The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Meet the New Boss

Obama supports extending Patriot Act provisions.

I assume, by this point, no one expected anything else?

If not, forgive me, but you’re the living definition of denial.

The fundamental truth about the Obama administration is that it is the Bush administration run by slightly less incompetent, marginally less evil people:

  • The Iraq occupation will end when Bush wanted it to.
  • The Bush administration’s campaign of eradication of fundamental civil liberties, including the gutting of the 4th amendment and holding people without trial, continues.
  • The Afghan war continues, and is even being escalated.
  • The signature issue of “health care reform” is a scheme which will force citizens to buy private insurance which, because of lack of effective controls, will increase in price faster than wages or inflation.
  • Obama and Geithner have followed the Bush/Paulson financial policies, virtually to the letter, spending trillions bailing out Wall Street and creating a financial sector which has fewer, larger actors with more political power than before.
  • Obama continues to exert pressure primarily on Progressives rather than on Blue Dogs in order to obtain relatively more conservative rather than liberal bills. (This is not an accident.)  The most liberal bill always comes from the House, the conference committee bill is inevitably closer to the more conservative Senate bill.  (This is not an accident.)
  • Unlike Bush Jr, Bush Sr., Clinton, and Reagan, Obama has not replaced the prior administration’s district attorneys wholesale, instead leaving in place the majority of the Bush administration DA’s who had survived Rove’s purges intended to make sure they were loyal Republican apparatchiks.
  • Obama has not cleaned out the administration in general of Bush-era appointees and plants; indeed he has filled less spots than either Clinton or Bush II had by this point in their terms—and no, it’s not because the Senate won’t confirm them.
  • Obama appointees will be forced to resign if the right wing (aka Beck) goes after them hard, but if progressives don’t like them, tough luck.
  • Obama’s economic team is filled with people who created the framework which allowed the financial meltdown to occur, who didn’t see it coming, and whose solution to it is to give money to their friends and colleagues and try and get another bubble started.
  • Etc.

In most meaningful ways, Obama is running a slightly kinder, gentler and very moderately less-stupid version of the Bush constitutional framework.

Plus ça change plus c’est la meme chose.


Welcome to The Long Grey Suck


Left Wing Self-Defeatism And How To Win


  1. madaha

    You forgot to mention how “Race to the Top” is WAY WORSE EVEN than “No Child Left Behind”! Duncan is a fricking terminator. It’s education and educator carnage out there. I’m sure you meant it in the “etc” parts, but it needs to be on people’s radars more. Anyway, much respect! cheers.

  2. Tim McGovern

    “Unlike Bush Jr, Bush Sr. Clinton, Reagan, and so on, Obama did not replace the prior administration’s district attorneys wholesale, instead leaving in place the majority of the Bush administration DA’s who had survived Rove’s purges intended to make sure they were loyal Republican apparatchiks.”

    This, above all other things, is why the trust just isn’t there for Obama.

  3. Jeff W

    “of the Bush extra-constitutional/anti-constitutional framework”

    In 28 out of 33 Gitmo detention cases heard so far, federal judges have found insufficient evidence to support keeping them in prison, hearings that might never have taken place within the Bush framework.

  4. Kish


    excellent post as usual. I honestly believe the intentions were/are mostly noble, but that the administration either lacks the guts to enact real reform because of the accusations of radicalism that would ensue, or is blinded by the utopian vision of consensus-building that won the election but is so detrimental to governance when your opponents are fomenting insanity. Maybe a bit of both.

    Either way, the result is a leadership void, and a pathetic continuation of failure.

  5. CoyoteCreek

    “In most meaningful ways, Obama is running a slightly kinder, gentler and very moderately less-stupid version of the Bush constitutional framework.”

    I disagree. It’s equally as stupid.

  6. Ian Welsh

    And have they been released? Are all of the prisoners being allowed access to Federal courts, or only some of them? And are any prisoners being extradited either to Bagram or to foreign countries which will keep them locked up and in many cases torture them?

    Marginal changes do not change the fundamental fact that Obama still believes the US government has the right to lock up people without charge at the President’s discretion.

  7. Did you read Osama’s latest missive saying that Obama is a weak person who is essentially a puppet of the ruling elite.

    And did you catch this at BradBlog:

    Exclusive: 27-Year CIA Vet says Obama May be Afraid of the CIA … For Good Reason… Alluding to the assassination of JFK, long-time high-level CIA analyst says Panetta and the President ‘afraid of these guys because these guys have a whole lot to lose if justice takes its course’…

    I don’t know whether to be cynical and think that Obama was a hypocrite from day one, or be naive and think that he was clueless and got in over his head.

