The Schizophrenic Presidency of Barack Obama

The Obama Administration is like like two administrations in one. On the one hand, President Obama has achieved more for this country than any president in living memory. His accomplishments, in the context of polarized American politics, are staggering:

  • President Obama did what no other president was capable of doing. He overhauled the U.S. healthcare system. He didn’t create a single-payer system, but he did put together a program that insures huge numbers of chronically uninsured people.
  • The President pulled the United States and perhaps the entire world from the brink of total economic collapse with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and other economic stimulus measures.
  • The Administration managed to reformed financial institutions, signing the Dodd-Frank (DF) Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the biggest financial reform law since the Great Depression.
  • Obama rescued the U.S. auto industry, saving an estimated 1.4 million jobs.
  • The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, redressing a long-standing injustice against victims of gender-based pay discrimination.
  • The President ended legal discrimination against gays in the military.
  • The President has been an inspirational figure for people around the world, especially for young people of marginalized communities. The transition from President Bush to President Obama resulted in a dramatic world-wide improvement in the perception of the United States.
  • The White House has instituted rules that make government far more transparent than ever before, making unprecedented reams of information publicly available.
On the other hand, in some ways, the Obama Administration appears more like a third Bush Administration:
  • President Obama failed in his promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
  • The Obama Administration has deported a record number of people living, working and raising families in the United States without legal documentation.
  • Barack Obama has yet to publicly support same-sex marriage.
  • The President has embraced the oil industry to the looming detriment of the environment, even in the wake of the worst oil spill in US history.
  • The Administration has greatly increased the U.S. program of assassinating people around the world by remote control.
  • Obama asserts that the U.S. has a right to bomb Iran.
  • The United States is giving a blank check to the repressive military oligarchy in Egypt.

The awe, pride, and exhilaration I felt on the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration has not completely worn off. And so, while the negative side of Obama’s policies is unsettling, I tend to embrace the positive. The Administration can count on people like me supporting the President, at least with our votes in the next election. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for Obama’s detractors, no matter how many Bushian positions the President incorporates into his schizophrenic policies. The grassroots Republican opposition is so intensely myopic that the second list I presented, the list which I despise & Republicans should love, does not even register as reality to them.

Here’s some advice for President Obama on Afghanistan

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3 Responses to The Schizophrenic Presidency of Barack Obama

  1. samrxster says:

    Rather than “schizophrenic” I would say Obama is “conflicted.” Candidate Obama made promises he had every intention to keep. But when he came to office, he realized two important facts most, if not all, American presidential candidates often ignore in the heat of their campaign: first, he was now in charge, and second, he’s got pain-in-the-ass Congress to keep him in check.

    All can be explained but let me take just a couple of your important gripes about his perceived failures.

    1. Obama’s Guantanamo promise would have been the easiest one to keep. OK, lots of logistical headaches at first, but then “let’s shut it down and keep our liberal base happy.” Then he saw the files and the dire ramifications of transferring the prisoners to the American court system on one hand, or sending them back to their respective countries. As a constitutional lawyer, he realized the limitations of the American court system to win convictions. We don’t know what we don’t know, but it appears the methods in which the prisoners were caught or their actions discovered could not pass muster even in the conservative Supreme Court. As a chief executive, he could not risk jeopardizing his human intelligence or have the files be viewed by a slew of hostile defense lawyers. The status quo, thus, seemed the most logical and practical.

    2. As for publicly supporting same-sex marriage, David Geffen, the gay music mogul and a staunch supporter of Obama, doesn’t seem perturbed by the president’s inaction on this issue. The American gay community understands that gays’ acceptance by Americans is taking place piecemeal, and Obama was instrumental in making sure the process continued unimpeded. They also understand that, given the divided electorate and the small margin by which you can go either Democratic or Republican, Obama doesn’t need to give the Republican base, most of whom are anti-gay, another reason to be energized.

    The same argument in (2) can be applied to his conflicted energy policy. Obama can not go all out on his green promises. He has the American independents to court, many of whom are not well educated on the environment and will vote only for their paychecks. Without them unfortunately, the country will go Republican, and the little green energy we now have will turn to black ashes under the flames of more oil refineries.

