Note: This letter also appeared on the political journal created and formerly edited by the late Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch.
Dear President Obama’s Supporters,
I am writing this letter as a friend who believes in the same principles that you proudly trumpet: fairness, human rights, honesty, and communitarian commitment to the common interest and public good. Over the past three years, but especially during the past six months, I’ve grown increasingly bewildered over how you could support a President who routinely and flagrantly dishonors all of those principles. I remember our conversations during the horrific years of the Bush Presidency, and I recall how we spoke with shock and outrage over the crimes, abusive and exploitative policies, and sociopathic misdeeds of the Republican President. We were political allies – co-conspirators of democracy battling to bring peace, hope, and sanity to our country. Friendship supersedes politics, and regardless of what decision you make on Election Day, I will remain your friend if you will honor me with the same pledge. If you vote for Barack Obama, however, I am sorry to say that we will no longer be political allies. I fear that our priorities and values are so divergent that future association on political causes will no longer benefit either of us. You will have undermined your credibility on issues of the largest importance, and will therefore make political sympathy and cooperation impossible. I write this letter as a final effort to stop you from making a mistake that will cheapen your vote, degrade your politics, and hideously stain your principles. My words may be strong, but I write them with respect. If I didn’t respect you, I would not waste my time writing this letter. I ask only that you give the information I am about to present fair consideration and thoughtful deliberation. I ask that you vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party or Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party or that you withhold your vote. Please do not give your vote to a man who has done nothing to deserve it and has, over the past four years, shown he possesses far less integrity and intelligence than you.
Everything I am about to describe is verifiable in a variety of credible sources. If you question the sources that I provide to support my claims, I encourage you to research the stories independently. I trust you will find that I have taken nothing out of context, I have made no distortion to the record, and I have made no attempt at manipulation. I have no reason to defame or impugn President Barack Obama.
In the 2008 Democratic Primary, I voted and volunteered for Hillary Clinton. She earned my support because of her greater experience, her greater resolve, and in my judgment, her greater intelligence. I also had a bad reaction – like the one you have when fumes of a foul odor slither into your nose – to the hysteria surrounding the Obama candidacy. Many of his most ardent supporters viewed him as if he was surrounded by a Messianic light, and that he rode into Washington D.C. sitting on a donkey, while crowds of adorers waved palm leaves to greet his arrival. I thought it was unhealthy to cast a mere mortal into the role of Savior. He had not earned such devotion. Unearned devotion builds an ego to megalomaniacal proportions. The result is often a personality cult that empowers the recipient of cultish fervor to do as he pleases, because the devotees will excuse, defend, rationalize, and justify any error or sin, no matter how severe or costly. The object becomes the advancement of the personality, and not the progression of a policy.
When the general election campaign season commenced, I set aside my concerns and not only vowed to vote for Barack Obama, but donated a small sum of money to his campaign, worked the phones to convince undecided voters in the state of Indiana to go Democrat, and drove disabled Obama voters to the polls. He was speaking beautifully in a populist and democratic tongue, and he was speaking eloquently in an inspired rhetoric that energized black voters, young voters, moderate voters, and disenchanted Republican voters in unprecedented numbers. On top of the promise of his presidency rested the reality of his candidacy. He was the first African-American candidate to win the nomination of his party, and if elected, he would be the first African-American president. When he defeated Senator John McCain with authority, Barack Obama shattered one of the highest glass ceilings in the world, and he did so with eloquence and intelligence far greater than many of his predecessors. In his cleverly crafted slogan and with powerful symbolism, he brought hope and change back to America.
After the election of John F. Kennedy, Gore Vidal wrote that “civilizations are rarely granted a second chance.” Following the Bay of Pigs debacle and the invasion of Vietnam, Vidal mourned that “something mysteriously went wrong.”
I wrote those same words about Vidal and Kennedy in a column for the November 12, 2008 edition of the Herald News in Joliet, Illinois where I wrote a weekly column for a little over a year. The Obama victory column would be my last. My final words for the column were hopeful – “Whether something mysteriously goes wrong during Obama’s administration remains to be seen, but this feels like a second chance, and right now, that feels like enough.”
