Monday, September 3, 2012

An Essay on Platforms and the Hypocrisy of Barack Obama

Last week in Tampa, Florida, the Republican Party held its Convention (you may have heard some reports about talking to chairs, or something), and they adopted a platform that was, frankly, viewed with disdain by liberals and some independents.

The biggest issue seemed to reside in its stance on women’s reproductive rights, endorsing a full ban of abortion even in cases of rape or incest. This seems in line with what Missouri Congressman Todd Akin has endorsed throughout his candidacy for the Senate, even though he did it while using terms like “legitimate rape” and became a national laughingstock.

Despite all of the talk about ignoring platforms, informed citizens should pay attention to what each of the major parties wants to enact into legislation over the next four years. It provides a glimpse into how the party’s mainstream elements try to reconcile with the more extreme elements within itself, and are just about the only concrete blueprint that we can reasonably expect in this age of sanitized speeches and an emphasis on avoiding gaffes over saying anything that voters can actually put any stock in.

This week, it is the Democrats’ turn to have their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they will assemble a party platform that will be sure to gin up its own controversy. Surely there will be sections dedicated to the protection of abortion rights laws, opposition to the slew of voter suppression bills that have been passed in so many states, and pledges to continue an open dialogue with countries hostile to us. Throw in the embrace of a new ally in the battle over gay marriage in President Barack Obama, and you will surely see conservatives greet the new document with the same derision that the left greeted theirs with last week.

Before they agree to these new policy stances, however, there is one thing from the 2008 platform that needs to be addressed, if for no other reason than to show that both parties are guilty of offending the sensibilities of independent minded voters. The following passage came in a discussion over the role of United States in the War on Terror, and how best to achieve the goal of soothing the strife going on between this nation and the forces of radical Islam:

“To empower forces of moderation (in Islam), America must live up to our values, respect civil liberties, reject torture, and lead by example. We will make every effort to export hope and opportunity – access to education, that opens minds to tolerance, not extremism; secure food and water supplies; and health care, trade, capital, and investment. We will provide steady support for political reformers, democratic institutions, and civil society that is necessary to uphold human rights and build respect for the rule of law.”

Truthfully, there is a lot that can be parsed from this, including the pie in the sky nature of the language in the second half of the paragraph. As we have seen in Libya, Egypt, and other Arab Spring nations, our example we have set as a free nation with democratic elections does have powerful resonance in that area of the world, but our meddling in places like Iraq and Afghanistan have merely exacerbated the negative images those same countries have of us as foreign invaders. Therefore, we have been caught in a Catch-22 situation of wanting to help these folks achieve democracy, but being resented for our presence in the changeover if we do get involved.

Those wanting us to intervene more strongly in Syria seem to forget the examples of how we can get bogged down in foreign conflicts, and even though radical Muslim regimes could be the result of these democratic revolutions (much to our chagrin from a foreign policy perspective), we have a fundamental right to prevent human rights abuses, but not to try to influence the results of these revolutions themselves. That delicate balance is one that politicians on both sides that have called for intervention conveniently ignore, but the president has done a relatively good job in that respect.

The big issue that I and other liberals should take exception to under the umbrella of intellectual honesty is the part about civil liberties. Under the presidency of George W. Bush, the US began a program of “rendition” that enabled our government to arrest potential terrorists or supporters and ship them off to foreign prisons in far flung regions of the globe. In addition, we advocated the use of torture in violation of the Geneva Convention in our waterboarding tactics, and we also imprisoned suspected terrorists indefinitely in prisons like Guantanomo Bay, in direct violation of our Constitution’s clause about Habeas Corpus.

Here is another segment of the platform dealing more directly with this:

“To build a freer and safer world, we will lead in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. We will not ship away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, or detain without trial or charge prisoners who can and should be brought to justice for their crimes, or maintain a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law. We will respect the time-honored principle of habeas corpus, the seven century-old right of individuals to challenge the terms of their own detention that was recently reaffirmed by our Supreme Court.” 

President Obama pledged to end all of these abuses, as can be seen in this snippet of the platform, but he has completely failed to do so, and he has even embedded some of these types of violations even more firmly into our tactics of battling terrorism. A great post in  the Huffington Post discussed how the President has ended practices like “wall slamming” and other torture methods, as well as closing the CIA’s “Black Sites” where those abuses took place. It also accosted Obama for allowing the practice of rendition to continue, and for continuing to obtain intelligence in this way.

In addition to the policies mentioned in the Huffington Post piece, there are other civil liberties violations that Obama has continued to allow happen, with the biggest and most damning of all of those being the National Security Agency’s policy of spying on Americans without the use of a warrant. These “warrantless wiretaps” have been around since the Bush administration, and Obama pledged he wouldn’t support continuing that policy. Once he secured the Democratic nomination in 2008, however, he reversed course and voted for the FISA bill, allowing telecom companies that participated in the wiretapping immunity from prosecution, as well as enabling the program as a whole to continue.

This reversal of course, as well as his other violations detailed above, have got to be addressed by the party when their platform is voted upon this week. Obviously, you aren’t going to call out the President of the United States directly with an election coming up in November, but they have got to at least say something about the protection of civil liberties, and have the President address how he intends to do something positive on that front.

Obama’s rhetoric has been attacked as everything from na├»ve to BS, but those attacks are mostly subjective opinion-based arguments. His failures in the sphere of civil liberties are matters of objective fact, and if liberals are serious about their continued attacks of people like Bush and Condoleeza Rice on these topics, then they need to turn their sights onto the President’s abysmal record, or else they run the risk of sounding as hypocritical and stupid as those that they so gleefully assail. 

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