Hey, Democrats: Did Obama Let You Down?

Previously by Bretigne Shaffer: Mere Anarchy Loosed Upon the World

Three years ago, I wrote an article in which I made some very specific predictions about the incoming Obama administration. I wrote the piece in the form of a letter to my pro-Obama friends and said that by the end of his term, Obama's administration would not look very different from that of George W. Bush. I told them that if I was wrong about my predictions, I would re-think all of my beliefs about our political system and about politics generally, and if I turned out to be right, I asked them to do the same.

I don't know if any of my friends took me up on my challenge – I'm guessing they didn't, since I never heard from any of them about it. But I do know that many of them are disappointed in what Obama has done so far, and that many are feeling hopeless about the upcoming election, resigned to their belief that there is "no better alternative." Incredibly, some of them plan to vote for Obama again.

It is for this reason that I would like to revisit those predictions I made three years ago. I still have nearly a year to go, but I think it is clear to anyone paying attention that Obama is not the pro-peace, pro-civil liberties candidate many of his supporters believed him to be. Nor is he going to "fix" the economy anytime soon. What may not be so clear though is that there is a better alternative. It also may not be clear that there is a way to support that alternative without sacrificing the option to vote for Obama in the general election.

So let's look at those predictions. If we're already on the same page about Obama's presidency, then just skip this part and go to the last section of this article to read about the better alternative.

I confined my predictions to the areas where I believed my pro-Obama friends and I shared common ground: A desire to end our country's wars of aggression around the world; A desire to see our basic civil liberties protected; and a desire to have a healthy economy. Here is what I wrote, and here's what has happened:

Foreign Policy:

At the end of Obama’s first four-year term:

  1. The US will still have an active military presence in Iraq.

Obama ended the war in Iraq, right? Not exactly. While the administration may have officially declared the war to be over (an interesting feat in itself as it was never declared to have begun in the first place), the US does indeed maintain an active military presence there. Several hundred military personnel will remain under the Office of Security Cooperation, the US has built an embassy the size of the Vatican, with 17,000 employees, and there are an estimated 3,500-5,000 private contractors who will be working with Iraqi security forces.

  1. The US will have attacked at least one more country that poses no direct threat to us.  (I’m not even going to count his early air strikes on Pakistan.)

Libya. Yemen. Somalia.

  1. Military spending will have increased.

At the end of Bush's term – a year that featured the "surge", which made military expenditures unusually high, the US defense budget was $667 billion. At the end of 2011, the (estimated) defense budget was $708 billion. Even adjusted for inflation, this is an easy one.

Even more significant though, is that under Obama, war funding has also increased. While this figure did peak at $189.94 billion in Bush's last year, dropping to $159.21 billion for 2009, total war expenditures under Bush were $625.41 billion, while in his first three years Obama has already spent $497.6 billion. He would have to bring war expenditures down below $127.81 billion for 2012 (from $169.7 billion in 2011) in order to come in a penny under the George Bush years.

  4. US citizens will be no safer from terrorist attacks. I say this because I believe the (sadly all-too-accurate) perception of the US as an imperialist warmongering nation will persist.  I realize this one is open to interpretation.  I would just ask you to honestly ask yourselves at the end of these four years whether this is the case.

I say I got this one right too. But as I said, it's open to interpretation.

It is perhaps in this area that it is easiest to see how perfectly seamless Obama's administration has been with that of his predecessor. There are differences to be sure, but differences that are of importance only to policy wonks, not to the people who are suffering from and paying for the US's interventionist foreign policies.

As a dramatic illustration of this cohesion, listen to this video of US General Wesley Clark (ret). Clark tells of a memo from the Secretary of Defense's office in October of 2001, outlining a plan to attack and remove the governments of seven different countries in five years. The countries listed were Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Lybia, Somalia, Sudan and finally Iran. Listen to General Clark and then try to tell yourself that President Obama is not simply continuing where the Bush administration left off.

Civil Liberties

  1. More than 1% of US adults will still be in prison.  This number will very likely be even higher than it is today, and the black and Hispanic portion of that population will not have decreased by any significant amount.

As of August, 2011, the US prison population was an astonishing 2.4 million, or roughly 1.16% of the adult population, and the number of black and Hispanic prisoners remains wildly disproportionate to population ratios.

  1. We will still suffer from the kind of police abuse that is becoming more and more common: military-style raids on unarmed civilians in their homes; the shooting and tasering of unarmed citizens; and police and judicial corruption leading to the jailing of many more innocent people than can be acceptable under any system…

I think it's hard to argue that these trends have in any way abated. If anything, law-enforcement has become more militarized, more turned against the people it is supposed to protect. If this is news to you, you might want to spend some time here or here catching up.

  1. “No-Fly” lists will still be in place, and there may even be more restrictions on travel.