Something went wrong – catastrophically wrong. It is not much of a mystery. The seemingly unsolvable conundrum is why so many people refuse to acknowledge the wreckage lying at their feet, and why so many people refuse to identify the man behind the handle of the wrecking ball.
As we survey the damage, count the bodies, and inspect the crime scene, let us begin with a reminder of all of the reasons we united in opposition to President George W. Bush: human rights violations, mass deception, fatal incompetence, betrayal of the United States constitution, acquiescence to the economic violence of the rich simultaneous to punishment of the poor and middle class. You may have an item to add to the list, but I assume you will agree that this list of crimes and sins is accurate and damning of one of America’s worst presidents.
President Obama promised to end all of these policies, resurrect the rule of law, and begin the heavy lifting needed to repair a broken land. Those of us who supported his election, hoped and expected – with good reason based on his campaign pledges and proposals – that if he could not save the country in four years (that much seemed unlikely), he would at least curb the worst excesses, tendencies, and abuses of the Bush administration, while he initiated basic policies that would balance the American economy, strengthen the American spirit, and deliver us from the evil of murder in the Middle East.
There were signs of trouble within the first months of the Obama presidency. Warning shots sounded from all angles, but many people chose to ignore them or blame them on Republican agitators, rather than prepare for an inevitable bullet to the face. As president, Obama replaced all of his reform oriented advisers with technocratic leaders of the banking, finance, and Pentagon establishments. Timothy Geitner and Lawrence Summers had the keys to the family car, and like drunken teenagers taking a joyride when their parents leave town, they crashed it. President Obama followed their advice and continued the Bush policy of bailouts for the commercial banks, but coldly and blindly refused to bail out community banks, students with staggering debt, or families with foreclosed homes. A few of you have defended the President by generously assuming he had no choice. “If he didn’t bail out the too big to fail banks,” you might protest, “our entire economy would have failed.” Seeing as I don’t possess a doctorate in Economics (neither do you), I will concede and assume that you are correct. How then can you justify giving hundreds of billions of dollars in tax payer money to the very vultures and vampires responsible for the bloodsucking of the middle class without the slightest supervision of restriction? The Obama administration, in full deference to its friends, former co-workers, and donors on Wall Street, allowed billionaire executives to give themselves bonuses, refurnish their offices, and pile the money around their beds as if they were starring on an episode of “Hoarders.”
Didn’t you harshly ridicule President Bush for his unmonitored bail out policy? Why have you given the Obama administration a pass for continuing the same policy?
All eyes were on the Obama administration, eager to see what steps it would take to revitalize a comatose economy. President Obama, for the first two years of his administration, enjoyed a Democratic Congress and a wave of public support. The worshipful news media predicted he would fill the shoes and carry the cigarette holder (I hope Obama still smokes. It is his most likable and human quality) of President Franklin Roosevelt. Meanwhile, economic experts like Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Benjamin Barber, and Jeffrey Sachs – all men who could and should have been in the Obama administration instead of Goldman Sachs and Citigroup hacks – argued for reforms on the scale of FDR’s New Deal. Obama ignored their advice, and thereby ignored the needs of the country, by implementing a frail stimulus package designed only to funnel money into the coffers of state and local governments. He brags that the stimulus “saved jobs,” and he is probably right, but what happened to the shovel ready projects he promised? What happened to stimulus for small businesses? What happened to “millions of green jobs”? None of it ever happened. Something else that never happened? A jobs commission. Playing into the hands of the right, Obama formed a debt commission, but even now when it would highly increase his chances for reelection, he refuses to form a jobs commission. He refuses to even delineate a coherent and cohesive jobs policy. In two Presidential debates and a Democratic National Convention speech, President Obama has had the opportunity to explain his plan for ending the unemployment epidemic that afflicts America, but has failed to do so. He either has no ideas or does not care enough to come up with any.
