THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Change You Can Parse

Obama Abandons Bush’s Talk, Keeps His Walk

You can’t blame Dick Cheney for being annoyed at Barack Obama. Obama is closing Guantánamo. He’s ordering the CIA to interrogate prisoners according to the rules written in the Army Field Manual, which doesn’t allow torture. He’s even phasing out such classic Bushian phrases as “enemy combatant” and “war on terror.”

But the dark prince of neoconservatism should relax. Obama’s inaugural address may have promised to “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” but—in all the ways that matter—he’s keeping all of Bush’s outrageous policies in place. Sure, he talks a good game about “moving forward.” But nothing has really changed. From reading your e-mails to asserting the right to assassinate American citizens to bailing out companies whose executives pay themselves big bonuses, Obama’s changes are nothing but toothless rhetoric.

Closing Gitmo, reported The New York Times, was merely “a move that seemed intended to symbolically separate the new administration from Bush detention policies. But in a much anticipated court filing, the Justice Department argued that the president has the authority to detain terrorism suspects there without criminal charges, much as the Bush administration had asserted. It provided a broad definition of those who can be held, which was not significantly different from the one used by the Bush administration.”

What will happen to the 241 POWs still at Gitmo? They won’t be called “enemy combatants” anymore but most won’t be going home. “The filing signaled that, as long as Guantánamo remains open, the new Administration will aggressively defend its ability to hold some detainees there,” wrote the Times. Where will they go after that?

Welcome to Gitmo II—courtesy of Barack Obama.

Countless victims have been tortured by U.S. military personnel at Bagram, the U.S. airbase in Afghanistan where Bush imprisoned 600 people without charges. Some were murdered in the camp’s notorious “salt pit.” “Even children have not been spared,” says Amnesty International.

Now Bagram is being expanded—nearly doubled in size—in order to accommodate 200-plus detainees from Gitmo, as well as future POWs from Obama’s expanded war against Afghanistan. As bad as Guantánamo was, conditions at Bagram are worse.

Unless you believe indefinite detention without due process to be torture, Obama says his detainees won’t be tortured. Mostly. Probably. Maybe. The Washington Post quotes an Administration insider as saying that the CIA will enjoy “more leeway” than the Army Field Manual allows, in order to “take into account the differences between battlefield interrogations and those aimed at eliciting intelligence about terrorist groups and their plans.”

Extraordinary renditions, the Times reports in a different article, will continue under Obama. “In little-noticed confirmation testimony recently,” says the paper, “Obama nominees endorsed continuing the CIA’s program of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights, and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials even if they were arrested far from a war zone.”

During the 2008 campaign Obama’s critics accused him of saying nothing, albeit beautifully. Now that we’ve gotten to know him a bit, it’s time to refine that assessment: He’s just a weasel. An eloquent weasel. But a weasel who says the right things while doing the opposite.

On March 9th Obama ordered federal agencies to suspend Bush’s infamous “signing statements,” sneaky documents issued after the signing of a bill that ordered government agencies not to enforce the very same bill he’d just approved in front of the cameras. Signing statements, says the American Bar Association, use one-man dictatorial rule to negate the people’s will as expressed by Congress and are thus “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers.”

“Yet two days later—literally—Obama signed a $410 billion spending bill and appended to it a signing statement claiming that he had the Constitutional authority to ignore several of its oversight provisions,” writes Glenn Greenwald of Slate.

Greenwald regrets having to quote the vile Rich Lowry of the right-wing National Review magazine. So do I. But even the right is right sometimes:

“Barack Obama has perfected a three-step maneuver that could never even be attempted by a politician lacking his rhetorical skill or cool cynicism. First: Denounce your presidential predecessor for a given policy, energizing your party’s base and capitalizing on his abiding unpopularity. Second: Pretend to have reversed that policy upon taking office with a symbolic act or high-profile statement. Third: Adopt a version of that same policy, knowing that it’s the only way to govern responsibly or believing that doing otherwise is too difficult.”

