Monday, May 25, 2009

Liberals and President Obama

In recent weeks liberals have criticized President Obama on matters where they disagree with him on principal. The president has said repeatedly that while his administration will not engage in torture of prisoners, neither will he prosecute CIA agents who tortured prisoners, nor anyone in the Bush administration who ordered such tortures. He will also continue the Bush administration policy of preventive detention, meaning anyone deemed likely to be involved in future terrorist attacks on this country will not be released from detention.

Constitutional lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union, and liberal commentators such as Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC have reacted with outrage. Recently, Maddow, in her faux little girl voice, asked, "Is this Change We Can Believe In?', a sarcastic reference to one of Obama's campaign slogans.

And there's the problem. "Change We Can Believe In." Liberals assumed Obama believed what they believed, that the changes they believed in were the changes he believed in. Liberals projected onto Candidate Obama their own image. And now, they are feeling betrayed because the president is not as liberal as they thought.

I suspect that the change President Obama has experienced is that Candidate Obama did not know how complex and difficult it is to govern, that presidential decisions have consequences which can reverberate for generations. For example, what would happen if President Obama prosecuted CIA operatives and Bush administration officials for their involvement in torturing prisoners, a clear violation of American law and the Geneva Convention? At a minimum current CIA agents would feel betrayed that operatives were being prosecuted for carrying out orders under one administration that are now considered illegal by a new administration. Agents would fear that carrying out orders from the Obama administration would might leave them open to prosecution from a later administration.

Equally, prosecuting Bush administration officials would set a precedent and would lead the next Republican Party president, whoever he or she might be, to prosecute officials from the previous Democratic Party administration for whatever the Republicans could find or make up. I would love to see Dick Chaney thrown in jail, but doing so would split the country even more than it already is. It would also create animosities that would linger for decades, as well as make people reluctant to serve in government.

Preventive detention is clearly against the U.S. Constitution which guarantees one's right to a speedy trial. But what if Suspected Terrorist X is released and six months later Suspected Terrorist X is involved in an attack on the U.S. in which thousands are killed? The blame for releasing Terrorist X would fall directly on Obama. His presidency as well as liberalism would be derided for naivete and an inability to protect the American people.

What liberals failed to see was that Candidate Obama was not as liberal as they thought he was. What liberals also fail to see is that if Obama was an ideological liberal, he would be no different than Bush in his ideological reactionary conservatism. The President of the United States is supposed to govern for the benefit of the American people, not merely those with whom he shares a political ideology. If President Obama is going to be president of the nation, he is going to make decisions I disagree with, and even, abhor.

What liberals fail to grasp is that it is easy to be ideologically pure when you don't have to be responsible for the consequences of putting your ideology into practice. Why can't liberals understand that we have just emerged from eight years of being governed by an ideologue whose allegiance was to his ideology and not to solving the nation's problems?

I trust Obama because on some issues he is liberal, on others he is conservative, and on many, he is pragmatic. Anybody who can piss off liberals and conservatives has the makings of a great president.

© 2009 by Julius Lester

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