Obama: “if something’s good then there’s a bad to it”

"I’m a big believer that if something’s good then there’s a bad to it, and vice versa." –Barack Obama (quoted in NYTimes, 7/27/08)


He was talking about how his trip abroad during the campaign will be perceived. While thinking purely in black-and-white terms should of course be avoided, the other extreme is to relativize everything and soften your principles for the sake of power. Below are some ways Obama, our best chance for social progress in the 2008 Election and the most exciting candidate in my lifetime, recently seemed to apply this morally rather questionable philosophy. 


Spying on terrorists without need for a warrant: GOOD

Archiving the communications of innocent citizens in government databases without need for a warrant: BAD

Pissing off telecommunications corporations who his party depends on: BAD

Risking appearing "weak on terror": BAD

RESULT:  Vote for cloture and then "YEA" on FISA Amendment Act of 2008, thus legalizing warrantless spying on civilians through 2012 and giving retroactive immunity to telecom corporations.


Killing dangerous Islamists in Afghanistan: GOOD

Killing innocent Afghan civilians: BAD

Risking appearing "weak on terror": BAD

Bucking the military-industrial complex: BAD

RESULT: Wants to escalate US military presence in Afghanistan.



Acheiving lasting peace between Israel and Palestine: GOOD

Alienating Israel lobby: BAD

Result: Has taken a harder-line position than Bush by vowing never to share Jerusalem in order to acheive peace through a two-state solution.



Wasting blood and treasure on a dumb and immoral war in Iraq: BAD

Maintaining bases there even after withdrawing, just in case, even if our presence is inflammatory : GOOD

RESULT: Despite conventional wisdom, he actually has no Iraq withdrawal plan. Obama favors a 16-month withdrawal timeline of most combat troops but has wavered on keeping a permanent military presence there.  He said this week in Berlin that "just as American bases built in the last century still help to defend the security of this continent, so does our country still sacrifice greatly for freedom around the globe."



What Obama will do if he gets elected in November is anybody’s guess, but if you’re expecting social revolution or deep systemic political change with a largely depoliticized citizenry, just look at his history of consensus building and adaptations to existing power structures and think again, hard.  What he does in office will depend largely on what citizens demand once he takes over the Executive Branch.  And due to his ability to engage regular folks there IS great potential for social progress during an Obama Administration.  But without people demanding change after the elections are over, the inertia of the status quo, and the legal stranglehold corporate power has over our lives, will certainly triumph. The best thing about Obama is that he is inspiring previously marginalized groups to get involved in politics and activism. He has people, young people especially, organizing themselves on a huge scale all over the USA.  It’s imperative that he beat McCain, and just as imperative that we demand from him to make decisions based on what is good for the greatest number of people, not only what is good for the most elite or powerful people.  These two choices are far too often mutually exclusive.   





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