What do I even need to say here? Full-body scanners? Officially sanctioned sexual molestation forced upon those who do not wish to submit themselves to the potential health risks and privacy violations of said scanners? Forcing a terminally ill cancer patient to remove her adult diaper in order to board her plane? Spilling a bladder cancer survivor's urine all over him? Forcing a disabled six-year-old to take off his braces in order to walk through the metal detector? I would ask "how much worse can it get?" but I'm afraid I might find out.

  1. There will be more restrictions on gun ownership and the right to self-defense.

This one hasn't yet come to pass. Second-Amendment activists insist that it will, but we'll have to see.

  1. The police tactics and suppression of dissent at the 2012 RNC and DNC conventions will be just as brutal as they were in 2008.

We'll see. But given the treatment of "Occupy" protesters around the country, and that Congress has just passed a law that would outlaw any protests near certain government officials – whether or not the protesters are even aware that the officials are there – I'm fairly confident this prediction will turn out to be accurate.

  1. Government surveillance of US citizens will continue…

Not only is the Obama administration intent on spying on US citizens, it has asked for legislation requiring all communications devices to allow "back-door" government access to private communications. It has also "…asked Congress that new and expanded power be given the FBI in accessing Internet customers' records without first obtaining a court order if the agency views the information involves terrorism or intelligence issues."

Writes Glenn Greenwald:

"What makes this trend all the more pernicious is that at exactly the same time that the Government is demanding greater and greater access to what you do and say, it is hiding its own conduct behind an always-higher and more impenetrable wall of secrecy.  Everything you do and say must be accessible to them; you can have no secrets from them.  But everything they do – including even criminal acts such as torture, assassinations and warrantless surveillance – is completely off-limits to you, deemed "state secrets" that not even courts can review in order to determine their legality."

When I wrote my predictions for the Obama administration, I bent over backwards to give him every benefit of the doubt in the arena of civil liberties. I wrote:

"I have to admit that this is the one area where Obama’s presidency is already looking different from that of his predecessor.  In his first few days in office, President Obama signed executive orders to 1) close Guantanamo within a year; 2) officially ban the use of torture in the military; 3) close the CIA-run secret prisons around the world; and 4) review detention policies and procedures and review individual detention cases.  He has also suspended the military trials at Guantanamo for 120 days, and has acted to combat government secrecy.  These are all good things and Obama is receiving well-deserved praise for them."

I now feel like a fool for having written those words. Not only is Guantanamo still open, not only does torture and indefinite detention continue, not only is Government secrecy as bad or worse as under Bush but Obama has signed into law one of the most heinous pieces of legislation imaginable, the National Defense Authorization Act, granting the government the right to detain, indefinitely and without trial or charges, any American citizen. He has also claimed for himself the right to assassinate an American citizen, and has in fact carried out at least one such assassination – again without a trial or any charges being made.

I should really just stop here. The NDAA by itself makes the case that the Obama administration is at least as bad as the Bush administration. There's nothing more I need to say. However since I did include a couple of predictions about the economy, let's go there:

The Economy:

  1. The US will have massive inflation.  The dollar will lose at least 50% of its value against most goods and services, and certainly against the goods and services most people use every day.  This is a very conservative estimate.  It will probably be much worse.

OK, this clearly hasn't happened yet. And if it hasn't happened before the end of Obama's first term, I will admit I was wrong about this. However I still maintain that it will happen – and fairly soon.

This isn't just some random prediction. Since the housing and stock market collapses of 2008, the government and the Federal Reserve have been pursuing even more inflationary policies than those that caused the problem in the first place. The graph below helps to illustrate the magnitude of just how much new money has been put into the economy through government stimulus and bailouts. This shows the level of excess reserves – reserves held above the required ratio to deposits. This excess is currently just sitting there – it has not yet been lent out. But when the banks start lending it out (and it looks like they are starting to), it will create massive inflation. (For a more scholarly understanding of how creating more money is inflationary, see this Scrooge McDuck cartoon.)

  1. Unemployment in the US will be worse than it is now.  It will be at least in the double digits.

I should have been more specific with this one. The official unemployment rate in January of 2009 was 7.8%. It is now 8.3%. So I got the first part of this right. I'll concede the second part, but not because unemployment isn't in the double digits – it actually is. Official unemployment measurements do not include either short-term or long-term "discouraged workers", nor do they include those who work part-time because they cannot find full-time work. Once you include these groups, the current rate of unemployment is around 22%, putting it in the double digits. But real unemployment was already in the double digits back when I made this prediction, at around 16.5%. So I say that I got the first part of this right but not the second.

As a relevant aside: In promoting its 2009 stimulus plan, the Obama administration made the claim that without the stimulus, unemployment would rise. It presented a graph to illustrate its projections for just how bad unemployment would get unless government spent hundreds of billions of dollars stimulating the economy. Well, government DID spend hundreds of billions of dollars stimulating the economy and guess what? The unemployment rate rose even higher than the government's worst-case scenario projections (see graph).