My father, who was a small business owner for 27 years and now works for a small business, constantly complains of the punishment that small businesses face under the current economy and Obama’s regulatory policies. It turns out he is not alone: In a National Association of Manufacturers survey, 55 percent of small business owners said they would not start a company in the current climate, and an overwhelming 69 percent said that President Obama’s policies have hurt their businesses. Are they all lying? Are they all hired whores for the Romney campaign? Or is it possible that President Obama has implemented bailouts, breaks, and bonuses for big business, while imposing regulation, restriction, and rationing for small business? The evidence supports the latter conclusion.
At this point, you are probably thinking about how the unemployment rate has dropped since Obama took office. You probably would like me to praise the President for lowering the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent. I won’t. I refuse to pretend like our economy is moving in the right track when every week I talk to recent college graduates who cannot find work, and every week I hear stories of struggle from average Americans. Does President Obama’s narrative of progress conform to reality? Does it align with the stories you are hearing from your friends, family, and neighbors? Does it align with your life?
If you are unwilling to consider anecdotal evidence against the national unemployment rate, then look beyond the headlines that flatter President Obama and massage the one percent. The National Employment Law Project reported in August that 60 percent of the jobs added to the American economy since 2008 pay less than $13 an hour. President Obama and his supporters rejoicing over the addition of new jobs to the economy, which combined only break even with the jobs lost in the first two years of his term, without acknowledging the low paying, menial nature of those jobs, is like you stealing someone’s Corvette, then telling the driver not to worry because you replaced it with an old Geo.
I’m sure you’re already aware that the 7.8 percent figure is also misleadingly low. It does not take into account millions of people who have dropped out of the work force nor does it include the millions of “underemployed” – part time workers desperately looking for full time jobs. Most economists agree that if the unemployment rate were to take into account these two marginalized groups of battered and neglected Americans, it would more than double.
This is not a recovery, and it seems that President Obama, like a dementia patient lying in the soup he just spilled all over the bed, won’t even acknowledge the extent of the economic crises paralyzing the country. If he won’t address it – if he won’t form a jobs commission, if he won’t staff his administration with advisers who care about creating jobs – he will never solve it. Just as he won’t solve the staggering cost of higher education, because he won’t address it, and he won’t solve the staggering cost of health care, because he won’t address it.
At this point, you may have just pounded the table, spit your coffee out in a straight stream onto your monitor, or shouted a string of obscenities at me. You want to tell me that President Obama passed historic health care reform. Before you abruptly shut off your computer or begin writing hate mail, allow me to say that I agree with you that there are laudable provisions within the health care bill. I am glad that President Obama worked to end the insurance industry’s practice of denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing conditions. I applaud him for extending coverage to sick children, and I salute him for allowing young Americans to stay on their parents’ health plan until they are 26.
With a Democratic Congress, President Obama could have passed these measures within the first few weeks of his term. It would have given him great momentum to attempt more radical reform in a second term, and it would have earned him the support of leftists, liberals, Democrats, and moderate Republicans. Instead he attached the attractive provisions to the hideous and deformed individual mandate, blackmailing liberals into cheering a massive gift to one of the most corrupt, vile, and deadly industries in the world – an industry you claim to despise. The individual mandate originated with the right wing think tank, the Heritage Foundation. 1996 Republican Presidential nominee Bob Dole championed the mandate throughout the campaign, but the American people – especially liberals like you – rejected it as the oppressive move of an autocratic state forcing people into an exploitative scheme from a manipulative business selling a shoddy and poorly delivered service. It took President Nixon – a politician with unquestionable anti-communist credentials – to open relations with China. During the plane ride home, beaming with pride on Air Force One, Richard Nixon bragged, as reported by aides and depicted by Anthony Hopkins in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, “A few years ago, China was one of our greatest enemies. Now they are one of our closest allies. Only Nixon could have done that.” A few years ago, the insurance industry had reached its lowest level of public approval in the history of the country, and the American people – again, especially liberals like you, viewed it as one our greatest enemies. Now, the insurance industry is one of the closest allies of the Democratic administration and liberals are defending a mandate that forces every citizen to become one of its consumers. Only Obama could have done that.
