Our commander-in-chief had a lot to say during Monday night's interview with Charlie Rose, but CNN aptly summed it up in four words:
"I'm no Dick Cheney."
If I may, Mr. President, I'd like to respond to that claim with a question I bet all of your supporters (many of them now erstwhile supporters) are asking:
"Yes, but why the hell aren't you Barack Obama?"
I'm not sure if he'd like to be reminded of this, but once upon a time, he was an inspiring figure. His supporters respected him for his willingness to articulate politically risky truths with a boldness usually reserved for rabid ideologues ... and his detractors feared him for the very same reason. Although some of his critics today still insist that he's a closet radical (a statement born far more out of conservative and/or libertarian hyperpartisanship than a rational assessment of his record), the reality is that the Obama who won 69.5 million votes in 2008 bore only the faintest resemblance to the one whining to the pundits yesterday.
Exhibit A: Barack Obama's statement in 2005 about the PATRIOT Act:
"Giving law enforcement the tools they need to investigate suspicious activity is one thing — and it's the right thing — but doing it without any real oversight seriously jeopardizes the rights of all Americans and the ideals America stands for."
What a contrast that makes between the man who bravely spoke out against the PATRIOT Act's J. Edgar Hooveresque activities and the one who now defends PRISM, a program that by all accounts makes the chicanery of the PATRIOT Act look like Harriet the Spy hijinks.
For Exhibit B, let's look at these excerpts from a speech in 2006 on campaign finance and lobbyist reform:
"Americans may have grown accustomed to big money and special interests exerting too much influence in Washington, but even they have been shocked by what appears to be a systematic takeover of our democracy by high-priced lobbyists ...
"The recent scandals have shaken the very foundation of the American people's faith in a government that will look out for their interests and uphold their values.
"Because they don't just lead to morally offensive conduct on the part of politicians. They lead to morally offensive legislation that hurts hardworking Americans."
Most damning of all, however, is Exhibit C. While many liberals and independents had been impressed with Obama since his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, it was the message of his 2008 presidential campaign that truly brought them into his corner. Here is a passage from the speech in which he announced that he would be making a bid for the White House, delivered in front of the same Old State Capitol where Abraham Lincoln once orated his legendary "House Divided" speech:
"For the last six years we've been told that our mounting debts don't matter, we've been told that the anxiety Americans feel about rising health care costs and stagnant wages are an illusion, we've been told that climate change is a hoax, and that tough talk and an ill-conceived war can replace diplomacy, and strategy, and foresight. And when all else fails, when Katrina happens, or the death toll in Iraq mounts, we've been told that our crises are somebody else's fault. We're distracted from our real failures, and told to blame the other party, or gay people, or immigrants.
"And as people have looked away in disillusionment and frustration, we know what's filled the void. The cynics, and the lobbyists, and the special interests who've turned our government into a game only they can afford to play. They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we're here today to take it back. The time for that politics is over. It's time to turn the page."
What, pray tell, has Obama done to effectively address these concerns? It isn't enough to simply denounce his failures as being the result of a leftist ideology (a disingenuous approach at best, given how Obama has surrounded himself with Clintonian DLCers) or a sell-out (which is to state, if not the obvious, at least the unoriginal). What matters isn't simply that Obama hasn't succeeded so far; it is that he has shown no real motive to learn from his past mistakes.
What we need is a president who will stand up to the institutions over which he currently presides instead of make excuses for them. We need a president who will oppose drone strikes because they're morally wrong, who will denounce the plutocrats and lobbyists who shape the economic agenda churned out by conservative and libertarian think tanks and legislative caucuses, who will stand up to the interest groups in his own party when they recklessly inflate our already staggering debt, who will call out the stupidity of global warming deniers and demand that we confront this ecological crisis before it's too late.
We need a president who will remember his duty to protect and defend the Fourth Amendment, which will be the subject of my next editorial (in my opinion one of the most important I've ever written).
Instead we have this man who seems to believe that the best defense is a good excuse. Well, I'm sorry, Mr. President, but that isn't going to cut it. If you want your critics to stop comparing you to Dick Cheney, here is a bold suggestion:
Stop acting like Dick Cheney.