Sunday, July 12, 2009

Obama So Far

I said a year ago that my support for Obama was tepid, and six months into his presidency, sadly I cannot say that I think better of the president than I did the candidate. In fact, I think far worse.

On the plus side, he's not Bush. He has stated that torture is not to be permitted going forward. His judicial nominees are presumably adequate -- Sotomayor for example seems like a competent judge who shouldn't tilt the court any further to the radicalism of Roberts/Scalia and the Federalists. In terms of Middle East policy, actually stating that Israelis should keep to their word and cease settlements is also a positive step, no matter how obvious or incremental it actually is. He promoted and signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, undoing a mischievous ruling by the Supreme Court that interpreted the Equal Pay Act in a way that essentially rendered it useless.

On the minus side, despite his campaign rhetoric to the contrary, he's actually working to expand executive authority -- his administration's pleadings in prisoner abuse cases and warrantless wiretap cases endorse Bush administration arguments and even somewhat expand upon them. I'm still having trouble grasping how anyone could support him on these matters after he argues that not only should his administration be able to hold suspected terrorists indefinitely, but that the government should be allowed to keep individuals it deems dangerous even if they have been acquitted. Further, his statement that he plans to close Guantanamo is being shown to be wholly symbolic given his interest in maintaining the ability to create a similar prison in Bagram and who knows where else. I'm almost as disturbed by the relative silence of Democrats in criticizing these positions as I am by the positions themselves.

He's also continued the Bush administration's policies for Wall Street, and doing nothing to make Wall Street accountable for the economic implosion and almost nothing to move forward reforms that might prevent similar implosions in the future.

Meanwhile, Obama's insistence on bipartisanship resulted in a mediocre and inadequate stimulus package, and still yielded only a handful of Republican votes. This mentality is also hurting the likelihood of meaningful health care reform, and jeopardizes efforts at significant climate change legislation. For better or worse, the Republicans have decided to act as the party of No, and unless they want to come to the table with a position that allows for bipartisanship (e.g., both sides possess a common goal but disagree on the means to an end), Obama and the Democrats are much better off doing the right thing. Doing less than that results in bad or failed policy for which Republicans can gleefully point to their votes against.

Obama may yet redeem himself and his presidency, but if the presidential vote were tomorrow, I would unquestionably vote for a third-party candidate.