Posts Tagged ‘Obama’


February 9, 2016

It occurred to me, as I was riding a stationary bike at my gym this morning, that there have been three times when I have been deeply disappointments by decisions made by political leaders whom I had admired.

One was a long time ago, in the summer of 1950, when President Harry Truman gave General Douglas MacArthur the go-ahead for crossing the 38th parallel into North Korea, plunging the US into another three years of needless war. Truman realized his mistake, and tried to make up for it by firing MacArthur, but it was too late.

The second was in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter allowed Mohammad Reza Pahlevi, the deposed Shah of Iran, to come to the United States for medical treatment — a decision that led to the Iran hostage crisis and ultimately the election of Ronald Reagan.

The third was in 2008, when Barack Obama decided to forgo public financing of his campaign and opened himself up to Wall Street. The consequences are still with us.

These disappointments seem to be happening at 29-year intervals. What will happen in 2037? I will then be 102 years old (my mother’s age now). Best not to think about it.

Birtherism reborn?

January 6, 2016

For some time now I have wondered why the “birthers” of recent years — those who questioned Barack Obama’s birth in the United States and hence his eligibility for the presidency — did not apply the same criterion to Ted Cruz, about whose birth in Canada there is no doubt. Cruz’s status as a “natural-born citizen of the United States” is based on the American citizenship of his mother. But then, to my knowledge, no one ever questioned the citizenship of Ann Dunham, Obama’s mother, so that, by the standard applied to Cruz, Obama’s hypothetical birth in Kenya should be irrelevant.

Well, leave it to Donald Trump. According to a headline in the Washington Post, “Trump says Cruz’s Canadian birth could be ‘very precarious’ for GOP.” In his usual weaselly way, “Trump said he was providing a candid assessment of his leading opponent rather than initiating a personal attack and reviving the ‘birther’ debate that he once led against President Obama. He repeatedly said he is hearing chatter on the topic among voices on the right. ‘People are bringing it up,’ he said.”

We’ll see where this goes.

Obama’s white men

January 16, 2013

I had thought that the media buzz had died down over the fact that the first four persons to be nominated by Obama for major government positions were all white men. But Stephen Colbert brought it up just the other night, so I though that I might as well add my little buzz to it.

I have two personal issues with the story.

One of them is my disappointment over the fact that none of the four is going to replace a black man. I don’t mean just any black man, but one in particular, and I wouldn’t really care if he were replaced by a white man or a purple hermaphrodite. I am referring to the abominable Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States, who has done (I don’t know if through malice or incompetence, nor whether on his own initiative or at the President’s behest) more to pervert the administration of justice in this country than anyone else I can think of. Examples: the disproportionate prosecution of Aaron Swartz which led to his suicide; the dropped investigation of Lance Armstrong despite a mountain of evidence worthy of a polka-dot jersey; the heavy-handed attacks on legal marijuana clubs in California, Obama’s campaign promises to the contrary notwithstanding; Operation Fast and Furious; and the abject failure to prosecute the financial finaglers whose fraudulent flimflam has caused so much grief. It seems to me that the word “justice” had no meaning in Holder’s vocabulary other than the name of the department that he heads.

My other issue is even more personal. The listing of Jacob Lew (the nominee for Secretary of the Treasury) as a “white man” makes me queasy. Lew is, by descent, a Polish Jew like me, and for us actual Polish Jews whiteness as a marker of race is meaningless. We were marked for extermination by Hitler as Jews by race. I am still amazed when I read, in books dealing with the “Holocaust”, references to the religious practices (or non-practices) of the victims. They are irrelevant. Hitler’s anti-Semitism was racial, not religious, and if a Lutheran bishop met the Nuremberg criteria as a Jew, he would be persecuted like any other.

Personally, I experienced being white just once in my life. It was on my first day in America, in 1950, when I boarded (with my mother) a streetcar in New Orleans and went to the back in search of an empty seat, only to be told by the conductor that I was not allowed to sit there – it was the place for colored people. In the 1950s it was not at all uncommon for Jews to experience various kinds of discrimination in the United States, nor was it a coincidence that Jews were so prominent in the civil rights movement at the time (and earlier, going back to the Spingarns and the Leo Frank lynching). While I do not support Noel Ignatiev‘s theories of whiteness, or critical race theory, I feel that characterizing an American Jew as simply a “white man” is a historical inaccuracy.

The most conservative President?

June 21, 2009

I am a socialist. I have never belonged to a socialist party, but I have considered myself a socialist since my teens, some 60 years now. Of the nonrevolutionary, social democrat persuasion, but a socialist nonetheless. And so, when I hear politicians and pundits of the American right wing refer to Barack Obama or his policies as “socialist,” I can only smile inwardly and say to myself, “I wish.”

Even when they call him a “radical,” the designation is pathetically absurd. To me, Obama is the most conservative American President in my memory, and probably since Herbert Hoover.

Don’t get me wrong. To the extent that, in American politics, “conservative” (in contrast to “liberal”) is a catchword (whether as an adjective or a noun)  for right-wing policies and their adherents, then Obama is a “liberal.” But in the common, nonpolitical sense of the word — meaning ‘cautious, averse to deviating from established norms’ — Obama is truly conservative. George W. Bush, by contrast, was quite radical.

In medicine, a conservative treatment is one that does not involve surgery or intervention.  And that describes rather precisely Obama’s attitude to curing the many societal ills that afflict his nation. Do nothing drastic; just keep Wall Street going by giving the banks money; keep gays in their military closets and don’t let them marry; keep healthcare in the hands of private insurers; keep the Bush wars going along with government secrecy and indefinite detention of suspects. To the extent that Bush policies — many of them radical departures from tradition — are merely cosmetic pimples, like allowing roadbuilding in the wilderness, then it’s okay to excise them. But deep incisions? No, at least not for now.

When it comes to dealing with other countries, including “enemies” like Iran or North Korea, I rather like Obama’s cautious approach, a welcome relief from the Bush-era swagger. But in matters of war and security, he shows undue deference to military professionals rather than listen to the wise old adage that war is too important to be left to the generals. In this respect he, a man with no military experience, resembles Lyndon Johnson, who despite his Silver Star saw virtually no action in World War II. (By contrast Harry Truman, a combat veteran of World War I, was not afraid to fire MacArthur when the situation called for it.)

Sometimes Obama sounds as if he wished that the situation he is in would allow him to pursue a bolder course. But he seems to have a visceral fear upsetting the applecart, even if it’s going the wrong way, lest his impeccably conservative attire be spattered by the applesauce made by the fallen fruit.