President Obama: America’s New Faustian Bargain

On 4 November, and in the preceding weeks, in an election that was more a referendum on George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Barack Obama than a contest between Obama and John McCain, Americans, awarding the boy-wonder freshman senator from Illinois at least a four-year-long stay at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, invested in their first (half-)African-American president, a chief executive exponentially more inspiring and articulate than George W. Bush, authority to save the nation and the world.

Cue Mephistopheles. 

Notwithstanding a few exceptions, Republicans generally bear little affinity toward organized labor; Mr. Obama, uncomfortably closely aligned with many of his Congressional compeers, revealed himself to be too friendly. To the dismay of, inter alia, Democratic patriarch George McGovern, who opined against this bill in the Wall Street Journal, then-Senator Obama promised to sign into law the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), the name of which marks the epitome of doublespeak. Fervently championed by the AFL-CIO, EFCA will severely limit workers’ right to vote to unionize — or not to — secretly, compelling them to do so publicly, which, numerous observers have warned, easily permits pressure and harassment to be directed toward those hesitant to cast their lots collectively. Hardly advocating for “Joe Six-Pack” here, Mr. Obama has uncloaked his allegiance to the entrenched moneyed apparatchiki who masquerade as noble crusaders for blue-collar America.

Senator Obama, who, contrary to his promise to vote to repeal the USA PATRIOT Act, offered a “Yea” in support of renewing this heinous, totalitarian legislation, again, this summer, evinced his disinterest in protecting our Constitutionally guaranteed liberties, as well as his willingness to elevate political expedience above principle, by proffering his support for the FISA “compromise”, seriously consternating civil libertarians and his progressive base.

Having maintained seemingly consistent opposition to the American occupation of Iraq, the senator from Hyde Park presented himself as the antiwar alternative. Again, beyond the great chimera that is Obama the Exulted lies a harrowing truth: President Obama will not take employing military force to dispose of a particularly belligerent Iran “off of the table”. Had Senator Obama pledged this to another audience, one might rightly praise him for exercising the prudence required not to eliminate any option; addressed to AIPAC, an organization infamous for influencing heavily our pernicious, one-sided Middle East policy, this comment only further conveys that, behind the smokescreen, the Obama administration offers little change of which to speak, regardless of the cultish repetition of this refrain. 

A critic of what has amounted to the violation of Iraqi sovereignty, Obama nevertheless proclaimed that, were the government in Islamabad not to cooperate adequately, he would authorize, as President Bush, in the inchoate post-Musharraf era, has, American troops to disregard Pakistani sovereignty to eradicate any al-Qaeda operatives dwelling in the wilds within that nation’s borders. Again, change this is not.

Excepting support for EFCA, John McCain espouses all of these detrimental positions. He does so more recklessly than does President-elect Obama; however, a Republican president, even one as inclined toward bipartisanship as Mr. McCain, would face intense opposition from a heavily Democratic Congress. Having catapulted Barack Obama from his entering the Illinois State Senate to the White House in just more than a decade, the Democratic Party risks much by dissenting from the Oval Office; President McCain’s imperialistic tendencies, thwarted by the legislature, may well become President Obama’s “successes”. 

Prepare yourself, America: This time, the devil may snatch Faust before God can intervene.

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5 Responses

  1. […] President Obama has the potential to do for our culture even as I harbor deep worries (on which see this essay of Nathan Origer’s) about his favored policies. To be fully honest, I simply don’t […]

  2. Oh, Nathan, Nathan, Nathan — where to begin? Not that I agree or disagree with anything you’re saying, but if you’re going to hammer the guy before he even gets started, gosh, I wish you’d support your points a little better. A couple of examples:

    “EFCA will severely limit workers’ right to vote to unionize — or not to — secretly, compelling them to do so publicly, which, numerous observers have warned, easily permits pressure and harassment to be directed toward those hesitant to cast their lots collectively.”

    As opposed, I guess, to the secretive and anonymous tactics currently utilized by many employers to discourage a vote in support of unionization. All these harassment tactics on both sides should be illuminated, but you might try to address them all, instead of just the ones you don’t like.

    “… evinced his disinterest in protecting our Constitutionally guaranteed liberties, as well as his willingness to elevate political expedience above principle, by proffering his support for the FISA “compromise”, seriously consternating civil libertarians and his progressive base.”

    Agreed as to the facts. So I guess you’re saying this is how he will act in the future, now that he’s in charge rather than just a voting member of the Senate? Based on what evidence? Do you know WHY he voted this way, or even why he says he did?

