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The Obama administration, now entering its final term, will have a mixed legacy when we look back upon the days in which Barack Obama was President. We will of course appreciate its place in history (the election of the first non-white male to the highest office in the land) and of course, we will probably debate the impact of what will likely be the “iconic” piece of legislation to come from it (that of course being the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act).
There will be plenty of things to talk about as while the administration, thanks to a continual “do-nothing” Congress, hasn’t had the legislative achievements the country desired; we do have plenty to talk about. Odds are history will look back on the Tea Party rallies, the fight for marriage equality, guns and probably immigration reform with an appreciative glare. There is a clear generational gap that was on display as the “old” generation tried to roar back into office in 2010 and the “millennial” generation taking the baton on social rights such as marriage equality. Regardless of your opinions, you can’t help but see the tides slowly shifting towards the future right now.
Nonetheless, this time next year the onus of conversation will likely be on immigration, the midterm elections and the implementation of the key portion of the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act. The Medicaid expansion and what red states who have not yet complied with the law will generate the headlines. While I’m unsure if 2014 will be the exact year that the PPACA becomes a historic initiative or merely a wordy footnote of the 2010s, we will grasp a better understanding of what it means.
However, when looking back on the Presidency of Barack Obama, we will probably see what catapulted him to be a national figure. No, not necessarily the speech at the 2004 (remember that will be TEN years ago next summer) Democratic National Convention but another speech that earned great attention in the run-up of the 2008 presidential election. The speech that started it all.
The speech he did on stating his opposition of the Iraq War in 2002. To use perhaps my favorite quote of the entire speech, given when Barack Obama was just an Illinois state senator, will be one that has even greater impact when looking back in 2013. The quote is:
I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.
Barack Obama has had an interesting relationship with the progressive/left spectrum of American politics. When he was rising through the polls, passing the passionate populist speeches of John Edwards and closing in on the all-but-inaugurated Hillary Clinton, liberals took to Obama. Most probably were aware that we weren’t likely getting Paul Wellstone or Bernie Sanders, but we weren’t getting a “New Democrat” such as Hillary Clinton and we were certainly not getting George W. Bush.
To us, that is all we needed to get behind the grassroots fueled engine that was the Obama campaign team.
Let’s try to remember why his speech was relevant again in 2006 & 2007. Remember this was when the mortgage crisis wasn’t quite here yet, unemployment was still under 5% and bailouts didn’t enter the public lexicon. Yes, that time did exist only six years ago and yes, it’s only been six years. To put in context that readers my age, who aren’t quite up-to-date with what happened back when we were in high school, Forever by Chris Brown was released that year and the Indianapolis Colts were the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Back then, the defining issue of our time was who could lead us out of war. Up until that point, dissatisfaction towards the Bush administration had to deal with the so-called global “War on Terror”. There was the atrocity of the death tolls in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration claiming they weren’t concerned about Osama bin Laden, the NSA wiretapping American phone calls, the insistence that waterboarding was not torture but “enhanced interrogation” and if these wars were truly worth it. Let us not forget the passage of the PATRIOT Act and the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
America wanted change from that and what was sinking Hillary Clinton’s campaign (besides other things such as poor campaigning in Iowa and the curse of being the early frontrunner) was the fact that she voted in favor of the invasion of Iraq.
That speech from 2002 was something different for Democrats who were often unfairly characterized as being “soft” on terror. Democrats were looking to fit into the mainstream of politics without being seen as “too hard on terror” to lose the base and “too antiwar” to upset moderates. A lame strategy as war should usually always be seen as a last resort, but I digress.
Drones? Drones back then were being used, its certainly far from a “new” issue, but weren’t quite at the forefront as the hunt for bin Laden and the two on-ground wars took precedent. Nonetheless, there were warnings that drones were the future of our national defense system but little was really known about what they would do.
Now let’s fast forward to the present day. As the country slowly inches its way back from recession and the lull in the conversation regarding gun reform legislation following the defeat of Manchin-Toomey, drones and the Obama administration’s current “scandals” (and yes, the quotation marks around that word are needed) have taken center stage.
Some people appear to be getting deja vu when it comes to what’s on the news nowadays even if it might be slightly conspiratorial. For example, the most egregious of the current “scandals” would appear to be the alleged wiretapping of Associated Press reporters. The idea of a free press being silenced in any manner does bring back shades of the Bush administration’s wiretapping which was one of the key controversies that further dirtied the 43rd President of the United States.