This week’s example is Obama’s grandstanding over $165 million in bonuses paid to executives of American International Group (AIG), which received billions in federal bailout money. He feigned outrage: “How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?” But his Treasury Department knew about the bonuses—which amount to roughly 55 cents per American—ages ago. He also knows there isn’t much the government can do legally to claw the money back.

Unlike the word count limit of this column, Obama’s perfidy knows no limits. He’s already become more dangerous to democracy and basic human rights than George W. Bush. Unlike Bush, he has no political opposition. Cheney may nitpick, but most Republicans are happy to see Bush’s policies remain in place. Meanwhile, liberals remain loyal, silent, and tacitly pro-torture.

COPYRIGHT 2009 TED RALL

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36 Responses to “THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Change You Can Parse”

  1. Santiago Says:

    I’m not going to start the whole I didn’t vote for him so don’t blame me crap. The same thing many people did with George Bush. Barack Obama is our President and he represents us and frankly we are stuck with him. Bush 00,04, and now 08.

    It’s funny, my ultra Republican friends even voted for him because they were disillusioned by Bush himself so they voted for Obama.

    The funny part during the election was that Barack Obama had no problem pointing out McCain’s alleged problems. The reason as you may notice was because he was worse so he had plenty of material to cover. “Same old politics” he called it. Well what do you call this administration? If this isn’t literally the same old politics then I have no clue what is.

    For some reason people feel satisfied with just voting and then their activism ends. This is how Obama will ride the coat tails of people’s inaction until the next election. I just can’t believe how easy it was to manipulate people with a bunch of flowery words.

    Frankly, I think we are seriously screwed. Obama’s continued use of the supply side (trickle down economics) theory is honestly going to doom us all.

    However, I seriously don’t think the man is stupid. I think he is positioning big business on his side. I don’t think he is stupid enough to believe in supply side economics.

    The part that really scares me are the talks of a civilian national army (per se). Who will the swear loyalty to? More than likely the President as Obama commented months ago.

    Now what do the strokes of the brush begin to show? An “underdog” allied with big business. A civilian army. A network of secret intelligence directed at its own citizens. Dictatorial rule by using honestly unconstitutional signing statements. (Note: just because it’s not in the the Constitution doesn’t make it legal, in fact it’s the opposite). Does it start to ring a bell?

    So why would it be a right wing conspiracy to compare Obama with Hitler? All the numbers are adding up. All the rhetoric is adding up. Sure he won’t murder Jews, there isn’t any support in America for this. But there is against the Muslim people. It wasn’t that long ago we had our own concentration camps (started by a Democrat none the less). Why not now?

    Honestly, think about it. Why not now? Have we matured?

    It was almost 20 years ago after the fall of the Soviet Union we declared that the West’s beliefs were supreme and that there will be no more wars. Well there were several after that and we are in two now.

    We thought civil liberties against spying were safe after the decisions against Lincoln, the actions against the internment camps and McCarthy for example. But he is still doing it.

    We are repeating the exact same mistakes from the past. So I ask again, why not?

  2. Grouchy Says:

    Unlike the word count limit of this column, Obama’s perfidy knows no limits. He’s already become more dangerous to democracy and basic human rights than George W. Bush. Unlike Bush, he has no political opposition. Cheney may nitpick, but most Republicans are happy to see Bush’s policies remain in place. Meanwhile, liberals remain loyal, silent, and tacitly pro-torture.

    Ted, in case you forgot, Bush had absolutely no political opposition from the Democrats for about 1/2 of his presidency. And I’d say he had no serious opposition the rest of the time.

    Only opposition from the Right counts in our current system–and Obama’s getting plenty of that…

  3. Thomas Daulton Says:

    Somebody on a blog, I think it might have been BooMan, said “Democrats paint pretty flowers on the bars of the cage. They have no interest in opening the locks”

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Everybody should be happy about the boneusus except the independant voters. The bushies who believe in trickle down economics should be happy because if they lose their job they may get a job working for one of these guys as say a…gardener. In that way they could recieve the trickle on they believe in. The Obamaites can look forward to the tax increase on the wealthy to return their share. Either way every one but the independant voters win!

