The President of Hope and Change?

December 1, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Well, I’ll probably be slammed for this post since everyone seems to think Obama is going to save the world. I’ve been contemplating Obama for some time. Frankly, I’m not won over by him. I admit he’s a great orator with shades of Martin Luther King and JFK. The fact that he’s only been a Senator for two nanoseconds has me a tad nervous but I can live with it. He was the preferable candidate especially when you consider that Sarah Palin could have become Prez if McCain had been elected and carked it in office. And of course it is a magnificent shift in American psychology to elect the first Afro-American Prez. This is probably the first sign of the growing demographic shift in the US with minorities predicted to be in the majority by 2050. And how tremendous that Obama will be inaugurated within sight of where slave pens used to be. America has grown up.

But once Obama trounced Hillary, I became concerned about a cult of personality surrounding Obama. Paul Krugman (American economist and intellectual) in February 2008, writing in the NY Times, said: “I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality” and hero worship. Obama’s supporters have been referred to as glassy-eyed cult members with one writer saying that “Obamaphilia has gotten creepy” and that “He’s a politician so soft and safe, Oprah likes him. There’s talk about his charisma and good looks, but I know a nerd when I see one”. Other more slamming critiques refer to Obama as a “vacuous opportunist“.

Leaving aside whether there’s a cult of personality going on, what I find more serious is the admission in The Washington Post that there was press bias towards Obama (now there’s a surprise!). There were 58 negative items about McCain compared to 32 items about Obama. Stories and photos about Obama outnumbered those on McCain.

So I have been sitting back and waiting for some signs of how Obama will be different from Bush. We are all breathing a sigh of relief that Bush is wafting off into the sunset. But I posed the question some time ago: what will the new Prez do with the increased powers Bush usurped for himself? A primary question for me is what Obama will do about the expanded surveillance powers under the FISA Act, which has resulted in illegal snooping, prying and surveillance of US citizens and eavesdropping on international communications without a specific court order.

Well, I’m not given much comfort when I hear John Brennan, who heads up Obama’s intelligence-transition team, is quoted as saying Obama is unlikely to radically overhaul Bush’s intelligence policies. Okay we know he will give up the most controversial policy – Gitmo – finally putting an end to the US being implicated in torture, sorry “interrogation”. But Obama did in fact vote for the FISA Amendments Act on July 14 2008, reversing his original position and breaking with the Democratic Party’s base. Sounding a lot like Bush, he said:

“Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike..”.

In casting his vote, Obama supported giving telecommunications companies immunity against civil damages as a result of any lawsuits challenging the illegal and unconstitutional dragnet of surveillance ushered in by FISA. Perhaps Obama and his campaign handlers suffered temporary amnesia because in 2007 the Obama camp issued this statement:

“To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.

Obviously, we have to wait and see what Prez Obama actually does under FISA once in office. He has said: “There is also little doubt that the Bush Administration, with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies, has abused that authority and undermined the Constitution by intercepting the communications of innocent Americans without their knowledge or the required court orders.”

But added that he gives a “firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives – and the liberty – of the American people.” It’s the “I deem necessary” bit that has me a bit nervous. This is sort of like “trust me, leave it to me, I will know best”. Yep, well look what Bush did.

Back to John Brennan. He recently said his team will “be looking at existing executive orders, then making sure from Jan. 20 on there’s going to be appropriate executive branch oversight of intelligence functions”. And Executive oversight is exactly what Bush did – concentrated the power into the hands of the Prez.  What about Congressional and Judicial oversight?

Another aspect to Obama that I’m curious about – and the jury is still out on this one – is this business about a national civilian security force. I haven’t seen much written about this. Probably because something he said in a July 2 speech in Colorado Springs apparently disappeared from official transcripts. Obama said:

We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.”

Apparently, the Wall Street Journal and the Denver Post carried the full transcript but I’ve searched in vain. What exactly did Obama mean by a powerful civilian national security force? He’s not referring to the Peace Corps because that is not a national security force. Mmmm…don’t think the US Constitution would allow for a domestic army Mr Prez-Elect.

I have found references to a “giant police force” and comments that Obama wants to take control of youth like Hitler did with his paramilitary brown shirts brigade. Surfacing the old chestnut of Marxism, Rep. Paul Broun said:

“That’s exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it’s exactly what the Soviet Union did. When he’s proposing to have a national security force that’s answering to him, that is as strong as the U.S. military, he’s showing me signs of being Marxist.”

Okay, don’t think we need to go this far. But Obama has not articulated what he means by a “civilian national security force” so we are left to fill in the blanks. Is it referring to Obama’s strong support for community organisation and volunteerism? During his campaign, he often referred to Universal Voluntary Public Service (UVPS). Under UVPS, all Americans will be required to perform one year of public service between the ages of 18 to 30. The “volunteers” will be placed in Government service or with an NGO and will be required to attend training workshop and three retreats (or bootcamps as I’ve seen it referred to). While serving their time in the project, volunteers earn a monthly income of up to $1,800, paid health and childcare. Sounds good?

I guess it depends on how the programme is wielded. Nothing is ever really voluntary and universal. What if a young person does not wish to participate? Will they eventually be denied a specific job or College graduation?  One blog refers to UVPS in this manner:

“The ideal behind the Universal Voluntary Public Service program is to guide as many youth as possible to jobs either in the government or with socially progressive NGOs. This program is really a draft forcing our youth into one year of progressive brainwashing and reprogramming”.

Obviously, we have to wait to see what the UVPS is all about but people voluntarily working for the common good was a part of the Communist Manifesto. There’s been a lot of talk about whether Obama is or was a socialist. To be honest, I don’t care. I just think that quite a few questions could and should have been asked by voters and the media but these were largely runover by the Obama steamroller.

I am very hopeful he will bring the change that is needed to the world, don’t get me wrong. But because he has “come from nowhere”, I think it is only prudent to probe and ask questions because we don’t want a replay of the Bush years. Let’s just hope he wasn’t swept into office due to public anger against Bush and the Republican agenda.

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