Remember though, there was a time that the right wing wanted to charge “whistleblowers” for violating the 1917 Espionage Act as stated in this excellent blog post of Jon Perr of the DailyKos.
But then again, we shouldn’t be debating on which side is more hypocritical but which side is consistently right. The current goals of us as people who follow politics shouldn’t be to point out the hypocrisies but showcase the differences.
Today, President Obama gave what might be, in retrospect, one of his biggest speeches. In a speech before the press corps, President Obama was interrupted by antiwar activist Medea Benjamin of “Code Pink” in regards to the drone strike that killed the 16-year old son of Anwar Al-Awlaki (who was killed by another drone strike two weeks prior) and the American military complex as a whole.
What was truly fascinating about this interruption, as opposed to other interruptions by Neil Munro of the Daily Caller and Rep. Joe Wilson, was that it was done from someone to the left of the President. Usually you expect a heckler to either be a partisan or a “some guy” but rarely do you hear someone that would be expected to be on the President’s side.
I should add that while Benjamin’s points are certainly valid (as the President stated as she was being escorted out of the room), she wasn’t there to inspire dialogue. She was there to interrupt and interrupters usually find themselves mocked after they’ve been shown the door. But this time, President Obama (who mentioned his disagreements) seemed to build off of what she said.
It is a true fact, we cannot continue to be a nation at war. It’s just not feasible whether its economic or political, continuous warfare only leads to awful things for nations. The threatening of civil liberties fits into that argument as well; how long can we possibly be under the terrorist microscope until we actually do get attacked?
It appears that drone attacks in other nations is our new reality, even given the President’s words that they should be limited but how long can we launch drones at other nations? The American public should likely face it that the White House will keep secrets regarding who is a threat (whether legitimate or not) regardless of who is in office. Its unfortunate but that’s why we elect Presidents because someone else has to make those tough decisions.
The problem with drones though, isn’t necessarily the fact that they are unmanned vehicles being launched at suspected “bad guys”. If they were manned it would still be heinous but what most see in the word “drones” is something Orwellian. The problem with them is that if we launch drones, we do save military men and women from death which is a good thing but we become desensitized to how awful war can be. If we aren’t losing men and women in the war, then politicians and the public will be a lot more lax about entering wars with other nations.
That desensitization is critical to why the drone policies of today need to either be explained in some capacity or overhauled, two things the President strongly hinted. Though, we will what to see if we get either of those in the future but at least hearing that the President acknowledging that the old “secret” of drones needs changing.
But what is another key, if not heavily critical, aspect of the President’s counterterrorism speech today is the talk over Guantanamo Bay. The closing of Gitmo has been the topic of political conversation since the mid-2000s. The idea of who goes there (and thanks to indefinite detention, how long they stay there) has been a topic of confusion amongst anyone who follows what is going on.
Is it suspected terrorists? Yes. Well what defines a suspect? Is it a guy who knows a guy? A guy who IS a guy?
In stark terms today, President Obama acknowledged the hunger strikes that detainees at Gitmo are currently in the midst of and alluded to the transfer of captives to Yemen and the future closing of the jail. Obama also mentioned bringing suspects to court in America as opposed to at Gitmo which would be a step in the right direction in terms of civil liberties.
Even though President Obama did keep his promise in ending the Iraq War and the end of the conflict in Afghanistan seems to be on the way to winding down, war will be the most important aspect of Barack Obama’s legacy. As of right now, we look at President Bush under the same lens even though he was responsible for “No Child Left Behind” and the failure to enact immigration reform.
However, President Obama talked about closing Gitmo before he took office and as we all know, the prison continues to be open today. If we want to make progress in restoring America’s standing around the world and here, we have to get rid of the erosion of civil liberties but also we as citizens, have to grasp the importance of why that’s important.
Its easy to say terrorists deserve to die and I think most people would tend to agree that many of the people targeted by drones were “evil” or “threatening” people. But we do also have to have respect on why these issues are so hard to change, they are hard within themselves.
When it winds down to it though, President Obama’s actions will be louder than his words. Will he be the President that reins back our military complex or will he be one that is seen as someone who maintained it or even intensified it?
That remains to be seen.