  5. Y_S Says:

    Thank you for spelling out the tactic the president uses as the Political Three-Step.

    Ted, you and Lowry should copyright this and spread the idea as far as possible, to keep an eye on the soother-in-chief. Call it the RaLLowry Three-Step-Watch.

    Cheers

  6. G. M. Palmer Says:

    Only opposition from the Right counts in our current system–and Obama’s getting plenty of that…

    Grouchy is the best comedian ever.

  7. Aggie Dude Says:

    Unlike Bush, he has no political opposition. Cheney may nitpick, but most Republicans are happy to see Bush’s policies remain in place. Meanwhile, liberals remain loyal, silent, and tacitly pro-torture.

    I agree with Grouchy, the right wing always holds the cards because they dominate the discourse top to bottom. Democrats are no more effective at combating the Dominant Paradigm of neoliberalism now that they're setting the agenda than they were as "opposition" to it. They are so incapable that they actually embrace it

    Cheney shot a man in the face and didn't report it to authorities, then had that person apologize to him. Bush & Co. represent the height of right wing domination and unchecked power.

    Their power was so overwhelming that the current president can't even shake it. Sure, you can rant all you want about how Obama is simply all talk, or how he could change things if he wanted to, or how we were all duped and lied to. The reality is that Obama's inability EVEN AS PRESIDENT to do anything more than lip service to change demonstrates how powerful the dominant paradigm of economic neoliberalism and political neoconservatism is. I'm shocked that you don't get that.

    Ted, Exactly what opposition did Bush & Co. have? Oh….did you mean that YOU opposed Bush & Co.? Well that's about effective as your opposition to Obama is.

    Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh are more influential and respected in American policy today than evolutionary biologists and climate scientists are. They parade to MILLIONS of morons who rally toward bigotry and stupidity.

    That's power. Unchecked, the ability to say completely moronic things and have them taken more seriously than the entire scientific community (on global warming, on evolution, on the ills of tobacco, etc).

    That's the kind of power that leaders in China and North Korea have, and that leaders in the Soviet Union had. People know they're wrong but still defend them out of reflex and habit.

    Obama? Obama is the best we could have hoped for and it STILL wasn't enough, Ted. We could put you in power and you'll be just as impotent. This is how bad the situation really is!!

    The reason to state all that is so that we keep our eye on the ball and not get distracted with the "trying to not be so bad" crowd.

    So the battle for lawful foreign policy is lost. For that, we should destroy our hopes for education reform, healthcare reform, food safety policy reform, FDA reform…etc..etc??

    It's not to say this isn't bad, it's to say claiming Obama is more of a threat to democracy that Bush is an IDIOTIC notion!!

  8. Anonymous Says:

    You guys talk as if it’s over. What happened to the liberals I used to know? Well…”it ain’t over until WE say it’s over.”

  9. Anonymous Says:

    You guys talk as if it’s over. What happened to the liberals I used to know? Well…”it ain’t over until WE say it’s over.”

  10. Grouchy Says:

    Only opposition from the Right counts in our current system…

    Well, I should qualify that for the dimwitted: The right controls the range of acceptable debate. Democrats are allowed to mount serious opposition on certain tangential issues (mostly issues where they’re protecting certain personal freedoms), but a real assault on the corporate dominated system just isn’t allowed.

  11. Y_S Says:

    Aggie Dude; where do you get the time to write so much analysis?
    And yes, the power of the orthodoxy/right wing is quite apparent in a lot of places. It is the logical conclusion of people who have to live daily lives and cannot afford to be personally distracted by politics.

    Cheers

    Y_S

  12. Santiago Says:

    “So the battle for lawful foreign policy is lost. For that, we should destroy our hopes for education reform, healthcare reform, food safety policy reform, FDA reform…etc..etc??

