now, the statue of limitations on all of our semi-rational exuberance over the symbolism of the current presidency has not yet run out. i figure, based on my friends and family, that it has somewhere between three and nine months left. so i’m not expecting anyone to do anything about this right now. once the memories of the election-night street parties are a little bit more faded, though, it’ll be useful to have these pieces of information ready to hand.
in this NYTimes article, obama’s justice [sic] department declares that “the change in administration has no bearing” on the government’s ridiculous assertion that the kidnap-and-torture (a.k.a. ‘extraordinary rendition’) program is too secret for any case dealing with it to appear in a u.s. courtroom.
and in this editorial, the NYTimes says this “invo[cation of] state secrets to cover up charges of rendition and torture. . . [is] defending the indefensible”, and declares: “it was as if last month’s inauguration had never occurred.”
there are, it seems to me, two things to watch out for in the present moment.
one is to avoid slipping into the “good czar / bad counselors” syndrome. while named for the shared fantasy of russian peasants and jews, it’s a pretty widespread phenomenon. and always a fantasy. we need to remember that when secretary clinton starts making nuclear threats, when secretary gates escalates the war in afghanistan and pakistan, when envoy mitchell pushes for bantustans in palestine, when secretary geithner socializes the risk and privatizes the profits, their boss is actually in charge. all of those things will happen because obama approves them, not in some mystical way in spite of him. and, since he’s a more straightforward speaker than the last tenant, he’ll probably even say he’s approving them. he’s said it about the second and fourth items on my list already. we need to actually believe that obama means what he says, even – especially – when we’d rather he were saying the opposite.
the other is the need to keep our eyes on the structural. the NYTimes’ editorial sounds shocked that obama’s policy on state secrets has such continuity with bush’s. this is downright weird. the president, whoever it is, oversees a state apparatus that’s dominated by the same corporate interests, beholden to the same rich donors, informed by the same lobbyists’ briefs, largely populated by the same career staff (and often, as in the current case, by the same political appointees), and committed to the same long-term objectives. he’s also the nominal leader of a party which has the same main goal as any other party – to stay in power as long as possible – and the head of a branch of government which has a long-term interest in gathering as much power to itself as it can.
it should be no surprise, then, that obama and his administration are as committed as bush & co. were to policies that serve all of those interests. in particular, state secrets policies and the various other ways that the state avoids accountability are always high on the list of things to condemn when you don’t have power and embrace wholeheartedly when you’re running the show. but just as bush’s worst policies were the ones he built on firm foundations laid by clinton (and the 1970s-80s democratic-majority congresses) – from the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 to the indentured servitude ‘welfare reform bill’ to the hyde amendment (passed by a 2/3 democratic congress) – we can expect to see obama expand inherited policies in all directions. not because he’s particularly evil; just because the structural interests of the u.s. state and its owning class are pretty consistent, and are the determining factor.
the determining factor, that is, absent a widespread and effective movement for structural change. not for hope. not for reform. not for legislation. not for patriotic dissent. not to ‘defend the constitution’. not in the name of ‘the true ideals and values of america’. not for ‘change you can believe in’. for change that makes an actual difference in actual people’s actual lives. for a change in the system itself.
not for a change of boss. for getting rid of the boss, and his job description, too.