Saturday, September 12, 2009

Politics Eclipse Policy, Part II

So, having criticized the MSM for focusing on politics over policy in the current health care debate, why have I written only on the politics and not made a single post on substantive healthcare policy? For two reasons. First of all, I consider Republican conduct here to be sufficiently disturbing that for me the politics of the issue really do eclipse the policy.

The second reason is that ultimately, healthcare reform is not my biggest issue. I didn't vote for Obama to pass universal healthcare. Yes, it is an important issue, and one that I favor. But it wasn't the reason for my vote.

I voted for Obama in hopes that he would clean up the mess Bush left. He hasn't done it. Given the choice between Bush with universal healthcare and Bush without universal healthcare, I will take the healthcare. But I was hoping for a President who wasn't George Bush and am now despairing of getting one.

Consider the Bush policies I saw as important and how Obama has responded so far.

Get out of Iraq. Check. Granted, he is following the timetable negotiated by Bush, but he is following in, not trying to subvert it as some hawks have desired.

Develop a rational policy in Afghanistan. None in sight.

Stop relying on defense contractors. We are, if anything, relying on them more than ever.

Practice diplomacy. Okay, we are making at least some progress there.

Close Guantanamo. A stated goal with approximately zero chance of happening. Granted, Congress has a large hand in that.

End torture. Well, the Obama Administration has formally committed itself not to torture and has closed down CIA "black sites" that weren't being used anyhow. But torture continued unabated at Guantanamo with no attempt to stop it, and who knows what is going on at Bangram.

End warrantles wiretaps. The Obama Administration seems quite content continuing the mysterious "basket warrants" allowed under the Protect America Act and sweeping the entire issue under the rug. Is the program appropriate? Is it entirely out of control? Just how much of our foreign communications are being surveilled? Who knows?

Stop the abusive use of National Security Letters. Who knows? I'm guessing not; they are just too convenient.

Stop infiltrating and surveilling innocent organizations. Who knows?

Stop heavy-handed PATRIOT Act investigations of innocent dissent. Who knows?

Put the No-Fly List on a rational basis. Not a sign of it.

Either abolish our color-coded system of alerts, or put them on a rational basis. No. In fact, orange appears to be the new norm.

Stop using the federal government (including the Justice Department) as a system of partisan patronage. Who knows?

Stop interfering with the independent judgment of government scientists. Who knows?

Stop the heavy-handed immigration raids that give the country a police state feel. It is my understanding there has been progress here, and the emphasis has shifted to deporting criminals and cracking down on employers.

Stop heavy-handed treatment of foreign tourists for small technical violations. Who knows?

Lighten up on the war on drugs. Once again, it is my understanding the feds have stopped raiding medical marijuana facilities. Otherwise things remain heavy-handed, but at least be are back to pre-Bush.

Allow unfriendly demonstrators in your vicinity and critics into town hall meetings. Yes, give Obama credit, he has done this. In fact, he was disappointed how few showed up on the health care tour.

Introduce accountability into the bank bailout and stop treating it as a handout. For the most part, no. As funds began to run low and everyone knew Congress would not approve any more, the Administration had started being more parsimonious, which is all to the good, but even the Bush Administration would presumably have done the same. Maybe Obama will offer a reasonable set of banking regulations and somewhat redeem himself on this one, but I am not holding my breath.

Run a more open Administration. Despite a few encouraging signs, the overall record is most unimpressive.

Expose what the Bush Administration was up to. This was the critical one for me. Only by revealing what they were up to can we really get a handle on what (if anything) was justified and how to reform it. Unlike, say, Glenn Greenwald, I can understand why prosecution is politically impossible, but exposure it essential. And, while there have been a few forced disclosures so far, on the whole this Administration has been fighting tooth and claw to keep its predecessor's actions secret. What are we to conclude but that it wants to reserve authority to continue them?

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