Thursday, February 25, 2010

President Barack Obama: Most Disappointing One-Term President in American History?

In 2008, then Senator Barack Obama captured the attention of the American electorate by his campaign theme of “Change we can believe in.” This message took hold in the minds of many voters tired of the communicationally challenged Bush administration. So, in November, he was elected in a stunning landslide over the Republican ticket of McCain & Palin. Even in his Inaugural Address, this theme of change loomed large, renewing the hope everyone felt.

Almost from day one of his administration, President Obama seemingly has spent more time backpedaling from campaign promises and distancing himself from actions mentioned in the Inaugural address than he has pushing through actual progress.

The muddled mess called health care reform is but one shining example of this pattern. Early on, his administration emphasized the need for a Public Option in health care reform. Then when obstructionist forces in Congress – from both sides of the aisle – balked, instead of standing firm, he backtracked, and withdrew his support. As a result, meaningful health care reform likely is unattainable for the foreseeable future. Indeed, in the March 11 issue of The New York Review of Books, Elizabeth Drew asks “Is There Life in Health Care Reform?” While serious doubts exists about the future of the current House and Senate versions, there is still a slim chance that a decent bill will emerge.

More disturbing is the track record of waffling being established by the Obama administration in the foreign relations arena. In a brief review of this muddied record, Kenneth Ross, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch asks “Empty Promises? Obama’s Hesitant Embrace of Human Rights” in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs. This short article gives a well written look at this track record, and the places where his words and actions do not match up.

Perhaps no issue underscores this inconsistent track record more clearly than the status of Guantanamo Bay and the remaining inmates. In his Inaugural Address, Obama made it clear that the base would be closed within a year. Yet it is still open, still occupied, and the military tribunals created by the Bush administration still exist. Does a clear mandate for the closure of Gitmo still exist? It is beginning to appear like such a mandate no longer exists.

Domestically, his track record is equally dismal. Too many misguided Bush administration policies continue in full effect, apparently without being examined by his administration for their effectiveness, or even their constitutionality. Indeed, it appears like airport security is only growing more draconian, more irrational and more constitutionally questionable under his administration, not less. As a nation, are we safer today from terrorist attacks than we were even a year ago? I have my doubts.

During the campaign, and early in his Presidency, he at least made it sound like he was a firm supporter of expanding civil and legal rights for the entire GLBT community. Yet, over a year later, only the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Act has been enacted into law. It is beginning to appear more and more that he has withdrawn support for passage of an Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) that bans employment discrimination based on sexual identity or gender orientation. When that critically needed law will actually be voted on by either the full House or Senate is anybodies guess.

Despite the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff coming out strongly in support of repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, again his administration seemingly has backtracked and withdrawn its support for repeal. If the leadership of the military supports repeal, and if there is widespread support of the idea from the rank and file in the military, shouldn’t he at least be somewhat supportive of the repeal legislation languishing in Congress?

Throughout the campaign and the early days of his administration, President Obama kept promising greater transparency in how the administration conducted its business. Increasingly, those promises are not being kept.

One example of this re-emergence of Bush-era opaqueness affects me personally, and I am beyond not happy. In the waning days of the Bush administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Public and Indian Housing drafted a revision to tenant documentation requirements. Under this proposed rule, all tenants of Public Housing Authority units – regardless of length of tenancy – would be required to provide a birth certificate, or a US Passport as proof of legal citizenship status. Those who failed to provide the documentation in a timely manner would be declared to be illegal aliens, and evicted from their residence. What remains unanswered is whether HUD’s declaration of those in non-compliance as illegal would lead to their arrest and deportation by the Federal Government.

The Obama administration revisited this draft rule last fall in response to a number of concerns voiced by Public Housing Agencies near the US borders with Canada and Mexico about the rule’s impact on people born in other countries. Then, working in a completely opaque, behind closed doors environment, the draft rule took effect January 31, 2010.

Because I am disabled, I live in a local Housing Authority studio apartment. Thus, I have two major issues with this rule and how it was placed into effect.

First, at no time has the need, or benefit, of this rule ever been explained to Public Housing residents, despite the fact that it affects us personally. Not only that, but, based on Internet research I have done in recent months, no public hearings of any kind were ever held, and no public comment period ever existed. If this is what the Obama administration means by “transparency”, then my Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary needs serious updating.

Second, I take serious umbrage whenever anyone questions my citizenship status. I represent the eleventh generation of my patrilineal lineage to call this continent home. Indeed, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather brought my family tree to New London, Connecticut in 1666, then was chosen as New London’s Constable a year later. Thus, my family has lived on this continent for more than a third of a millennium, so I should not have to prove to anyone that I am a US Citizen. Yet that is precisely what I am being forced to do.

This ridiculous rule first saw light of day during the illegal immigration “crisis” that the Bush administration believed we had in the United States. It is one of many such rules that needed to be scuttled early on in his administration by President Obama. This rule does nothing about increasing US security, or about reversing the on-going financial malaise gripping the country. So, why is it necessary? The only reason I can see is that it gives control addicted, voyeuristic Federal bureaucrats yet one more tool to use to threaten and oppress the less well off, the disabled, the physically challenged and senior citizens without cause. This from a Nobel Peace Prize recipient?

Kenneth Ross, referring to the situation in Israel, quotes part of President Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech: “only a just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.” While these are nice words, again, the administration’s actions them. More disturbingly, with the dual wars in Afghanistan and Iraq still very much with us, these words apply as much to US citizens as those of any other country. Are all of his promises and rhetoric nothing more than empty words? Apparently.

My disappointment with the Obama administration continues to grow more profound with almost every passing day. I voted for him in 2008. I doubt that I will vote for him in 2012.

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