would have won an even greater victory if he’d allowed Bill Clinton to help in the campaign. A victory large enough that the crooks on the Supreme Court wouldn’t have dared to steal the election.

        Let’s not rewrite history: Most of the people of this country were totally opposed to Clinton leaving office because a bunch of cowardly, pants-wetting clowns like Holy Joe Lieberman were shocked that he was following in the footsteps of so many other politicians by having extramarital sex. And they expressed their disgust with the Republican moral midgets and the Villagers at the very next election. The American people would surely have given a resounding victory to Al Gore if (as we agree) he hadn’t committed political suicide by (1) selecting Holy Joe Lieberman—who was thoroughly despised by the base of the Democratic in no small part because of his inane whining and silly moralizing about Bill Clinton—and allowing him to overshadow Gore’s own economic message with an idiotic “moral crusade” designed to attract the support of God knows who and (2) running away from Bill Clinton and his nearly unmatched history of post-WWII peace and prosperity.

        If Al Gore had rallied with Bill Clinton he’d probably have served two terms. Maybe no 9/11. Certainly no Iraq War. Hilliary would now be starting her second term.

    3. When someone harps about President Clinton’s alleged perjury (as to which, after all, he was acquitted), I usually ask the harper whether (s)he contends that Clarence Thomas should be prosecuted for serial violations of 18 United States Code § 1001 in regard to his repeated filing of false financial disclosure forms. (The amended forms, which belatedly acknowledged Mrs. Thomas’s income as a lobbyist for hire, should be smoking guns.)

      1. …and that’s putting aside the issues of whether we should implicitly condone:
        1) the unconstitutional suing of a US president.
        2) the awarding of $60 million and special prosecutor powers to a partisan Republican with the sole mission of finding a basis for the prosecution of the President.

        1. “1) the unconstitutional suing of a US president.”

          Um, could you point out the clause in the Constitution which immunizes Presidents against lawsuits? ‘Cause I just can’t find it in my pocket edition. Must be the condensed version, or some such.

          1. You are correct. Let’s amend #1 to “unprecedented and never-to-be-repeated.”

          2. It is not in the text of the Constitution, but decisional law is clear that a president is immune from suit for damages for actions taken while in office in his capacity as president. The hound dog was permitted to sue because the conduct complained of was alleged to have occurred while Clinton was Governor.

            BTW, the trial court there granted summary judgment in favor of Clinton. The monetary settlement was post-judgment.

      2. I’d wholeheartedly support prosecuting / impeaching Justice Thomas for filing false disclosures.

        I’ll also ask if by “acquitted”, you mean that the Senate acquitted him on the articles of impeachment. If yes, I’d reply that the impeachment process is unfortunately partisan from start to finish, and therefore not much ethical/legal import can be read into either the charging, the trial, or the outcome.

  20. I doubt anyone could read Daniel Rasmussen’s “American Uprising” about the largest slave revolt in our history without recognizing that every African American carries fear of white suppression in his or her bones. I believe Obama’s “obsession” with leaks stems from the importance he may unconsciously attach to NEVER telling white people what he is thinking.

      1. I don’t think this was a racialist comment and I’m pretty sure you won’t find anybody at the Corner making it. It is a statement which I don’t accept as legimate in light of the many African-American leaders who have spoken forcefully and forthrightly to people of all races and who stood up strongly for their beliefs. Obama’s problem isn’t that he’s somehow impeded by his racial heritage but rather by his lack of core political beliefs.

        By the way, there’s an interesting proof against this argument. Obama himself could not be affected by either the legacy of slavery or of Jim Crow since his father was a Kenyan with, insofar as I’m aware, no family in the Southern United States and little personal experience of Jim Crow. There is, however, another member of the Obama family who shares the background you describe but has never been hesitant in speaking about her beliefs and has always stood up for them. From my point of view, we elected the wrong Obama as president.

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