  8. I think it’s more that he’s representing the consensus of the Democratic leadership rather than governing as imperial President. And that’s heavily conservative. There are some decent things coming out of this administration, but where there’s controversy, Obama hews to the Democratic party line. It’s not a pretty picture, and we can only hope that a genuinely progressive party emerges.

  9. The only condition under which you’re going to get deep and systemic change in governmental attitudes is when you have a change in The Village, not in who is running for election.

    The key is to understand what makes The Village tick, not what makes Obama or whoever tick alone.

  10. Hugh

    Le nouveau patron, c’est le même que l’ancien.

    I have an Obama scandals list now with 76 entries. Haven’t added the one about Van Jones yet though. My 75th though was based on the brief that Glenn Greenwald wrote about today involving 3 Bagram habeas petitions. I used the brief itself to write the entry. Anyway it asserts for Bagram what Bush tried to assert for Guantanamo, an extra-Constitutional space where the courts can’t go. I agree though that Obama is all about doing Bush better not different.

  11. Formerly T-Bear

    What a surprise, a professor of constitutional law, sinecure at University of Chicago, doing anything differently than prescribed by the Chicago School of Economic Phrenology and sustained by Chicago’s School of Political Mendacity founded by Leo “No Lie Too Big” Strauss. PO did not fall far from those trees. Ne Puero Gladium

  12. Lex

    I’m haunted by Joe “I’ve got a 70’s Camaro” Biden’s speech at the DNC. In fact, i found myself chanting the call-and-response section while reading Ian’s list.

    That’s not change….it’s more of the same. And soon the process of telling us that the alternative is so much worse that we had better vote Democratic will be upon us again. To which i’ll reply, “No, no thank you.”

  13. bex

    OK… I’ll just say because it needs to be said: HE’S GOT BIGGER FISH TO FRY.

    The economy is fucked, the health care bill is faltering, Afghanistan’s election was rigged making us look no better then Iran, and Israel is acting like a jerk. Not to mention, only HALF of his support staff has been confirmed by congress.

    What do you expect him to do? Fire all the Bushies and have NOBODY running the place? Japanese and Nazis war criminals were kept somewhat in charge after WW2, and if we had left the Baathists alone after the Bagdad invasion, Iraq would not be the quagmire it is today. I see no evidence that a Bush purge would leave a STABLE government in place.

    Obama has to keep the cronies around for at least another 6 months before he can even BEGIN to replace them with more competent people. And he has to tread carefully until he can get a real health care bill, and real wall street reform.

    This is nothing new: Bush Jr. complained about how long it took him to get Clinton’s people out. Clinton complained about how long it took him to get Bush Sr.’s people out. They dig themselves in, and manipulate the system so they can stay as long as they want…

  14. Howard

    But there is no evidence, so far, that he is actually going for a “real” health care bill or more significantly “real” wall street reform.

    In fact that is Ian’s point which is compounded by his fecklessness with regard to U.S. Attorneys and other critical appointments etc..

  15. John

    Remember last year during the campaign when the Bush Secret Service just stopped checking people for guns when Obama was speaking at a stadium in Dallas?
    I don’t think I imagined that.
    Eight months is not a long time to get a new set of trusted praetorians. Then come the new US attorneys, the rest of the bureaucracy, etc all while appearing to do things on actual governance like health care and so on.
    And you hope Cheney is not running a black ops against you with his old cia/dia/whatever sleepers.
    Very Roman Imperium but that is what we are now.
    Our Caligula and Nero will be real bitches if and when they come.
    I’d like to think I was paranoid but I really don’t think so.

  16. bex

    But there is no evidence, so far, that he is actually going for a “real” health care bill or more significantly “real” wall street reform.

    What evidence would satisfy you that Obama wants both?

    The House Health Care bill has real reform, the Senate bill is junk, because the Senate Democratic leadership is crap. The President is not supposed to write the laws; he only signs them. So if you want a scapegoat, blame Senate Democrats.

    I was disappointed that Obama gave Bernanke another shot… But Geithner’s swearing incident makes me trust his sincerity a bit more:

  17. bex

    Remember last year during the campaign when the Bush Secret Service just stopped checking people for guns when Obama was speaking at a stadium in Dallas? I don’t think I imagined that.

