Barack Obama’s cries from the heart as a senator about the possibility of a Bush intervention in Iran being a de facto violation of the War Powers Act have been widely circulated — juxtaposed to his sophistic gymnastics about bombs over Libya not really being much more than “kinetic action” and thus exempt from the Act. Then we have another doublet with Hillary Clinton, who said this month:
. . . the bottom line is, whose side are you on? Are you on Qadhafi’s side or are you on the side of the aspirations of the Libyan people and the international coalition that has been created to support them?
Yet said in May 2003 in the context of Iraq:
I am sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration somehow you’re not patriotic. We should stand up and say we are Americans and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration.
The point is not that the Obama administration is two-faced, hypocritical, and shameless. Most administrations are; they act quite differently once they are in the White House and governance requires adult responsibility quite different from the cheap rhetoric of the campaign trail.
Rather, the significance in Obama’s case is twofold: Obama suffers the wages of hypocrisy far more keenly because he set himself up as a new-style politician, promising to buck the “establishment” with his hope-and-change agenda, only to govern in the worst style of a Chicago brass-knuckles machine-made pol, humiliating those who actually believed the planet-cooling/seas-receding nonsense of 2008.
Second, Obama has utterly embarrassed the entire liberal attack on the Bush’s administration’s efforts in Iraq and against terrorism. The venom between 2003 and 2008 was both cruel and nasty, and yet it was always presented as principled rather than partisan, not a grasp for power but the product of deeper respect for the American civic traditions. Now we see that entire era as a complete fraud — on matters of dissent, skepticism of the War Powers Act, Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, preventive detention, wiretaps, intercepts, Iraq, and predator targeted assassination. The hysterical commentary was never based on the merits of those acts, but simply because George Bush, a political opponent, embraced them. How do we know this? Through hypocritical couplets like those above — and the almost complete silence of the antiwar Left. Where now is Cindy Sheehan, the award-winning Michael Moore, the New York Times discounted ads to Moveon.org, the impassioned floor speeches from a Senator Reid or Kerry?
That is the real legacy of the Obama administration: In a way the most extreme right-wing nut could not, Obama has humiliated, embarrassed, and rendered bankrupt seven years of prior dissent, showing it up for what it was all along.