Ask yourself how you would have reacted to President Bush announcing in a State of the Union address that he will solve the health care crisis by requiring that every American buy health insurance and that he will punish those who don’t – most likely Americans not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, but too poor to afford a private insurance plan – with a one percent tax on their income? Would you have praised Bush as a man of compassion and wisdom or would you have (rightfully) attacked him as a bedfellow of big business?
Keeping in mind the lesson of President Nixon’s shrewd maneuver with China will be helpful when reviewing many of Obama’s cruel and stupid policies.
Returning a moment to Gore Vidal, he often called America the “United States of Amnesia.” “Every morning we wake up,” he explained, “having forgotten what we did the night before.” One of the blacked out memories of America’s everlasting hangover is the B.P. Oil Spill. Remember the spring of 2010? One of the biggest ecological disasters leaked into the Gulf Coast, leaving ecosystems destroyed, fishermen bankrupt, and communities ravaged.
Mother Jones reported that a coalition of ten conservation groups lambasted President Obama for waiting a month to significantly respond to the catastrophe. Key figures in the Obama administration announced their trust in B.P CEO, Tony Hayward, while the President was mysteriously absent from the Gulf and mysteriously deferential to the oil giant. He defended his passivity by famously explaining the waiting period as “time needed to figure out whose ass to kick,” but he never kicked anyone’s ass.
He formulated the Presidential Commission on the Gulf Oil Spill, and the commission concluded that BP “had not made a conscious decision to favor dollars over safety.” The Wall Street Journal reported that the Commission’s report “acquitted BP of all charges.” A few weeks later, both The Atlantic and the New York Times’ Greenwire blog discovered and reported that the Commission deleted the most important slide from its report – a slide showing that on eleven separate incidents BP took serious spill risks to save time and money. Despite irrefutable proof that the President’s commission lied to Congress and the American people to protect a foreign oil company from charges of endangering the American public, neglecting public health and safety, and breaking environmental law, the story vanished. Why has the President never answered a question about the deleted slide? Did you know about the slide? If so, are you concerned about it?
President Obama did not cause the BP Oil Spill nor was he malicious in his negligent response of tardiness to it. He was dangerously incompetent, and then, deceitful in his reporting of the disaster to the American people.
President Obama was equally incompetent in his mishandling of the Fast and Furious gunrunning program into Mexico. You may dismiss Fast and Furious as a Republican conspiracy theory, but the story broke on CBS news, and has since been reported and elaborated on by Univision. Congress has also investigated the program. It is a real scandal, and considering its result was dozens of dead Mexicans and a dead American Border agent, it is surprising that the media and the liberal wing of Obama supporters have shown so little interest. It does not take a wizard, psychic, or oracle to determine what dealers and soldiers in Mexican drug cartels will do with assault rifles, but amazingly, President Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder, didn’t see the violence coming. They oversaw a program of trafficking weapons to Mexican criminals without the knowledge of the Mexican government. That alone should make anyone suspicious of their intellectual qualifications to hold office. If I were an Obama supporter, perhaps I could forgive him for such imaginative idiocy, if he spoke with candor about his mistake, and fired Eric Holder. At point of writing, President Obama has refused to address the scandal – even after Governor Romney criticized him for it in the second debate – and has shown no sign of punishing Eric Holder, even after Holder lied about his knowledge of the failed ATF program, originally telling Congress he did not know of its existence. Congress later questioned him again, forcing him to admit that he was aware of its existence and consequences. The only person to receive punishment for the Fast and Furious program, which, again, resulted in the deaths of dozens of people, is Vince Cefalu. Cefalu worked for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and was the whistle blower who went public with the scandal. The Obama administration’s attack on Cefalu should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.
Peter Van Buren, a twenty four year veteran Foreign Service Officer at the State Department and current columnist with TomDispatch, reports that the Obama administration’s vicious assault on whistle blowers has been one of the worst in American history. The President has charged more people under the Espionage Act than all past presidencies combined. President Obama brought the most recent charge against John Kiriakou, who allegedly disclosed information to journalists about President Bush’s use of waterboarding as an “advanced interrogation technique.”
