Obama’s Hope Is There’ll Be No Change

Obama NopeDo you remember that kid when you were young who would always rat out your childhood nefarious schemes to the teacher or parents? That was Barack Obama. I don’t mean when he was that old. I kind of think when he was six that he was a little devil. And I understand that he went through his radical period in college, because he’s written about it. But now. He’s the kid who is so dependent on the approval of authority that he is no fun.

You may remember that last week we found out that the CIA searched Senate computers for information on their investigation into the CIA’s torture program. This resulted in calls for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan. Frankly, I don’t see why he hasn’t already resigned. This sounds like Watergate kind of stuff, but coming out of the CIA and not the White House. It is outrageous.

But at a Friday press conference we learned, Obama Backs CIA Chief Apologizing to Senators Over Search. He said, “I have full confidence in John Brennan.” Well, you know what: this has been perhaps the biggest problem with Obama from the beginning. He has had full confidence in Goldman Sachs cronies. He’s had full confidence in insurance lobbyists. And most of all, he’s had full confidence in the Republican Party. He’s looking for approval in all the wrong places.

But Jonathan Bernstein sees it a bit differently, Why Obama Is Backing His CIA Chief. After tossing aside two unlikely reasons, he says:

Obama is concerned—in my view, overly so—with demonstrating to the intelligence bureaucracy, the broader national security bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy in general, that he is on their side. The basic impulse to stand up for the people he appointed isn’t a bad one; nor is the impulse to demonstrate to the intelligence community that he is no wild-eyed peacenik softie who opposes the work they do. For one thing, he’s more likely to effect change in national security areas if experts in the government believe he’s at least sympathetic to them as individuals and to their basic goals, even if he questions some of the George W Bush-era (or earlier) methods.

I think he might be right about Obama not wanting to be seen as a “wild-eyed peacenik softie.” But it’s deeper than that. The whole reason he—an African American man—is president is because he is committed to the idea everything is just fine here in America. He has completely suppressed any idea that he will make any waves because if he did that, he might seem like (Gasp!) Jesse Jackson or some other “angry black man.”

Remember all that “hope and change” that he talked about while campaigning in 2008. He didn’t betray that idea. His idea of “hope and change” was that he would come into office and reach across the isle. He’d offer the Republicans 50% of what they wanted. After negotiation, they’d get 75% of what they wanted. Given that he was always a lot more conservative than his rhetoric would indicate, that would be fine with him. And the Democrats and the Republicans would all get along and the national institutions would continue on as they had been. That didn’t work, but Obama did manage to squander the greatest liberal opportunity since the Great Depression to allow the same old system to stumble forward.

So just like Obama has pushed forward with Bush’s drone program and Bush’s surveillance program and Bush’s anti-leaker program (And greatly extended them!), Obama is just fine with the CIA spying on the Senate. What’s the big deal? The CIA has powers. They are supposed to spy. So they are spying on the people’s elected officials? What’s the big deal?! The main thing is that we be moderate about this all. I’m sure we can depend upon John Brennan who was in charge when this happened to make sure that it never happens again. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Do you understand? Let’s not disrupt anything, because our current President doesn’t believe in disrupting anything that is powerful. If he did, they might not approve of him. And that just isn’t the Obama way.


Trevor Timm at The Guardian writes of John Brennan, “Private apologies are not enough for a defender of torture, the architect of America’s drone program and the most talented liar in Washington. The nation’s top spy needs to go.” That’s right.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

5 thoughts on “Obama’s Hope Is There’ll Be No Change

  1. Yeah — Obama the tattletale. It sounds about right.

    Vidal once wrote (and if anybody else had written it I’d be dubious, but Vidal was not in the habit of lying) that Clinton, after instituting the "don’t ask/don’t tell" provisions for the military, got greeted on an aircraft carrier by sailors wearing mops as wigs and doing foppy dances. It sounds implausible. Yet my brother was on aircraft carriers and he says there’s lots of madness going on that we never hear about; ships having to return to shore within days of deployment because of worker riots, and so on.

    If that Vidal story is true, then the commander of that vessel should have been expelled from the military immediately, with no pension, and all the sailors on that boat re-assigned to the worst, most tedious Navy jobs imaginable for their remaining service time. Harsh, maybe. But it’s important to send a message right through the armed forces about who is the boss of whom.

    The President is the Commander-In-Chief, a civilian who is authorized to run the military. And the military should be made very aware of this. I was at military school in 1996, and the prevailing attitude was that Clinton barely counted as commander-in-chief; technically, he was in charge, yet there was zero respect for him. Because Clinton instated the smallest conceivable reform concerning gays in the military. (Oh, man, if you want some repressed latent homosexuality, look no further than West Point; it’s nuts up in there. And I realize I was typing a synonym for crazy homophobia and said "nuts.")

    I know people who are fellow liberals, who have kids in the military now, and they say the attitude towards Obama is quite like what I experienced in military attitudes towards Clinton; he’s in charge, but only just.

    When did this start? I mean, Carter was a Navy veteran. He served on nuclear submarines. Did Reagan’s super-pimping of Pentagon funding (which went mostly to missile tech, not service salaries) forever brand Republicans as tough macho military guys and Democrats as borderline Fifth Column traitors? Did it start with Nixon being hung-ho about bombing the shit out of Vietnam? Did it start with Clinton losing respect via hating gays slightly less? (I suspect it did, and Clinton should have fired some people right then and there and put the military in its place.)