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    • EricIndiana says:

      I agree that he’s not schizophrenic, and I just used that word to call attention to the post. Hyperbole. I think that with Guantanamo, it’s not that he doesn’t think civilian courts would win convictions – they have a stellar track record of convicting terrorists – but the US Congress passed a law saying prisoners could not be transferred to US territory for trial. And most countries flat out refused to repatriate prisoners from Guantanamo. So, that’s what tied his hands. But it’s still a failure, even if external circumstances are to blame, especially since some prisoners whom the US agreed were not guilty of anything, were held for a decade without trial.

      As for the green energy policy, I think that bolder leadership is called for – not just here but everywhere in the world – because we are facing an environmental catastrophe. So I’d like to see much bigger risk-taking – putting solar panels on top of all new buildings, that sort of thing. I think it’s a cause a leader can rally a country around & it spurs economic growth.

      What really pushed me to write this post was hearing that we were giving the same 1.3 billion dollars to the Egyptian military without any restrictions or caveats. I suppose there may be some sort of secret deal, who knows. But it tells the human rights community and democracy activists that it’s business as usual for us – global alliances and strategic interests always trump human rights.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      – Eric

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  2. samrxster says:

    The U.S. stellar record of convicting terrorists does not include the really bad, hard-core Guantanamo prisoners—about 100 of them. It is one thing to convict the shoe-bomber, an open-and-shut case with many eye witnesses and familiar elements of a local crime. But trying the water-boarded Khalid Sheik Mohammad and his 4 codefendants in a US federal court? This is when it gets complicated. So complicated in fact, that Attorney General Eric Holder had agonized over the case for a long time – before Congress passed the law you mentioned and before Holder decided to return the case to the Defense Department.

    What preceded the law was, in brief, this: Obama signed an executive order to shut down Guantanamo on Jan. 22, 2009. Congress objected – in droves. (How could you transfer these terrorists to American soil? What if they escaped? Stupid, Willie-Horton crap like that.) Feeling vulnerable by their uneducated electorate, 50 Democrats joined in and deserted the president on Guantanamo. Funding to close down the detention center by Congress was not going to happen, they threatened.

    Of course, that was in the middle of the acrimonious healthcare fight. Republicans wanted to make life hell for Obama on anything and everything. As the saying goes, “If you walk on eggs don’t jump.” In the midst of his healthcare fight, Obama could not jump and close down Guantanamo, even if he wanted to, which he did. He likely would have alienated some much-needed Democrats whose votes he needed for his laborious healthcare victory.

    When you’re the president, prioritizing is as necessary as it is painful. Unfortunately, it is not as easy for Obama to just do it by taking it to the people, as Michael Douglas had the luxury of doing in the movie, The American President. The American voters, in general, do not know enough, are often too busy or simply not interested to study the issues deeply. Take the case of the Uyghurs, for example. The unrepatriated Uyghurs who were training in Afghanistan to fight for independence from the Chinese are some of those innocent Guantanamo prisoners. China now wants them badly. I wonder what an average American would say about what to do with these people.

    (Should we send them back to China? Should we naturalize them? That sure would be a good question for an Obama/ Romney presidential debate.)

    As for the American support for the military in Egypt, remember Turkey. OK, you and I are not old enough to remember, but many decried the Turkish military and its grip on power for a long time, which was supported by the West. But now Turkey enjoys a parliamentary civilian system with a prime minister that has to answer to the parliament. There’s a good argument that the Turkish military, with its iron grip, had kept the country stable till the seeds of democracy were able to grow. (The unstable Iraq and Afghanistan come to mind here. Free elections ain’t enough. Stability/security comes first.)

    I am hopeful what happened in Turkey will happen in Egypt. Democracy does take time in this godforsaken part of the world.

    But rest assured, the 1.5-billion U.S. aid to Egypt has many strings attached, namely the Copts and other minorities, Israel, and the regional stability..

    Samir Hafza
    Beirut, Lebanon

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