Yesterday marked a new low in the history of the lows of the Obama administration. After months of threatening to veto S. 1867, the Military Authorization and Detention Act that enables the federal government and any enforcement branch to stop, arrest, intercept and detain indefinitely any American citizen on suspicion of terrorism, President Obama declared his intention to sign it.
Now before anyone gets too upset about Obama changing his mind, let’s remember that the President didn’t threaten to veto it because of its mind-numbing expansion of federal powers. As Glenn Greenwald points out, Obama was concerned that it would bite into his executive powers too much, restricting him from completely and unabashedly deciding who could be detained indefinitely, who would be prevented from having a trial, or who could be picked up for interrogation by the CIA and the FBI. So, in other words, Obama didn’t object to S. 1867 on civil liberties grounds.
In other words, it’s business as usual for the Obama Administration. As a friend of mine asked: What now?
As I’ve gloated on Facebook, I warned folks about this precise moment in 2008: if we voted for Obama hoping that he would be our heroic knight riding in to rescue us from the evils of President Bush, we were going to be really disappointed. I didn’t suggest that John McCain would be any better, but I was fairly confident that Barack Obama had promised us to continue the incursion into other countries as well as into our civil liberties and protections. And I was worried about the ground upon which friends (and the rest of the country were voting).
I will forgo a long list of all the things that the Obama Administration has done that violate the principles that I hold dear (principles such as protecting vulnerable folks; not targeting and outcasting minority groups and migrants; personal and cyber- privacy; protection from warrantless search and seizure; giving criminal suspects fair trials and due process; allowing folks to feel protected from undue foreclosures and forced evictions; protecting state and union pension funds; etc.). If you want such a list, I’d suggest reading the last three years of posts by Glenn Greenwald, who has done a remarkably effective job of chronicling those violations.
Instead, I thought it might be a good idea to explore different models of voting during presidential elections that seem to have been popular in the past, and to examine the pros and cons of each in the hopes of avoiding those mistakes that brought us openly neoliberal presidents and now threaten, by dissatisfaction and default, to bring us some pretty Neanderthal candidates as viable options. Note that none of these models are mutually exclusive, and can be used in conjunction with any of the others. I’ll post one model per day (though probably not every day). There are at least four models so far, and I’ll list them to whet your appetites, and talk about one of them today.
1. The “They’re so interesting/cool/intellectual/charming, I would love to have dinner with him and his wife” vote.
2. The “At least they’re pro-choice/environmentally-friendly” vote.
3. The “Lesser of Two Evils” vote.
4. The “With this vote, racism is a thing of the past” vote.
Today, I’ll offer a couple thoughts on model #1:
The “They’re so interesting/cool/intellectual/charming, I would love to have dinner with him and his wife” vote.
This was a model that seemed to have been very popular in the 1992, 2004, and 2008 elections. It was used to vote in successfully our (neo-liberal) 41st president (Bill Clinton), unsuccessfully the candidate for the 42nd president (John Kerry), and again successfully our current president Barack Obama.
This, as troubling as it seemed to me (not least of which because there was no world in which I wanted to have dinner with Bill or Hillary Clinton), was a popular refrain on an East Coast liberal arts campus where I lived. “It would be so cool to have dinner with him/her. Wow, they’re such interesting people,” I heard colleagues say in 1992.
We all know of folks who are charming, entertaining, worldly dinner guests. They tell great stories about their childhoods, like having been in the middle of world-historic moments where they interviewed Che Guevara for the high school newspaper and he shared his stash of cigars and rum with them, or how they were in the middle of integration in their St. Louis high school, or how they grew up poor with a single mother. They’re (much smarter) versions of Forrest Gump (no offense intended here). But we also know that charming folks aren’t necessarily good administrators, and in fact, good story-tellers are…good story-tellers. Good story-tellers, whose stories have some semblance of truth, offer visions of a beautiful world that can burnish a fairly ordinary moment in time.
Focusing on someone’s charm also distracts us from some of the less than charming things that s/he may have done or is in the midst of—like having pushed through a mean little welfare reform bill (“workfare”–Clinton’s cute little innovation) in Arkansas when governor in 1980, that required women to list the names of the fathers of their children in order to be eligible for state aid. Um, the same bill that prefigured the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA). Oh, yeah. That. But he is charming.
As a friend says, “People will believe whatever you tell them you are, even when you tell them a bald-faced lie.”