Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Does Obama Have His Priorities Out of Whack?

The Obama administration has made it clear that health-care reform is a top priority. But what about justice issues--torture, political prosecutions, U.S. attorney firings, and such? As we approach the eight-month mark of the Obama administration, we've seen few signs that those issues are getting much attention.

Maybe it's time to ask this question: Is Obama going about things in a backward fashion?

Our editorial team here at Legal Schnauzer thinks the answer is yes. And we've found other progressive voices--one well known, one not so well known--who agree with us.

Our new discovery is Don Smith, the brains behind, who states the case eloquently in a recent piece at OpEd News:

The reason President Obama and the Democrats are having so much trouble passing health care reform is that they failed to hold conservatives accountable for their many misdeeds. The Democrats thereby empowered conservatives to continue their ample mischief. (I write "conservatives" rather than "Republicans" because some Democrats are amongst the conservatives who promoted harmful policies.)

Conservative misdeeds range from the unspeakably evil--such as torture, rendition, lying about the reasons for going to war, and the deaths of up to a million or more civilians--to the merely despicable--such as politically motivated prosecutions, reckless deregulation, suppression of evidence, tax cuts for rich folks, stolen elections, inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina, Swiftfboating, rampant corruption, and gross mismanagement.

Hear, hear! Smith is right on target about the political hurdles Obama faces--and the steps he needs to take to get over them:

The Democrats will continue to have trouble passing a reform agenda until they decisively confront the misdeeds of the recent past by rejecting bipartisanship and pursuing prosecution of Bush-era officials. This will have the triple effect of (1) bringing criminals to justice, (2) exposing the truth to the public, and (3) weakening the influence of conservative politicians and ideology.

Progressives are the folks who put Obama into office, Smith notes. And they do not have to sit back and watch him screw up this golden opportunity to show the public what conservatives really are all about:

Indeed, we progressives have power over Obama. We are his base. If we turn against him--or, better yet perhaps, just threaten to turn against him--the news media will pick up on the story and Obama will be in trouble. Let us use that power wisely. . . .

For years progressives have been criticizing Democrats for appeasement. Maybe it's time for progressives to follow our own advice and hold Obama accountable by saying, basically: either you stop protecting these torturers, stop continuing Bush era policies, and stop compromising on health care reform, or we on the left will withdraw our support and condemn you, too.

Progressives need to tread carefully, lest they be dismissed as radicals and lest they aid the conservative enemy, but they need to demand their due. "I want you to hold our government accountable. I want you to hold me accountable"--Barack Obama (September, 2008). Let us hold him accountable.

Smith is not the only progressive who is essentially asking, "What on earth is Obama doing, and when is he going to get his priorities straight?" David Swanson, well known for his work at, presents a disturbing scenario in a Huffington Post piece titled "Bush's Third Term? You're Living It."

Swanson's chilling thesis? The first seven-plus months of the Obama administration are pretty much what we would have gotten with George W. Bush still in office for a third term:

It sounds like the plot for the latest summer horror movie. Imagine, for a moment, that George W. Bush had been allowed a third term as president, had run and had won or stolen it, and that we were all now living (and dying) through it. With the Democrats in control of Congress but Bush still in the Oval Office, the media would certainly be talking endlessly about a mandate for bipartisanship and the importance of taking into account the concerns of Republicans. Can't you just picture it? . . .

If Bush were still "the decider" he'd be employing mercenaries like Blackwater and propagandists like the Rendon Group and he might even be expanding the number of private security contractors in Afghanistan. In fact, the whole executive branch would be packed with disreputable corporate executive types. You'd have somebody like John ("May I torture this one some more, please?") Rizzo still serving, at least for a while, as general counsel at the CIA. The White House and Justice Department would be crawling with corporate cronies, people like John Brennan, Greg Craig, James Jones, and Eric Holder. Most of the top prosecutors hired at the Department of Justice for political purposes would still be on the job. And political prisoners, like former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and former top Democratic donor Paul Minor would still be abandoned to their fate.

It's enough to make your hair stand on end. Then Swanson adds this kicker:

Now, here's the funny part. This dark fantasy of a third Bush term is also an accurate portrait of Obama's first term to date. In following Bush, Obama was given the opportunity either to restore the rule of law and the balance of powers or to firmly establish in place what were otherwise aberrant abuses of power. Thus far, President Obama has, in all the areas mentioned above, chosen the latter course. Everything described, from the continuation of crimes to the efforts to hide them away, from the corruption of corporate power to the assertion of the executive power to legislate, is Obama's presidency in its first seven months.

I've long been a fan of David Swanson, and I think he has written the most insightful critique of the Obama administration to this point.

I'm also pleased that we've discovered Don Smith. I like him, and I like his funky Web site, which features this video plea for Obama to look back--at the corrupt conservative actions of the recent past:


Anonymous said...

The suggestion that the medical care issue is less important than justice issues fails to note just how much damage the limited access to medical care in the United States does. Canada and Australia are countries of similar origin to the United States. These countries spend slightly over half of what we do for medical care and the people of both of these countries average three more years of life than we do. While living three years longer on average may not sound lime much, a better way to say it is that in the US one person in five dies fifteen years earlier because of our way of organizing and paying for medial care.

Another way of looking at this is to look at the life tables published by the CIA in their on-line World Factbook. While the US is very close to the top economically, we are 50th in life expectancy of the 224 countries that the CIA publishes life expectancy data for. Australia and Canada are seventh and eighth.

Jim Gundlach - retired demographer.

legalschnauzer said...

Good points and thanks for sharing. I don't think the suggestion is that justice issues are more important than health-care reform. I think the suggestion is that it might have been easier to deal with health-care reform politically after having unearthed the corruption in the Bush DOJ--and the Bush administration in general.

Robert Parry, at Consortium News, has written that Bill Clinton made a mistake by not pursuing investigations of GOP corruption of the 1980s. Parry's thesis, I believe, is that this allowed the Reagan/Bush political "brand" to remain intact.

A similar dynamic might be in play now. Serious investigations that unmasked corruption of the Bush II years might diminish the GOP "brand" to the point that a strong health-care package could be passed.

All of this is debatable, of course, but I think that's the idea.