    No, you didn’t imagine that… but at the time that was standard operating procedure for the Secret Service. Presidential candidates never got full-blown Presidential protection. Because of the number of death threats, however, Obama was the first candidate to get it.

  18. gan1

    The Godfather-

    Michael: I’m working for my father now. He’s been sick, very sick.
    Kay: But you’re not like him, Michael. I thought you weren’t going to become a man like your father. That’s what you told me.
    Michael: My father’s no different than any other powerful man – any man who’s responsible for other people, like a senator or a president.
    Kay: [laughs] You know how naïve you sound?
    Michael: Why?
    Kay: Senators and presidents don’t have men killed.
    Michael: Oh, who’s being naïve, Kay?

    The Government–

    Obama: I’m working for the corporate overlords now.
    Progressives: But you’re not like them, Michael. I thought you weren’t going to become a man like GW. That’s what you told me.
    Obama: GW’s no different than any other powerful man – any man who’s responsible for other people, any senator or president.
    Progressive: [laughs] You know how naïve you sound?
    Obama: Why?
    Progressive: Senators and presidents don’t have men killed.
    Obama: Oh, who’s being naïve?

    We need “The Untouchables”

  19. Ian Welsh

    Ah, the living definition of denial shows up.

    Obama is so busy passing a stimulus that is crap, and a health care plan which will force people to buy insurance, the cost of which will rise faster than their wages, that he can’t deal with anything else, got it! So glad he’s getting some really progressive stuff passed in exchange for saying “to hell with civil rights.”

    Every other president in post war history has been able to appoint a larger percentage of people to key posts:Obama does not get a pass, especially on the DA’s. That’s not hard to do, you just have your candidates ready day one. It would take phenomenal incompetence not to have that ready if you wanted it done (hint: the president doesn’t do this himself, he has his transition team do it for him). I’m slightly hooked into that scene, and I’m told tons of qualified people were blown off. Obama didn’t do fail to do it because he was too busy, he failed to do it because he didn’t want to do it.

    The pattern n this administration has been that the House passes the most liberal one, the Senate passes the least liberal one, and Obama backs the Senate (see the Stimulus for a version of this). The same thing is going to happen on the health bill. I will be thrilled if I’m wrong, but I’m not expecting to be able to add crow to my diet on this one (and in any case, even the House bill is crap, and it was Obama’s decision to rule out single payer, even as a bargaining position, which was a huge strategic error even if he didn’t want it.)

    The too busy argument is pathetic. That’s why you hire people and give them their head. If Obama can’t hire competent people he can trust, then the competence problem is his. Both leadership and management requirement knowing how to hire and delegate.

    For what it’s worth, I hear that he is now having trouble recruiting people, and the reasons he is trouble having people are:

    a) micromanagement. He and his key people in the WH (of whom there are about half a dozen, no more) micro-manage appointees. People don’t come to DC to be micromanaged.
    b) he’s not loyal to people other than his core circle. See Jones, Van – but it was evident before that.
    c) he doesn’t allow people to shine – this is partially due to micromanagement, but it’s mostly that the Obama administration doesn’t seem to want any stars other than the few people immediately attached to Obama.
    d) he wants very highly credentialed people, in general who have done a very similar job before, unlike Clinton he is not bringing in a new group of people.
    e) in general he prefers conservative dems to progressive dems, and is reluctant to hire progs for most policy positions. That cuts a huge chunk of Dems out of the running day one.

    The combination of these factors mean people are reluctant to work for him. However, this does not excuse him both because this was not the case early in the year (when people I know were clamoring to get into the admin) and because, after all, these are his leadership choices, so he is responsible for them.

    Finally, things like Bagram are almost completely at the President’s discretion. He could also choose not to argue against, oh, habeas corpus. That’s at his discretion (Holder isn’t going to say no to him on this.) Likewise, he simply does not have to support the Patriot Act. He does not have to surge in Afghanistan, and so on. These things are his choice, and reflect his beliefs and priorities.

    Denial’s not a river in Egypt.

  20. masslib

    The House bill is not “liberal”. If HR 3200 becomes the law of the land, it too will fail. The Democrats have not offered any change to the system, rather they have offered an expansion of the system, with a PO, which I liken to leper insurance, individual mandates for the purchase of private insurance, expensive new Exchanges(they already have an Exchange federal employees use, they could have just opened that up), a nice Medicaid expansion, and subsidies(read welfare to private insurers). This will not change the health finance system. It essentially throws money at the current health finance system. If this is a “liberal” policy, then we need to redefine the word liberal.