    It’s not to say this isn’t bad, it’s to say claiming Obama is more of a threat to democracy that Bush is an IDIOTIC notion!!”

    This is quite frankly a completely backwards argument.

    What you are trying to say is that Obama is running for election in 2012 and he doesn’t want to go against the tide even if it means actual progress.

    Obama could do a hell of a lot if he honestly wanted to. He doesn’t want to though.

    He pulls smoke and mirrors tactics in order to pretend playing politics. He could reverse all the policies. He could end the war. He could end one bid contracts.

    Don’t make him out to have a limp you know what.

    Thus it is a fact that Obama is more of a threat to Democracy. He sure as hell is.

    The simple reason is found in your argument. The fact that he is not standing up to anti-democracy waves from the Bush administration means he will create a precedent for following retarded orders from previous administrations.

    If he honestly wanted to and had the courage to do so he could fight it and put up the good fight using the same tactics Bush did but this time against anti-democracy tendencies. But we voted the cowardly lion into office.

    By the way, remember the Soviet Union and how inflexible it was?

    Welcome to the Soviet American Union!

  13. Angelo Says:

    The bonuses are a bite-sized and symbolic media token.

    I was totally encouraged to see Obama’s feigned outrage.

    American’s are too dumb to understand that the bonuses are 1/10th of 1% of the total money given to AIG.

    Cheers to Obama. He understands the electorate and his place. His best chance for greatness is to create more and more populist outrage without actually doing anything new.

    The pulpit is all he has.

  14. Aggie Dude Says:

    Santiago, the logic of your assessment escapes me, sorry.

    “So the battle for lawful foreign policy is lost. For that, we should destroy our hopes for education reform, healthcare reform, food safety policy reform, FDA reform…etc..etc??”

    This was actually a question…..should we? I don’t think so. Progress can be made on many levels, people like Ted advocate for everything to happen immediately or all is lost: At best it’s a rhetorical device avoid prudence and deliberation, at worst it’s being a spastic child who just starts screaming unless they get 100% of their desires immediately.

    Y_S…This response took less than a minute. Where do I find time to write so much analysis? I have chosen a profession that allows me to constantly analyze information, write, and articulate that analytical ability to students. That was a deliberate choice, so dispensing my comments on this blog is a process of a few minutes because the analysis occurs almost as recreation.

    It’s not difficult, it just takes training, patience, and an open mind.

  15. clownstotheleftofmejokerstotheright Says:

    Aggie-dude claiming he has an open mind is the funniest damn thing I’ve read on this entire sire. Ever.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    <<< Santiago said…

    I'm not going to start the whole I didn't vote for him so don't blame me crap. The same thing many people did with George Bush. Barack Obama is our President and he represents us and frankly we are stuck with him. Bush 00,04, and now 08. >>>

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ ……

  17. Susan Stark Says:

    >>Obama's inaugural address may have promised to "reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," but—in all the ways that matter—he's keeping all of Bush's outrageous policies in place.>>

    One wonders why he ran for president in the first place. He's the first Black man to hold the office, but that victory will wear thin if things get worse in this country.

  18. Susan Stark Says:

    >>Obama's inaugural address may have promised to "reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," but—in all the ways that matter—he's keeping all of Bush's outrageous policies in place.>>

    One wonders why he ran for president in the first place. He's the first Black man to hold the office, but that victory will wear thin if things get worse in this country.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    And yes, the power of the orthodoxy/right wing is quite apparent in a lot of places. It is the logical conclusion of people who have to live daily lives and cannot afford to be personally distracted by politics.
    That’s odd, then how do you explain that in a PEW Research Study, Rush Limbaugh listeners, and Weekly Standard readers have the “highest knowledge” with MSNBC viewers at the bottom.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    And yes, the power of the orthodoxy/right wing is quite apparent in a lot of places. It is the logical conclusion of people who have to live daily lives and cannot afford to be personally distracted by politics.
    That’s odd, then how do you explain that in a PEW Research Study, Rush Limbaugh listeners, and Weekly Standard readers have the “highest knowledge” with MSNBC viewers at the bottom.