The horrors of the torturous treatment caused President Obama to order a moratorium on its practice. You have often cited Obama’s “ending of torture” as a reason for your support. While it is true that Obama has ended the CIA’s use of torture, he has continued the ugly and wicked practice of rendition. If you are not familiar with the term, it means the transport of a detainee to a foreign nation, such as Egypt or Jordan, where foreign interrogators use ghastly methods of torture to extract information. Are you still going to praise Obama for ending torture? If so, you should also morally congratulate men who hire contract killers to murder their wives rather than pulling the trigger themselves. The arrangement is about the same, and it is about as ethically repulsive.
As President, Barack Obama projects the image of a calm and dispassionate operator, rationally weighing available information and tenable options before most wisely choosing how to proceed. His cloak of progressivism and professorial cool disguises the bloodshot eyed predator stalking the night for his innocent, unsuspecting prey. The persecutory and punitive zeal that infuses his malignant campaign against whistle blowers is outmatched only by the aggression and hostility he demonstrates toward medical marijuana dispensaries and undocumented immigrants.
In 2008, Barack Obama promised to respect State law in California by allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to fully function without interference from the Department of Justice. Broken promises should no longer surprise observers of the Obama administration, but this particular offense against freedom and medicine is bizarre because there is no ostensible reason for it – political, legal, or otherwise. The Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws have both concluded that the Obama administration has a far worse record than the Bush administration on the medical marijuana issue, and despite promising a “hands off” approach, has forcibly shut down more medical marijuana dispensaries than George W. Bush.
Obama has also been much worse than Bush on deportations. It was comical to watch the President ridicule Governor Romney for encouraging “self-deportation” when in the past four years he has presided over the deportation of one million undocumented immigrants. In half the time, he has overseen, and approved, a policy that has deported more immigrants than Bush.
Meanwhile, to momentarily return to an earlier topic, President Obama has not even mentioned the possibility of investigating the financial elite that took aluminum bats to the knees of the American economy. Billionaires who manipulated the financial system, bankrupted thousands of families, and did irreparable harm to the country enjoy billions in taxpayer funds – through bail outs and tax loopholes – while undocumented workers, medical marijuana dispensaries in California, and whistle blowers receive the full hammer of the law.
I would love to hear your justification for Obama’s perverse priorities and poisonous policies that ruin lives, reward greed, and make a mockery of State law. While we are on the subject of legal issues, I am equally fascinated to learn of any excuse you may offer for President Obama’s continuation of Bush’s violations to constitutional law and demolition of civil liberties. George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley called Obama the “most disastrous president in our history for civil liberties.” As President, Obama has increased warrantless wiretapping and military tribunals. The prison at Guantanamo Bay remains open, and Obama has made no attempt to reinstate Habeas Corpus as a foundational principle of American law. With secrecy and brazen aloofness, he signed the controversial National Defense Authorization Act, which states among other things, that – for the first time in history – the federal government has the right to indefinitely detain an American citizen without charges and without trial. A federal appellate judge ruled the law unconstitutional, and it is currently awaiting reconsideration from the Supreme Court. Regardless of how the case turns out, doesn’t it terrify you that President Obama would sign such a bill into law? Why are you passively and mutely observing former law professor Barack Obama set fire to the constitution and spit on its ashes when just a few years ago you thunderously denounced Bush for similar policies?
Perhaps, at this point, you would like to point out some of Obama’s achievements, and you would like to revert to the role of the pragmatist. Politics is the “art of the possible.” For the past two years, Obama has faced “unprecedented opposition” from an indefatigable Republican congress. I’ve heard all of these arguments before. I will point out that President Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan, and you will reply by reminding me that he “ended the war in Iraq.” Are unaware or have you forgotten that President Obama actually had nothing to do with ending the war in Iraq? President Bush signed a “status of forces” agreement with the Iraqi government in 2008 that stipulated the withdrawal of US forces by December of 2011. Even the Obama sycophants at the Huffington Post reported that President Obama tried to extend the deadline, and add 10,000 troops to Iraq, but that he “ultimately had no choice but to stick to his campaign pledge – thanks, of all things, to an agreement signed by George W. Bush.”