  21. someofparts

    You know, while all of us deplore the right wing racism directed at Obama, I’ve started to wonder about another way that race will play out in the next Presidential election. Even though we see that this administration is Bush lite, I will be very surprised if any significant numbers of black voters see it that way. With health insurance “reform” apparently not launching for four years (according to Kucinich on Kos today), no one will realize the monstrosity the thing is until after this gang of villians is elected for a second term. I wonder if it will even be possible to elect a decent President going forward without the black vote. I suspect the imminent opening of the floodgates of corporate financial influence thanks to the Robbers Court won’t help either.

  22. Ian Welsh

    Masslib – it is not liberal, but it is “more liberal” or “closer to liberal”, if you will.

  23. Jeff W

    Your response to my comment indicates that I might have left my point too implicit.

    I wasn’t defending “marginal changes.” I just saying (1) Bush’s framework wasn’t even “constitutional”—your characterization was too generous—it was outside and against the Constitution and (2) the fact that there would have been no hearings, so that 28 people, with insufficient evidence to hold them, would still be languishing in jail shows how out-of-whack his framework was.

    Obama’s continuation of the horrible Bush policies is indefensible. If anything, it’s even more indefensible coming from President Obama, who, supposedly, has some inkling of what the Constitution means.

    I apologize, Ian, for writing my earlier comment in such a way that it could give rise to your plausible but alternative interpretation.

  24. I think what we’ve done is replace a thug with a con man in the White House. Little else has changed, and I’m beginning to doubt it will. It’s certainly not going to change because Obama makes it change. Eventually, most folks on the left will have caught up with that reality, but there are a couple of comments here that suggest it’s still going to be a while.

  25. Tom Robinson

    You always argue it well, Ian. But you never explain how to get the votes to achieve all this. Great reasoning, no political strategy. It’s only up to Obama to push for it? I say it’s also up to the American electorate to elect more progressive representatives, too. And they haven’t.

    I’m back to my old complaint with you. Where is the coalition that holds off the ever extreme right that listens to wingnut radio garbage? It’s wider than your positions, Ian, and not as far left. It stretches from Max Baucus and Olympia Snowe to Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Boxer, and stops us from having full wingnut Republicans running our congressional committees and stacking our courts.

    So we don’t get a Canadian healthcare system, but one drifting toward Holland’s. So we don’t pull out of Afghanistan and leave our allies holding that stinky bag. So we don’t move everyone out of Guantanamo overnight. We’re now drifting left, Ian, and you need to be a little more patient. We also have all the left, and much of the center, under that funky Democratic tent. That weird coalition, which vaguely resembles the Union Army, represents youth, minorities, women, peace, justice, and a cleaner environment. Plus lots of insurance companies, trial lawyers, teachers, and bankers. If it’s not pure enough for you, what should the left do? Fragment like Canada’s left has — Greens, NDP, Liberals — yielding power to a conservative like Stephen Harper?

    My strategy to keep the wingnuts out of power is one wide coalition. Keep marginalizing them, keep laughing at them, and don’t stop them from nominating idiots like Palin or Sanford. They are fading demographically, and will really die off.

    But I suppose you think Justice Sotamayor is a dull centrist, too.

  26. Tom Robinson

    I do share your concern that Obama is micromanaging. If so, he’s acting like Carter and will last as long. And those of us who voted for Obama will find he wasn’t seasoned enough to be an effective president.

  27. Lex

    I do love the argument that we shouldn’t expect too much from Obama too soon, given the long list of things working against him: from the rottenness that he inherited to the herd of cats that constitutes his coalition.

    It’s all true, of course, but misses the point and erects a fallacious argument. I’m sure that many people hoped that he would waltz into office and turn the US into a progressive wonderland overnight. But nobody realistically expected that. This is about direction, and Ian correctly points out that if we extrapolate our destination from the direction that Obama is currently pointing towards…well, we’re just as fucked as we were a year ago.

    I didn’t expect much: you don’t get elected president without selling your soul. The only campaign promise that i hold Obama to is the one in which he promised to talk to us like adults. He’s failed at that…or not bothered with it. At best, he tells us to act like adults without demanding it of himself, his administration, Congress or anyone of any consequence.

    As soon as he stands up rather than weaseling, i’ll think about standing behind him…even if i don’t fully agree with his position.