  21. Aggie Dude Says:

    “but—in all the ways that matter—he’s keeping all of Bush’s outrageous policies in place”

    Susan, let me just point to a few areas where the two differ that really matter a lot.

    I. Science
    a) global warming. Obama came out and very succinctly stated that this was a major challenge and that as President he is not going hinder advancement in understanding the problem, and ultimately working to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change. A substantial shift from Bush’s policy of actually editing scientific reports of content.

    1b) stem cell research. This is an area of scientific development that should be explored, and was used in an idiotically ideological way. For example, GMOs are massively supported by republicans and conservatives, yet they raise the same ethical issues as stem cell research. It’s hypocritical.

    II. UN position on gay rights. This is significant, even if you just think it’s rhetorical. Emancipation is rhetorical….everything is rhetorical at first.

    I get that many people are extremely obsessive over their pet issues and believe they are the most fundamental, and if they don’t change then nothing else matters. The ecological capacity of our planet to support a high quality of human life matters, MORE THAN the policies you’re talking about. The reality is, we DO NOT have the answers yet, which means that Obama’s rhetorical support for investigation DOES constitute a meaningful divergence from Bush in an extremely fundamental and important way.

  22. Angelo Says:

    “Progress can be made on many levels, people like Ted advocate for everything to happen immediately or all is lost”

    Once we limit our conversation to national policy I think we can agree with the following:

    Our constitution makes sure that progress is near impossible unless there is an emergency, and then it happens all at once!

  23. Anonymous Says:

    Aggie,
    Those differences you listed above are just appeasments to keep us from getting riled up about continuing the war, bailouts, guantanamo etc.
    Give the people just enough to keep them complacent.
    Pretty little sheep stay asleep.
    Democrats and Republicans play on the same team.
    Good cop, bad cop.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    Aggie,
    Those differences you listed above are just appeasments to keep us from getting riled up about continuing the war, bailouts, guantanamo etc.
    Give the people just enough to keep them complacent.
    Pretty little sheep stay asleep.
    Democrats and Republicans play on the same team.
    Good cop, bad cop.

  25. Anonymous Says:

    Y_S…This response took less than a minute. Where do I find time to write so much analysis? I have chosen a profession that allows me to constantly analyze information, write, and articulate that analytical ability to students. That was a deliberate choice, so dispensing my comments on this blog is a process of a few minutes because the analysis occurs almost as recreation.

    When you are a “professor” at a community college, you don’t to work more than 3 hours a week, during the school year. You can spend the rest of the time pontificating about how the rest of the world is inferior. Replace “community college” with “White House” , throw in a teleprompter and you have the dumbest president ever.

  26. Anonymous Says:

    One wonders why he ran for president in the first place. He’s the first Black man to hold the office, but that victory will wear thin if things get worse in this country.
    He ran for office because he knew a bunch of suckers (aka feel good liberals) would gladly vote for a black man who is (in the words of Joe Biden) articulate, mainstream, bright, clean and nice looking.

    Now that you voted for a black man, don’t you feel better? Are you over your white liberal guilt? Because if you aren’t you need to be. We have an inept dolt running the country who can’t put two “uhs” together without his precious TelePrompTer. He is too busy bowling and appearing on late night TV when he should be actually running the country, and not running it down. So I really hope you white libs get over your guilt soon and grow up for God’s sake. This isn’t MTV.

  27. Aggie Dude Says:

    Anon,

    One could argue that democracy itself is an appeasement, or that abolition of slavery was an appeasement, or expansion of voting rights are an appeasement. Or that the election of Barack Obama was an appeasement.

    All of which would be an extremely shallow analysis of significant events, utilizing only the most surface-level critical thinking skills.

    More and more, people on this blog act like first semester college freshmen who’ve figured it all out and lecture their families at Thanksgiving about how the world is.