So what? There's no better alternative to Obama.

When Obama passed the NDAA bill, it gave me chills. Not because of the terrifying implications of the bill itself, but because I really believed he might veto it – not on the grounds he had stated when he threatened to, but in order to placate those of his supporters who are rightly concerned about the erosion of civil liberties. When he did not, I realized – more clearly than I ever had before – that he feels no need to placate anyone.

This fact was driven home to me when I spoke with some of my friends who had supported Obama in '08 and were disappointed with what they've seen so far. One said to me that despite her disappointment, she was probably going to vote for him again because she feared it would be "worse" with whoever the Republican nominee was. I have come to realize that, for those who are immersed in the two-party system and who truly believe there is a difference between Republican and Democrat, there is literally nothing their candidate can do that will cause them to withdraw their support. Like a battered spouse who simply can't imagine anything better than what they've got, they cling to their man because they believe that the other side can always produce something worse.

The truth is that we live in a one-party state. And until more people come to realize this and to reject the Party's rule over their lives, its grip will just continue to tighten. So it probably seems odd that I'm going to recommend that you vote, and even odder that I ask you to vote for a Republican candidate. But I am.

Ron Paul has a thirty-plus year history of opposing aggressive wars, violations of personal freedom and the government spending and monetary policy that are now bankrupting our country. He also has a thirty-plus year record of keeping his word and voting his conscience, which is more than I can say for any other politician.

Maybe you don't want to vote for Ron Paul because you object to some of his policy views. I think writer Anna O. Morgenstern addressed this concern quite well when she said:

"…if you’re going to slag off on Ron Paul for his (admittedly flawed) domestic policy views, then you’re sort of missing the point. His main appeal is that he’s the only anti-war candidate, and the war(s) are one of the few things that are directly under a president’s control. So if you vote for someone else, you’re basically saying “I’m willing to sacrifice innocent foreigners to have a better domestic policy”.

And keep in mind that under Obama, or for any of the establishment candidates, "a better domestic policy" includes a massive transfer of wealth from ordinary Americans to big financial corporations, arresting and jailing people indefinitely without charging them, and maintaining the highest prison population in the world.

The best part about what I'm suggesting though is that you don't have to give up your option to vote for Obama in the presidential election in order to support Ron Paul. You can vote for Ron Paul in the Republican primaries (which are going on right now) help him to win the Republican nomination, and in no way be bound to vote for him in the general election. Should he not win the nomination, or should you just decide in November that you still prefer Obama, you can still vote for Obama. But think about it: A presidential race between Barack Obama and Ron Paul. Would you really choose Obama? If yes, I'd really like to know why.

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. There are ten primaries and caucuses, eight of which are open or "semi-open", meaning that you don't have to register Republican in order to vote. (To find out whether your state has open or closed primaries, go here.) If you live in one of the Super Tuesday states, please think about going out and voting for Ron Paul. And please ask everyone you know to do the same.

When I made my predictions three years ago, I wrote:

"For years, I have said that real progress towards peace, freedom and respect for individual rights cannot come from working within the very system that sustains itself through war and the expansion of state power over people’s lives.  If in fact the Obama administration does herald great and significant change in these areas that we agree upon, then I promise to rethink these beliefs… If I am wrong about this, then I promise to re-think everything.  But if I am not, then I hope you will do the same.  Let’s talk again in four years."

If anything, my beliefs about political systems have only been reinforced by what I've seen these past three years: That political systems and politicians serve only their own interests, that they cause the problems they purport to cure, and that there is no significant difference between the Republican and Democratic Parties, both of which serve to expand the state at our expense.

We should of course be wary of placing our hopes for "change" in a politician who will rule over us. Any politician. Even Ron Paul. If we want to live in peace, then we must reject the coercive violence upon which a political system is built. We cannot continue to grant individuals the right to rule over others, the monopoly to both make and enforce laws, the monopoly on "justice" and on defense – and then act surprised when those individuals use their powers to their own benefit and to our detriment.

Ron Paul is the "anti-politician". He is the anomaly, the exception that proves the rule that politicians cannot be trusted. I don't support him because I believe he is the answer to all of our problems – we're going to have to dig a lot deeper for that. I support him because I believe that if elected, he stands a good chance of putting a halt to the bloodshed that is US foreign policy and to putting a big dent into the massive injustice that is our justice system. I believe that he would do everything in his power to restore habeas corpus, and to put the brakes on the government spending, corporate bailouts and inflationary policies that are running the economy into the ground.

If any of these are things that you care about, then go and vote for Ron Paul in the Republican primaries. Register Republican if you have to, just do it! If you don't, fine. That's your choice and I guess you've got your reasons. But don't come running to me when your man disappoints you once again.