    However it started, Obama has to deal with it now, and he appears utterly inadequate to the task. Our military and intelligence services work for the civilian government; they are not supposed to be rogue agents doing whatever they think is right, and justifying this because, you know, patriots. Somebody needs to rein these assholes in. Maybe we need another Carter, another veteran, to do so. (But Carter wasn’t exactly firm with the likes of Zbiginew Brezinski!)

  2. @JMF – I don’t think people of a liberal mentality naturally gravitate toward the military. The military is distinctly but not overwhelmingly Republican. The Democrats I suspect come from minority group members who very likely joined because they didn’t have many economic choices, rather than out of some great love for being part of unfortunately necessary war machine. Good polling data on the issue is hard to find. I do know there was a big drop off in Republicans in 2008-2009, but they didn’t become Democrats; they became Independents. And as we all know, Independents are almost always embarrassed partisans; so all those Independents undoubtedly went on to vote Republican.

    One thing I know is that none of it has anything to do with lack of military experience. Bush 43 was a rich boy draft dodger and everyone knew it. But he had no problems. They loved him. They loved the bellicose rhetoric. They loved the swagger. They are mostly enlisted men; they aren’t a bunch of college graduates. Obama’s cool intellectualism is not likely to appeal.

    All I could find of something like what Vidal said, took place shortly after Clinton taking office. It is bad enough:

    [url=http://news.google.com/news…]Military Mocking Clinton?[/url]

    I have this curious conservative who follows me on Twitter. He reads my articles, which shows a laudable open mindedness. But then he tweets responses that show all the thinking of someone who has [i]Fox News[/i] on all day long. To this, he tweeted, "Squandered opportunities? Could have truly effected positive change in race conversation. Chose politics over substance."

    That’s a shocking claim, because one of the biggest problems with Obama is that he has avoided racial questions like the plague. All I can think is that this guy is another racist conservative who is sure he isn’t a racist because, "I don’t treat blacks differently than anyone else!" And, of course, he never uses the n-word. (One would hope.)

    Anyway, I tweeted back, "No, he squandered it on policies to pacify conservatives who were always going to claim he ‘chose politics over substance.’" He will not respond, because he never does. Now that I’m writing about him, I think he just reads me like a troll does. And twitter is perfect for him because the complexity of his thought fits nicely in 140 characters.

  3. That link about "military mocking Clinton" looks to be the one; good find. I imagine it was much worse than reported (those worker riots on ships aren’t reported, but they do happen), and Vidal got it right. As, until he got super-old, he usually did.

    Be nice to your conservative friend! If he’s reading you, he’s not brain-dead. In my experience, it is possible to convert open-minded conservatives into liberals. It just takes about 15 years or so. (Enough time for the Republican party to veer vastly rightward of where that conservative originally stood.)

    Unfortunately, it is much easier to convert a closed-minded liberal to conservatism. It takes about 15 seconds or so. Just get cut off in traffic by someone from a different ethnic group, and poof! The process happens even faster for closed-minded liberal columnists who savor their first taste of being adulated for switching sides. Just say, "I used to think torture was wrong but now I don’t" and poof! Makes you respect the ones that stay open-minded; the rewards for changing are considerable.

    Obama is a conundrum. His ethnic heritage made him the best get-out-the-vote candidate of my lifetime (you can’t blame people for being uninspired by the likes of Dukakis.) And yet his ethnic heritage makes it almost impossible for him to address any systematic issues stemming from American racism. LBJ, a stone racist, could address racism’s effects on poverty. So could Nixon! Obama . . . no way. Shit, remember when Henry Louis Gates got manhandled by that Harvard police officer? Obama had Gates and the cop to the White House to share a beer (the least enjoyable beer ever consumed, I’m guessing), and the right screamed in fury. Godless commie Black Power Obama keeping the white man down, once again!

  4. @JMF – Well, he isn’t a friend; he is a follower on Twitter. I don’t actually think he’s open minded. He’s a conservative who likes reading liberal blogs to snipe at them. As I said, he’s never responded to me. But a reader is a reader.

    I think we vastly overestimate how rational we are. Personally, I’m a liberal because the core of my being is liberal. The rational arguments are probably just self-justifications. But I do think there is something to "all stupid people are conservative." The two political [i]parties[/i] have moved far to the right. For liberals, this creates no real problem, because the Democrats are still nearer to where they are than the Republicans are. But for conservatives, the Democratic Party is actually more in line of what individual conservatives actually tell pollsters they believe. Yet they continue to vote for a party that represents them less well than the other option. And they are more than willing to vilify the party that actually represents their interests far better than it does liberals’ interests. I think that’s just an indication of stupidity and the power of racial dog whistles. My conservative follower reacted to this article with a racial dog whistle. What are you going to do? I assume the racial conversation he wanted was for Obama give a speech every day claiming there was no racism in America.

    Regarding flipping parties: I wish I could do that! I know I could get a job at Red State or one of the other big conservative blogs. The talent they have is terrible. Unfortunately, there are a lot of great liberal writers like Matt Yglesias and Jonathan Chait. About the best the conservatives have is Ross Douthat, and he’s at the NYT. If he were a liberal, he’d be lucky to be at Slate.

    Yeah, I remember the Gates incident. Obama’s reaction was a normal one. The conservative reaction to his reaction was like a deductive proof of the theorem, "Racism is still a huge problem in the United States."

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