    The world economy is in a free fall and it’s still all about the war. Our food system is in crisis, and it’s still about the war. Arctic permafrost is going to be gone within 10 years…and it’s still about the war.

    Pretty soon we’re going to be up to our asses in more than simple colonial style police actions, and you’ll still be bitching about the same thing. Yes, it was criminal. Henry Kissinger should be in jail. And continuing to wax endless about it will accomplish…what?

  28. Susan Stark Says:

    Aggie Dude, there are divergences between Obama and Bush, but mainly in style. As the poster above me says: Give the people enough to keep them complacent.

    But, what Obama doesn’t realize is that we can no longer play the game of “pacification of the Left”, which Bill Clinton also played when he was in office. Imperialism is finished. It’s done. It’s caput. He’d better see that in front of his face before it hits him in the ass.

  29. Aggie Dude Says:

    Susan, you’re repeating yourself. You’re not adding any substance to your argument. The placation argument, which is an old old critique, is almost entirely rhetorical if it is not directly connected to specific events and outcomes.

    My point about this is the extremely singular are narrow obsessiveness on one issue that is, in reality, a nonstarter politically. The only people discussing this are those on the so-called ‘far left’ like Rall and his band of followers.

    What is truly relevant is not US foreign policy, which never actually changes that much (aside from Bush’s rabid incompetence), but Obama’s Republican-style complicity in dealing with our economic disaster. They’re trying to put humpty dumpty back together again so that these idiots can continue making their multi-million dollar bonuses and keep a structurally criminal economic regime in power. In the mean time they are ensuring a failure to rectify the ultimate problem.

    For Ted to harp on this endlessly puts him outside the loop and behind the curve of discussing an unfolding disaster of epic proportions. Personally, I think he’s doing it intentionally.

  30. Anonymous Says:

    Aggie,
    Anyone criticizing a female without also criticizing Ted here will be labeled a sexist by said female. Logical? No. But who said females were logical 😉

  31. Santiago Says:

    "<<< Santiago said…

    I'm not going to start the whole I didn't vote for him so don't blame me crap. The same thing many people did with George Bush. Barack Obama is our President and he represents us and frankly we are stuck with him. Bush 00,04, and now 08. >>>

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ ……"

    Susan… see my point proven completely about what we discussed before.

  32. Santiago Says:

    "<<< Santiago said…

    I'm not going to start the whole I didn't vote for him so don't blame me crap. The same thing many people did with George Bush. Barack Obama is our President and he represents us and frankly we are stuck with him. Bush 00,04, and now 08. >>>

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ ……"

    Susan… see my point proven completely about what we discussed before.

  33. Aggie Dude Says:

    Anon, I find it ironic that you made a bad joke about sexism and then went on to make a sexist remark.

    Notice that Ted’s latest cartoon is about the environment, coincidental?

    Ted, why don’t you address bill HR 875, which imposes more federal control over food “safety” on states. This bill was introduced by CT Representative Rosa DeLauro, whose husband represents Monsanto as a client. Also, DeLauro received $180k in campaign contributions from agribusiness PACs.

    Let’s see if I can wag the dog. I don’t it, lets face it, food policy isn’t all that funny.

  34. Susan Stark Says:

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ ……"

    Susan… see my point proven completely about what we discussed before.>>>

    Okay, so he's not a sexist. He's just annoying.

    :-DDDD

  35. Santiago Says:

    “Okay, so he’s not a sexist. He’s just annoying.”

    We’re both on the same page on that one.

  36. Conspiracy King Says:

    What I think all of you are assuming, including Mr. Rall, in critiquing Obama’s leadership is the idea that the President and the electorate can actually control anything. Like all Presidents since at least WWII, Obama was undoubtedly vetted by the Bilderberg Group, The Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foriegn Relations. To seriously oppose the true ruling elite is to end up like Jack Kennedy.
    Paranoid? Not if it’s true. Do some homework.

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