May 23, 2010

Barack the Lesser

Like many Americans, I once held a lesser-of-two-evils theory of politics. Although I don’t like to admit it now, for a time I even supported Barack Obama, even contributed money to his presidential campaign. I didn’t think all that much about Obama, but, as the theory goes, there are bad sociopaths out there, and there are really bad sociopaths, and you need to support the bad sociopaths to prevent the really bad ones from getting elected.

Looking back at the 2008 election, I still think that McCain-Palin were the really bad sociopaths, but I’m now more convinced than ever that none of that matters. For evil is evil. The lesser evil might take you to hell at a slower rate, but they’re still going to take you there. Moreover, as the Obama presidency has proven, sometimes the lesser evil will actually get you there faster.

For almost eighteen months now, Obama has continued the worst policies of the Bush administration. He’s failed to pull American troops out of Iraq.[1] He’s escalated the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan.[2] He’s maintained the Bush policy of spying on American citizens and has continued denying terror suspects many of their most fundamental human rights.[3]

Although McCain-Palin certainly wouldn’t have been better on any of these issues, they wouldn’t have been able to legitimize these policies, which is exactly what Obama has done. As Charles Krauthammer points out:

The rotation of power is the finest political instrument ever invented for the consolidation of what were once radical and deeply divisive policies. The classic example is the New Deal. Republicans railed against it for 20 years. Then Dwight Eisenhower came to power, wisely left it intact, and no serious leader since has called for its repeal…

A similar consolidation has happened with many of the Bush anti-terror policies. In opposition, the Democrats decried warrantless wiretaps, rendition and detention without trial. But now that they are charged with protecting us from the bad guys, they’ve come to view these as indispensable national security measures.

While noting that the rotation of power “inevitably results in stops and starts and policy zigzags,” Krauthammer writes that “it ultimately helps create a near-miraculous social stability by setting down layers of legitimacy every time the opposition adopts some of its predecessor’s reforms.”[4]

Had McCain-Palin won the election, we’d still have a viable antiwar movement, not just Cindy Sheehan and her ragtag gang.[5] We’d still have millions of Americans decrying the wars in the Middle East and the nation’s abandonment of the rule of law. But Obama has managed to silence all but a handful of these critics. The moment he gave his victory speech in Grant Park, those who’d spent the previous eight years protesting the policies of the Bush-Cheney regime decided that the fight was over. They suddenly became apologists for executive power and in no time at all could be found defending their man’s broken campaign promises.

So I hope we’ve all learned our lesson. Some of you, I’m happy to see, have concluded that they’re all a bunch of crooks and have completely abandoned faith in the American political system. Others continue hoping—in my opinion, hoping against hope. Well, fine, that’s your right. Hope your lives away if you must. But please, please, remain critical, remain true to your values, and never settle for evil, lesser or otherwise.


[1] J.H. Huebert, "Mission Accomplished!" The LRC Blog, 21 May 2010; Today is the day Obama promised the troops would be out of Iraq,” Jack Liberty, 21 May 2010.

[2] David Stout, “Obama Sounds Cautious Note as He Sets Out Afghan Plan,” New York Times, 27 March 2009; Scott Wilson, “Obama: U.S. security is still at stake,” Washington Post, 2 December 2009; “The Year of the Drone: An Analysis of U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2010,” New America Foundation.

[3] Charlie Savage and James Risen, “Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretaps Were Illegal,” New York Times, 31 March 2010; Peter Baker, “Obama to Use Current Law to Support Detentions,” New York Times, 23 September 2009; Matthew Alexander, “Torture’s Loopholes,” New York Times, 20 January 2010; Greg Miller, “Obama preserves renditions as counter-terrorism tool,” Los Angeles Times, 1 February 2009; Glen Greenwald, “Confirmed: Obama authorizes assassination of U.S. citizen,”, 7 April 2010; Glenn Greenwald, “Obama wins the right to detain people with no habeas review,”, 21 May 2010.

[4] “In praise of the rotation of power,” The Washington Post, 12 March 2010.

[5] Byron York, “What happened to the antiwar movement? Cindy Sheehan hits ‘hypocrisy’ of Left, Democratic allies,” Washington Examiner, 18 August 2009.


Liberty said...

Very good, and I agree. I do have hope for the political system, but I've been called an idealist, so that's probably why, LOL

Don Emmerich said...

Well, there ain't nothin' wrong with being an idealist -- so long as you're a principled idealist, which of course you are. Overall, I consider myself an idealist also. Although things are bleak, I definitely have hope for humanity, hope for the future.

Greg said...

"Had McCain-Palin won the election, we’d still have a viable antiwar movement, not just Cindy Sheehan and her ragtag gang."

Oh my, I never really thought of it this way, but I suspect you are right.

Reforming the State is lost, but we can still help people see the way. Keep the faith.

Live free, regardless.

Don Emmerich said...

Exactly, Greg -- even if we don't think there's a political solution, it doesn't mean that we should give up the fight. I'm an optimist, and I really do believe that freedom has a promising future.

Rodney said...

Thank you. It's what I've been saying, just not as concisely as you have.

Don Emmerich said...

Thanks so much, Rodney -- it's nice to meet you.