This article was last modified on January 21, 2012.


Empire Strikes First: The Next Four Years (Part One)

Like it or not, the time has come to face the next four years. We must look back on the last four and ask ourselves, “Do we really want to do this again?” For some of us (this columnist included), we must ask if we want to do it the first time — that is, vote for Barack Obama.

Candidate Obama rode a wave of youth voters to victory in 2008. Attending a rally in Oshkosh four years ago, I stood next to a first-time voter, Chelsea Anderson, who swallowed the rhetoric of “hope” with unbridled optimism. Speaking with her again now, she is quick to say how naive she had been when it comes to politics. Anderson is not alone. Many people have been disappointed by Obama’s failure to do all that he campaigned on, and the trail of broken promises he has left behind. Conservatives were going to dislike him regardless of what he did (and they dislike him still, despite the president’s espousing policies that mirror those of Ronald Reagan). But has he lost the liberals, too?

To be fair, the man has had his share of victories. Although the so-called Obamacare law is flawed, it is still a big step forward for seniors and students. Children were also helped by expanding Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). He has also started us down the road of leaving Iraq. Both Gaddafi and bin Laden have been removed (although one could argue this would have happened regardless of who was in the Oval Office). Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a thing of the past. Defense spending, always the biggest part of the budget that never gets cut, may finally decrease.

The president has had some near-successes, prevented by obstructionism. He proposed an excellent jobs bill, which despite containing Republican-backed ideas, was halted and is effectively dead. He came up with the idea to eliminate redundant agencies, making them slimmer and more efficient. This will likely not pass, despite Republicans claiming to be for smaller government — the same Republicans who expanded the government by creating the redundant and inefficient Department of Homeland Security. If you missed the news, the agencies he wants to cut are the U.S. Trade Representative, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corp, the Trade and Development Agency, the Small Business Administration and parts of the Commerce Department. Some of these you probably never heard of, and their removal is estimated to save $3 billion.

Whether the stimulus was a success or not may depend on your ideology. Conservative columnist A. J. DiCintio will tell you that it is a “universally known fact that it failed utterly”. Economists such as Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman will say it was a success and the only problem was that it should have been bigger in order to do more.

But I am not going to fill this column with praise and admiration. Obama, for all his good intentions, is still a politician and has his weaknesses. One is his willingness to suck from the corporate teat. “The President promised he’d fix the broken public financing system for our Presidential campaigns, but he has not done so. He called for tougher campaign finance disclosure laws after Citizens United, but he has yet to sign an executive order that would compel disclosure of political spending by government contractors,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause. Indeed, elections are more money-driven than ever, as Wisconsinites know all too well.

The people of Wisconsin might also recall Obama promising, “If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States of America because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.” Obama never set foot in Madison in 2011, and he never sent a representative. This pledge was hollow.

A glaring failure is the existence of Guantanamo Bay. As early as August 2007, Obama promised, “I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists.” Soon after taking office he signed a declaration that the base would be closed by January 2010. Yet, the base still stands today on the Cuban shoreline, harboring military prisoners.

Likewise, in December 2011, Obama passed a security law that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil. Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch has called this move hypocritical, as it is exactly the sort of law America has called Egypt and other countries to abandon. Endless imprisonment for foreign terrorists is bad enough, but American citizens — even alleged terrorists — have Constitutional rights to speedy trials and humane punishment. This law is a step backward.

The Keystone XL pipeline is a failure waiting to happen. While Obama has temporarily halted the oil line from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, eliciting ignorant cheers from environmentalist Bill McKibben, he will likely sign it later this year. And for what? For oil that will be sold to India and China and that risks polluting the water tables of the Midwest?

The sad fact is, of course, that from a progressive standpoint, all we can really do is push Obama harder and hope for the best. Senator Mitch McConnell says, “There’s nothing he’s done that the American people approve of.” That exaggeration is, thankfully, not true. But he does have a list of failures… almost as long as Bill Clinton’s. But what do we do? No one will challenge him in the primary and voting third party is a thrown-away vote. Do we instead vote for one of the Republican candidates? A flip-flopping tax dodger? A flip-flopping philanderer who was kicked out of Congress for ethics violations? A man who thinks gay relationships are as repulsive as bestiality? Ron Paul would be a fantastic choice, but sadly the media refuses to let him win.

Next month we will see who the Republican Party has decided to support. Chuck Norris has picked Gingrich, what will real Americans decide?

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