    “President Obama will not take employing military force to dispose of a particularly belligerent Iran “off of the table”. Had Senator Obama pledged this to another audience, one might rightly praise him for exercising the prudence required not to eliminate any option; addressed to AIPAC, an organization infamous for influencing heavily our pernicious, one-sided Middle East policy, this comment only further conveys that, behind the smokescreen, the Obama administration offers little change of which to speak, regardless of the cultish repetition of this refrain.”

    First, you don’t say why you think the policy is pernicious (although you may have elsewhere; I’m new here …). Second, would you feel the same way if he had said this at AIPAC and in another politically neutral setting? Has he indicated at any point that he’d do otherwise or he’d be inconsistent? I think the guilty-by-venue argument is a little weak here. As long as it’s true and accurate, telling an audience something it wants to hear is not by definition an evil thing to do.

    “A critic of what has amounted to the violation of Iraqi sovereignty, Obama nevertheless proclaimed that, were the government in Islamabad not to cooperate adequately, he would authorize, as President Bush, in the inchoate post-Musharraf era, has, American troops to disregard Pakistani sovereignty to eradicate any al-Qaeda operatives dwelling in the wilds within that nation’s borders. Again, change this is not.”

    This is the big one. You forgot one critically important qualifier to this: he would violate Pakistani sovereignty if there were credible intelligence about an imminent threat to U.S. security and Pakistan were unwilling or unable to address it. If you’re going to argue this point, at least put the full statement in for rebuttal. (Aside: So what do you think he should do — stand by and do nothing? Same with Iran (see above?) We’ve seen how that worked out, haven’t we? (See: PDBs, August 2001.) )

    Thanks for letting me expound.

  3. Hi Elaine!

    I should have noted, when posting this, that it’s an op-ed piece for a newspaper; word count limitations prevented me from expounding as you would have liked for me to have done, and I opted to post the piece here as written, rather than doing so. This being so, I hadn’t much of an option to discuss any of the matters thoroughly, although throughout the history of this web-log, I have discussed some of the matters further.

    I shall, however, do my best to reply to your points. You’re welcome for my letting you expound.

    “As opposed, I guess, to the secretive and anonymous tactics currently utilized by many employers to discourage a vote in support of unionization. All these harassment tactics on both sides should be illuminated, but you might try to address them all, instead of just the ones you don’t like.”

    I completely agree; again, word limits halted me here. Moreover, I think the general public probably have a better understanding — or so I hope, anyway — of the tactics, or at least some of them, employed by employers. Numerous authors and commentators have enumerated these time and again (Immediately, I’m thinking of Ehrenreich, although she’s far from the only one.)

    I’m also disinclined to give too much credit to unions because I’m of the opinion that the leadership of many unions have become too complicit in the demise of the working classes as they’ve benefitted from being in power.

    Finally, tangentially, I generally view unionization as too much of a bandage approach to systemic problems inherent in what we call capitalism, and should prefer to see a shift from our current system to one guided by a small is beautiful ethic, one of intense decentralization, featuring small shops owned independently and larger concerns owned cooperative, with laborers having real ownership, rather than the farcical forms of “ownership” involved in socialism or in “profit-sharing”.

    Finally, here is the George McGovern op-ed on EFCA: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121815502467222555.html?mod=opinion_main_commentaries

    ***
    “Agreed as to the facts. So I guess you’re saying this is how he will act in the future, now that he’s in charge rather than just a voting member of the Senate? Based on what evidence? Do you know WHY he voted this way, or even why he says he did?”

    Certainly, I can’t offer any evidence of how he’ll act a president any more than I could have said that George W. Bush, who, in the 2000 campaign, promised a “humble foreign policy”. However, I can speculate. On numerous occasions, Senator Obama has used the language of compromise to defend his choices vis-à-vis the USA PATRIOT Act and, particularly, FISA. Perhaps it’s political expedience, but I’m not particularly convinced that he needed to practice expedience, at least not in this respect. One might contend, with some supporting evidence, that now, as president, with a Democratic Congress, he might, contrary to what I’ve suggested, be able to use that to undo this damage. However, the Democratic Party has, despite what the most recent election returns might seem to indicate, fallen into such a state of disarray, and lost its sense of principle just as much as the GOP has, and been far too complicit in too many of the follies of the last eight years for me to buy into this argument.