George W. Bush started the destructive, unnecessary, and unjust war in Iraq, and he ended it. President Obama deserves credit only for honoring the agreement the US government and the Iraqi government negotiated before he took office. Every time Obama, without blinking, boasts of “ending the war in Iraq,” he is misleading the American people.
You may have already noticed a pattern emerging in which Obama continues Bush policies or expands Bush policies, yet faces none of the opposition or criticism Bush faced for those policies. All of this is undeniable, as it is part of the public record and no one – not even members of the Obama administration – have attempted to dispute the reality of mass deportations, arson to civil liberties, war on medical marijuana, protection for Wall Street, collusion with the insurance industry, and the attack on whistle blowers. The only group of people that won’t acknowledge Obama’s extension of the Bush administration is the one to which you belong – his most vocal supporters. So, I ask you then – why are all of these assaults on your principles – rendition, war, bailouts, spying – that were so contemptible when an inarticulate, redneck Republican from Texas implemented them suddenly acceptable when a charismatic, black Democrat from Chicago enforces them?
It is your responsibility to answer that question – not mine. I’m not defending or voting for Obama. With Election Day drawing near, I’ve heard no campaign surrogate, Democratic legislator, or Obama supporter answer any of my questions. I’ve only heard mediocre and transparently hollow attempts to evade the question. You will try to shift the focus away from the failures and monstrosities of your beloved president to the mendacity and ignominy of the Republican Party. When you engage in this tactic of cheap sophism, you are playing an empty headed little kid game. You are the “he started it” voice, shrieking and rising to a whine, from the playground. Every President – every person for that matter – deserves judgment on his or her own merit. Context and history are important, but they should not be mutated into shields to cover and conceal the worst forms of violence, plutocracy, and autocracy. You are an intelligent, educated, and impassioned voter. Do you really feel comfortable volunteering for the role of pawn in the mendacious and murderous game of the Obama administration?
Voting is a personal act of symbolic and substantive support for a political candidate. A vote for an incumbent is an endorsement of that politician’s pre-existing policies. Selecting his name in the voter’s booth is an approving signature on what that person has done and will continue to do as a public official. In a government “by, for, and of the people,” when you vote for a politician, with full knowledge of that politician’s record, you become complicit in his behavior – nefarious and benevolent alike. You bear the burden, shoulder the load, and wear the mark. Even if I could overlook the aforementioned litany of failures and cruelties associated with President Obama’s first term in office, I could never vote for the man, because as a voter and as a human being, I will not have blood on my hands. There are certain issues, scandals, and crimes that become deal breakers in any election. The targeted assassination and drone strike campaign waged by President Obama is such a deal breaker.
For the past four years, the Obama administration has terrorized Pakistan on a daily basis, and has periodically extended the terror to Yemen and Somalia. The New York Times reported that the President, with the subtlety and delicacy of a mafia kingpin, keeps a “kill list.” He uses the enumeration of murder victims as justification for acting as a divine ruler – literally deciding who lives and who dies from the safety and sterility of his expensively furnished office. The same report detailed that Underboss Obama and his button men declare any “military aged men” who happen to be in the vicinity of a drone strike and have the unpleasant experience of exploding, “militants.” The Obama syndicate claims that the overwhelming majority of assassination victims are “terrorists” or “insurgents,” but independent studies, analyses, and reporting conflict with the Godfather’s alibi.
Christof Heynes, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, has gone on record calling many of the drone strikes “war crimes.” He went on to say that the ongoing campaign of violence “threatens fifty years of international law,” because it will likely encourage other nations to violate long established legal precedent. The well-founded allegations do not end with the initial drone strikes, but Heynes reports that dozens of “secondary” strikes have hit humanitarian clean up efforts. President Jimmy Carter has also examined the record of drone strikes throughout the Middle East and concluded that they are “cruel and unusual,” and that they constitute a “widespread abuse of human rights.”
