Monday, September 2, 2013

President Obama is working on bigger change than the purists can even contemplate

I've been thinking a lot lately about this passage that Al Giordano wrote years ago.
There are times when “The Law” is dressed up in liberal language in a way that masquerades the bloodlust behind witch hunts and impulses to scapegoat individuals for crimes or taboos that, in a democracy, we’re all responsible for having enabled.

The same tendencies that have always placed me squarely against McCarthyism and Red Scares put me on the opposite side of some liberal and progressive colleagues today when they demand the prosecution of Bush, or of Cheney, or of some of their underlings...

In the end, preventing torture is a political struggle and also a power struggle, so much more than a matter of "The Law." It’s about changing society and its presumptions, and changing institutions, like the military and police agencies, where the culture is so prone to that kind of abuse...

The real task at hand is to evolve American society – and with it, military and law enforcement culture - to change in ways that “The Law” will never be able to touch. That’s what I observe that the President is, step by step, doing. And the legal fundamentalists who fail to consider that larger context are going to continue to be upset, again and again, until they open their eyes to the bigger chess game going on between the new President and the institutions of defense and law enforcement, the only steps that can ever accomplish a permanent ban on torture and more.
While he was specifically addressing the emo cries for the Obama administration to prosecute Bush/Cheney for torture, it continues to be the main cause of the rift between the Obamabots and the purists on the left side of the political spectrum.

As I wrote about earlier, I see many of the purists thinking they can use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house. What we get with that approach is a continued bloodlust for witch hunts and scapegoats. Whether its McCarthyism looking for communists around every corner or lefties trying to scare us about the plutocrats and autocrats, it all reeks of the same paranoia.

The first time most of us ever heard of Barack Obama, he came with a totally different message.

If you've never listened to Barack Obama's speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church on January 21, 2008, please take some time to do so.

“Unity is the great need of the hour.” That’s what Dr. King said. It is the great need of this hour as well, not because it sounds pleasant, not because it makes us feel good, but because it's the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exits in this country.

I’m not talking about the budget deficit. I’m not talking about the trade deficit. Talking about the moral deficit in this country. I’m talking about an empathy deficit, the inability to recognize ourselves in one another, to understand that we are our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper, that in the words of Dr. King, “We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.”
He's talking about much bigger change than the left purists can even contemplate. Instead of simply doing things like pointing to Bush/Cheney as the criminals, he's asking us to take responsibility for the country that elected them and the culture that enabled them. In that challenge, he is echoing what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said to those who had gathered to mourn the loss of four little girls after the bombing of their church in Birmingham.
They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.
When those on the left simply want to mirror that system, that way of life, that philosophy that leads to fear, paranoia, witch hunts and scapegoats, I reject their premise. Instead, I agree with President Obama.
The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own. To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency...

And we'll suffer the occasional setback. But we will win these fights. This country has changed too much. People of goodwill, regardless of party, are too plentiful for those with ill will to change history’s currents...

(T)hat’s the lesson of our past. That's the promise of tomorrow -- that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it. That when millions of Americans of every race and every region, every faith and every station, can join together in a spirit of brotherhood, then those mountains will be made low, and those rough places will be made plain, and those crooked places, they straighten out towards grace, and we will vindicate the faith of those who sacrificed so much and live up to the true meaning of our creed, as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.


  1. You could not be more cogent or accurate. Thank you.


  2. less than 60 years ago a very popular president showed how easy it was to divide 'one nation indivisible'. it is unfortunately far harder to attain unity. but i suspect most presidents are optimists. it may be nearly impossible to stay in politics otherwise.

  3. I think the "purists" may be left libertarians. They would never admit it, but their lack of empathy; not believing in "I am my brother's/sister's keeper" smacks of Ayn Rand to me. They are not even true civil libertarians. They pick and choose their causes and most of their causes have little to do with the liberties of the poor or minorities. Some talk a good game, especially those on TV and those who sit in their ivory towers, but indeed -- "it is dressed up in liberal language in a way that masquerades the bloodlust behind witch hunts and impulses to scapegoat individuals for crimes or taboos that, in a democracy, we’re all responsible for having enabled."

    Thank you for all that you do.

  4. @anonymous: i hope u'll credit the source of that quote.

    there appears to be a lot of confusion over the meaning of liberalism. what are called libertarians in america seem to be known as classical liberals in many other places. american liberalism looks a lot like a blend of the social liberalism that developed in europe in the late 19th century and the social democracy that came in the 20th, neither of which should be confused with socialism, since they are not collectivist or anti-capitalist. it's perhaps ironic that some americans these days describe themselves as social liberals but economic [or fiscal] conservatives, since it's likely that economic conservatism is responsible for much of the income disparity that necessitates government social programs advocated by liberals n deplored by conservatives.