    Furthermore, Obama’s obvious welfare-statist tendencies (which i shall refrain from judging here) and seeming adherence to a perhaps slightly soberer, but still markedly interventionist, “pro-national security” defense/foreign policy (I’ll reply to your specific remarks, of course, hereunder.) compel me to believe that, even if he supports some scaling back of PATRIOT and FISA, he fully believes in maintaining the core policies at hand as part of a government-as-our-friend ideology.

    Finally, his record speaks for itself. Regardless of why he supported these bills, he did. The man taught Constitutional law, yet believes more strongly in an invented penumbral “right” to privacy applicable to abortion law than in expressly written privacy protections in the Fourth Amendment. It sends a chill down my spine.

    ***

    First, you don’t say why you think the policy is pernicious (although you may have elsewhere; I’m new here …). Second, would you feel the same way if he had said this at AIPAC and in another politically neutral setting? Has he indicated at any point that he’d do otherwise or he’d be inconsistent? I think the guilty-by-venue argument is a little weak here. As long as it’s true and accurate, telling an audience something it wants to hear is not by definition an evil thing to do.

    Again, word limit constrained me, but, at least to me (though not to many, or any, of my Jewish friends; I already expect some backlash when this goes to print on campus.), why such policy is pernicious is manifest to me. Treating one side as wholly in the right, the other wholly in the wrong, in the broader case of Israeli/Middle East politics, I am convinced, perpetuates anti-American sentiment and threats to Jews, Arabs, and Christians. Specifically regarding Iran, I think it’s problematic because, as crazy as he be, Ahmadenijad will do nothing directly to Israel (though he’ll continue to fund terrorists and to offer antagonistic words) unless provoked. It simply would not be in his interest to attack a nation that has nuclear capability and the backing, most passionately, of the US and most of Europe (even if hesitantly — even the most “pro-Palestinian” nation in Europe would, I have no doubt, join in the defense of an Israel struck first by Iran; Russia, of course, is a different story.

    Ultimately, that he said it period terrifies me; even President Bush, in his last year or so in office, has toned down the rhetoric toward Iran, and in a rare feat, McCain presented himself as the less hawkish candidate with respect to Iran. I don’t, however, believe, for the reasons I’ve tried to elucidate, that the guilty-by-venue argument is weak. You’re free to continue to disagree.

    ***
    “This is the big one. You forgot one critically important qualifier to this: he would violate Pakistani sovereignty if there were credible intelligence about an imminent threat to U.S. security and Pakistan were unwilling or unable to address it. If you’re going to argue this point, at least put the full statement in for rebuttal. (Aside: So what do you think he should do — stand by and do nothing? Same with Iran (see above?) We’ve seen how that worked out, haven’t we? (See: PDBs, August 2001.)”

    Again, word constraints, although I perhaps should have made the effort to point out the “credible intelligence” criterion. It is crucial, I willingly concede. However, my primary concern remains: Sovereignty is sovereignty, and we need to respect it. We should do everything necessary to secure the blessings of the Pakistani government, and, if we can, to enlist Pakistani aid. If they refuse, we apply economic and diplomatic pressures with in our legitimate authority. These policies, even if less strictly guided than as Obama says he would have them, have been carried out, to the end of firefighting occurring between American troops and Pakistanis, ostensibly our allies.

    In response to your aside: Regarding Iran, first, YES! I cannot emphatically enough suggest that we should do nothing. Israel can defend itself quite well, and, again, I doubt that Iran has any intention of taking the first step unless it feels sufficiently provoked. It just wouldn’t be wise, particularly for Ahmadenijad, who has failed on many fronts to promote the domestic reforms that he had promised.

    It is, I grant, more complicated in Pakistan, which is why I suggest supra that we should work toward having Pakistani support for necessary raids.

    I don’t really buy into the “we did nothing and look what happened” argument. The problem is that we have been doing something for far too long. Our Wilsonian foreign policy, combined with McDonaldization and an inability of all too many to overcome the Cold War mindset (both McCain and Obama were wrong in their saber-rattling after the Georgia-Russia skirmishes), has created the socio-political world climate that has made terrorism an issue.

    I hope that I’ve sufficiently elaborated for you. Continue to challenge me if you feel it necessary.

    Cheers,
    NPO

  4. Now my head hurts …

  5. […] for both, I presume, the sake of doing right and warning future presidents, President-elect Barack “More of the Same” Obama certainly amongst them. JL’s suggestion, doubtless, has much merit, but I’m […]

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