Journalist Tom Junod, writing in Esquire, labels the Obama administration the “lethal presidency.” Junod goes on to describe the drone strike that targeted and killed an American citizen with ties to Al-Qaeda, Anwar al-Awlaki. The murder of al-Awlaki was the first strike against an American citizen – the fact that such an act of premeditated violence is unconstitutional is the least of its hideousness – but not the last. In a secondary strike, the Obama administration killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16 year old son of Anwar al-Awlaki. President Obama has never spoken the name of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and he rarely talks about the drone strikes. He did crack a joke about his campaign of murder at the disgusting spectacle of elitism called the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. After explaining that his daughters have crushes on the Jonas Brothers, he said, “I have two words for you boys: predator drones.” It’s a joke that thousands of mothers in Pakistan, fresh from the experience of burying their children, would not find funny.
The most damning study of the drone strike program of targeted assassination hit the news media with the impact of a feather. Stanford University and New York University collaborated to investigate and inspect the drone strike program, taking into account its pretextual justifications, its supposed aims, its victims, and its influence. The conductors of the study traveled throughout the Middle East, engaged in field work, meticulously researched newspaper coverage, and assiduously reviewed, when available, medical records.
The study, “Living Under Drones,” reached the following conclusions:
1) Most of the victims are innocent civilians. “Collateral damage” – to use that ugly euphemism for death – is the rule, not the exception.
2) The Obama administration has ordered drone strikes on funeral services and humanitarian cleanup projects on multiple occasions.
3) The Obama administration continues to mislead the public, most of whom don’t seem to care, and the world about the nature of these attacks. They falsely claim that they only strike “militants”, and in order to support that claim, invent and enforce a fraudulent method of accounting for the victims.
4) Rather than preventing terrorism, the drone strikes make future terrorist strikes more likely, namely because of the “blowback” factor. The drone strikes are a popular recruitment tool. This isn’t difficult to understand. Just as Americans didn’t like watching planes fly into buildings on September 11, 2001, Pakistanis, Afghans, and others don’t like watching their property and people blown up.
5) In four years, Obama has ordered five times the amount of drone strikes that Bush did in six years. Parts of Pakistan live under drones nearly twenty four hours a day, and many families will not allow their children to leave the house. It is a campaign of systematic terror.
Do you remember your outrage when you learned about the Bush administration authorizing the use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique? You condemned it as violation of international law and a betrayal of America’s commitment to human rights. You also called for George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, et. al, to be prosecuted as war criminals at the Hague.
I believe that waterboarding is torture, and I am glad that the United States no longer practices it. That being said, I’ll give you a choice – would you rather be waterboarded or blown up? The answer is just as obvious as the fact that the human rights violations of the drone strike program far surpass the human rights violations of the Bush administration’s torturous interrogation techniques.
If you celebrate the systematic terrorization of an entire country that results in the murder of innocent people and mothers afraid to allow their children to leave their homes, then vote for President Obama. If you believe that murder is wrong and if you feel the slightest compassion for the thousands of innocent drone strike victims, then you have no choice but to withhold your vote.
What could possibly rank higher on your priority list than opposing the ruthless and callous disregard for innocent life, the brazen violation of international law, and the cold refusal to even acknowledge the victims’ families?
Free contraception for women? The end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? The auto industry bailout? Does your belief that insurance companies should cover the contraceptive cost for working women overpower your sympathy for the mothers of dead Pakistani children? Do you believe it is more important to support gay Americans serving in the military than it is to support international law and foundational principles of human rights? Do you care more about the life of the American auto industry than the lives of Pakistani families?
I doubt that any of you will say “yes” to any of those questions, but if you vote for the reelection of President Obama, you will have said “yes” much more powerfully, loudly, and decisively than you ever could in a correspondence or conversation. You will have said “yes” with your one act of agency to influence the outcome of the Presidential election and the continuance of the drone strike program. You will have become complicit in Obama’s destructive campaign of bombing and murder. A drop of the blood will stain your palm, and shouting platitudes about Romney and the Republicans will not begin to wash it off.
Don’t degrade yourself by sinking to the “lesser of two evil” mentality that, more than any other canard, protects the ghastly and grotesque quotidian of aggression, inequality, and corruption in American politics. Perhaps you are right that Romney would be worse, but Obama should earn his own votes. It isn’t up to Romney to earn Obama’s votes. It is up to Obama, and unless you have wrapped yourself into a cocoon of self-serving and self-deluding fantasy, you must admit that Obama has not earned your vote. If you vote for him, you will undermine your credibility, vandalize your principles, and betray yourself.