  28. Uncle Al

    The average fellow is not a political liberal. Votes for Obama were “No More Bush” votes. The same holds true for Congress. Many independents and Republicans who voted for “change” didn’t expect this kind of change. All they “hope” for now is to stop Obama’s liberal policies.
    You point out to the similarity in policies between Bush and Obama; the results would have been the same no matter who was elected. The government was building forts in Iraq for an expected presence of decades. Suspension of Writ of Habeas Corpus is old news. I am aware of Lincoln, Wilson and FDR doing it. It is a wartime measure.
    I am grateful that liberal democrats get to the helm every so often though. It reaffirms just how “wrong” that kind of thinking is, ergo massive public demonstrations against it, which will continue.

  29. tc

    Bex said, “The President is not supposed to write the laws; he only signs them. So if you want a scapegoat, blame Senate Democrats.”

    Except that the House will have to compromise with the Senate. So why are the Blue Dogs doing Obama’s bidding to move that compromise over to the Senate version, instead of Obama leaning on them to hold the line on the more progressive House version? Instead Obama is punching the hippies and throwing the progressive caucus under the bus.

    And anyone who didn’t see what a worthless, phony double crosser Obama is when he reneged on his FISA promises BEFORE HE EVEN GOT THE NOMINATION has been drinking the foul waters of de Nile too long for the health care reform debacle to bring them out of their fevers.

  30. Ian Welsh

    The odd thing Tom is that I’ve been told, by people inside the Hosue, that if Obama wanted single payer, they could pass it. It’d be close, but they could get it done. The House is the more representative body of the two bodies, the Senate is deliberately retrograde.

    More than that, you’re arguing for oligarchy. What I see is that the majority of people, in poll after poll, want single payer. A huge majority want the public option, yet odds are decent you won’t even get that.

    When you talk of coalitions what you’re talking about are Senators who won’t do what the majority of their constituents want to do. What you’re talking about is the capture of the political class by monied interests.

    When I look at the US what I see is a banana republic. And then I see people like you who think that the Senate, or even the House, actually represents the American people. Again and again, Congress does things that the majority disagree with. In 2006 the Dems were elected to end the war in Iraq, for example, and refused to do so (though again, the House at least went through the motion, the Senate didn’t even make an effort).

    My plan is simple enough: I knew that Obama was a right wing Dem, and I told people that repeatedly through the primaries and into the election. Once he was chosen as the nominee I told people not to work for him or give him money, because he could win or lose without netroots or progressive support, and to take their time and money and spend it on electing progressive members of Congress.

    People who hold progressive and liberal policy views are a much larger proportion of the population than the right wing crazies are, though you’d never know it from listening to the gnashing of teeth of some folks. If the right wing crazies could capture the Republican party, liberals and progressives, who already make up the largest block in the House, and who massively outnumber Blue Dogs, can certainly do the same.

    If, of course, they stop telling themselves self-excusing lies about how the country doesn’t agree with them on basic issues like healthcare, when, in fact, the country does. Americans may not call themselves liberals, but when you look at their actual policy positions they are more liberal on most (not all, but most) issues than they are conservative.

    Oh, and please don’t spew talking points like “leaving your allies holding the bag” in Afghanistan. If you want to pull out, none of your allies (ie. Canada, Britain and various tiny European forces) are going to mind pulling out. The war is fantastically unpopular in Europe, Britain and Canada. Seriously, get a new talking point.

  31. BDBlue

    There is absolutely no reason for Bush’s United States Attorneys (the federal equivalent of DA) to remain in office whether Obama has nominees ready or not. United States Attorney’s Offices all have a First Assistant United States Attorney, a very experienced career prosecutor who often essentially runs the office anyway. Given the Bush scandals involving prosecutors, you’d think any Democrat would want the Republican US Attorneys out of office immediately. In fact, this has always been standard practice. The out-going ones resign effective Jan. 20th. And that does not leave empty offices unable to do the work. US Attorneys rarely handle cases themselves and every other attorney in the office is a career employee. There is no reason to leave Republican US Attorneys in office other than wanting Republican US Attorneys in those offices (or being afraid of removing them as every other President has done upon election).

    It’s either cowardice, stupidity, or comfort with conservatism on Obama’s part (or some combination of the three). There’s no reason that requires them to remain in terms of getting the day-to-day work of the office done, particularly since Main Justice can set prosecutorial priorities (e.g., gangs, fraud, etc.), which is the only “political” thing the US Attorney is supposed to be doing.

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