Obama gets a C for Civil Liberties

Let’s be clear: I was (and still am) on the Obama bandwagon. I gave money to the campaign, talked up his stances on foreign policy, danced with abandon in Harvard Square after the inauguration, etc. Yesterday while waiting for the bus, I saw a Jeep Cherokee with a gigantic sandwich board on top that read, “Impeach Obama – Stop British Imperialism! Vote Rachel Brown, Democrat – MA 4.” I gave the driver bemused/”you-are-a-wackjob” eyebrows because it made no sense. Is this candidate trying to somehow appeal to the Tea Partiers, except from the left instead of the right? I have seen enough of their placards and posters depicting Obama with a Hitler mustache to understand and be bored with the idea that they have half-baked, Fox-induced reasons for not liking the man. But Democrats jumping into that frothing and gibbering fray? Odd, this. (I suppose it should be noted that one of Rachel Brown’s main political interests is to set up a Mars colonization program, but that’s another story).

Despite the strange political times we find ourselves in, fueled in no small part by economic woes brought to us by the Bush tax cuts and investors’ confusion with how their own financial products work, it is time to step back and assess how Obama’s been doing since that incredible inauguration evening. For most of us, there was an electric realization that we were witnessing history, and we were ready and willing to cling to the ideas of hope and change. And let’s not overstate the fact that most of us were just plain relieved that we now had a President with a track record of brains and an articulate, measured delivery that put Bush’s malapropisms into stark relief.

Now that the high has had plenty of time to subside, where do we stand as a country, especially with respect to some of the hot button civil liberties issues the Bush administration introduced (or re-introduced, if McCarthy was the originator)?

    1. Patriot Act: Cobbled together and passed by Congress in the blinding flurry of fear following September 11, the Bush administration managed to roll back decades of civil liberties at a single go. Think your library card records and your telephone calls are private? Not so, dear American! In the name of fighting the war on terror, your privacy means squat. Obama, during his campaign, called the Patriot Act “shoddy”, yet two and a half years into his presidency, he has extended the most controversial provisions of the Act and has significantly backed away from including the civil liberties protections originally proposed by various members of Congress, including Wisconsin Senator Feingold. Bottom line? Obama needs to grow an even bigger pair and let the crazy provisions sunset and then overhaul the whole mother top to bottom, and make being American a free thing again.

    2. Guantanamo Bay: Sitting out of the reach of U.S. law in Cuba, the prison at Guantanamo Bay has long been a source of contention and bad blood for the U.S. Individuals suspected of terrorism are holed up here, without access to a viable legal system to address charges that have not yet been articulated to them. It is a nightmare for international law, not to mention the families of the inmates locked up there. Obama indicated during his campaign that he wanted to shut it down, and a date was even set in January 2010. The administration missed the deadline and is still trying to figure out what to do with the inmates. Some have been accepted for resettlement in third countries, but most others are in limbo. Some will potentially be tried in criminal court in the U.S., and some will be tried in military tribunals. These are toughest: because the U.S. can’t find enough evidence to charge them with any crime, they are simply choosing the method of most secrecy and expediency to get a conviction. Gloves off: if we want to stop abusing the Geneva conventions and become a respectable country, we need to do what we can do to prosecute Guantanamo inmates fairly and expeditiously. None of this BS with military tribunals – suck it up, U.S.A.

    3. Gay rights. Obama promised to get rid of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” at his 2010 State of the Union address. Good show, old boy. Now how about you manage to just do it already? Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates is behind this one, and I’ll give Obama the benefit of the doubt that it’s simply bureaucratic exercises that are holding this one up. Of course, gay rights are generally a states issue, with respect to marriage, but Obama has made painfully cautious and delicate statements in support of allowing gay partners the same rights as heterosexual couples to visit and make medical decisions for hospitalized loved ones. It’s probably the one decision in support of gay rights that won’t piss off conservatives too much. Keeeeep it coming, keeeep it coming, Obama. Make us proud to have voted for someone who does what he says. Oh, and on that note? Excellent choice with Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court. A champion of gay rights and a lady to boot! Good guys – 1, Nutjobs – 0.

How does he rate? I’ll give him a straight up C for civil liberties, and that’s only because I’m optimistic and generous, and also because I’d like to think I have some inkling of how hard it is to get things done in Washington. In reality, Obama’s campaign promises are convenient renderings of his ideal world, but not necessarily possible realities given the political complexity of it all. I’m hanging onto the bandwagon now in the hopes that progress will continue to be made in the direction of Obama’s fantasy unicorn world. We can’t stop making noise in the hopes that he’ll hear us and find the political will and capital to make it happen.

Sari Long is an unrepentant vegan living in Brookline who likes kale, politics, and the occasional spelling bee.

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  1 comment for “Obama gets a C for Civil Liberties

  1. Kathleen Irving
    May 14, 2010 at 8:27 am

    damn sari, you’re a smahty pants

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