What reason remains to support Obama’s reelection? His “character”?
If I were in a bar and I learned that the gentleman drinking across the room keeps a “kill list,” forcibly confiscates people’s medicine after promising to let them keep it, forces other people to leave their homes, and regularly manipulates and exploits the people who made his success possible, I wouldn’t share a cheap bottle of wine with him. I certainly wouldn’t renew his job application.
Barack Obama is the man who insulted and denied the longtime pastor of his family, demanded the resignation of Shirley Sherrod, without allowing her to defend herself, after a right wing liar distorted her words, and did the same to his friend Van Jones after Glenn Beck called him a “communist.” He betrayed his pastor and his friends for political expediency. Would you trust me and consider me worthy of respect if you knew I betrayed my friends to get a book published? If not, then you should not trust Obama with your vote.
Obama continually demonstrates the same callous disregard for key constituencies. Young Americans voted for Obama in unprecedented numbers, yet the President has done very little to address soaring college tuition costs and the dramatic rise in unemployment – far surpassing the national trend – for Americans in their twenties. The first black President has also done next to nothing for black people. As Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, Glenn Ford of the Black Agenda Report, and the editorial board at the Black Commentator regularly explain, Obama shows no interest in urban decay, the decline of the black middle class, or the distribution gap between suburban, mostly white school and urban, mostly black schools. To add insult to injury, Obama recently refused to appear at the NAACP Convention, citing the problem of “scheduling issues,” but has found time to meet with Jay Z, Beyonce, and George Clooney in between numerous jaunts to Las Vegas.
When we review the Obama presidency we uncover war crimes, corruption, and disastrous incompetence. When we examine Barack Obama, we see careerism, hypocrisy, and disloyalty. It’s a very unattractive combination. For the sake of the country and for the sake of your own principles and ethical consistency, I hope that you will join me in hoping that his ugly career will soon be over.
Four years after the election of Barack Obama, it turns out that my fears and concerns of an emerging personality cult were well-founded. I don’t delight in my prescience. When I voted for Barack Obama, I hoped and prayed that he would be a man of probity, compassion, and statesmanship. I hoped that the promise of “yes we can” would transform into “yes we did,” and that in 2012, we would have a stronger, healthier, and better country. Instead America is left with an empty chair in the White House. Clint Eastwood wasn’t as deranged as he appeared. Even the rhetorical ability and persuasive power of Obama as communicator has steadily eroded into a sea of “private sector is doing just fine” gaffes and embarrassingly awkward attempts at explanation for mediocrity (Did you watch the first debate?). President Obama promised transparency, but has delivered secrecy, inaccessibility, and obfuscation. Since his election he has given fewer press conferences than most recent presidents, but has played 104 rounds of golf and attended over 200 fundraisers. The power of his personality propelled him to victory over Hillary Clinton – a far more qualified candidate – and has now become his only asset in arguing for reelection.
In 2010, Continuum Books published my book, Working On a Dream: The Progressive Political Vision of Bruce Springsteen. In the book, I describe how Springsteen called for George Bush’s impeachment, citing his various violations of constitutional law. Springsteen also encouraged fans to become “vigilant” in their protest against the “rollback of civil liberties.”
Springsteen is campaigning for Obama during this election season, conveniently ignoring how his choice for chief executive has not only continued the Bush violations, but worsened, extended, and expanded them.
On the song “Magic,” Springsteen sings in the spectral and spooky voice of trickster with the uncanny ability to hypnotize, deceive, and bewilder his awe-inspired subjects. He’s an illusionist who distracts people from the carnage he creates with style and sleight of hand. The song reaches its most frightening level when he promises to make his audience enjoy their own destruction:
I got a shiny saw blade / All I need’s a volunteer / I’ll cut you in half / While you’re smiling ear to ear
When you step into the voter’s box you will have a clear choice: you can free yourself from the magician’s spell or you can strap yourself onto the cutting board.