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On Civil Liberties, Obama and the Future of Progressive Politics


Linguistics professor Noam Chomsky has been America’s premier political dissident since the Vietnam War.

Steven Durel: President Obama was just re-elected with a majority of the vote. How do you feel about his first term in office?

Noam Chomsky: I frankly never expected much. I never liked him much in the first place and did not succumb to the beliefs about the great changes that would take place. In fact, I wrote about him before the 2008 primaries, critically, just using his web site. So I can’t say I was much surprised, except by some things I was.

I hadn’t anticipated his attacks on civil liberties, which went way beyond what I would have expected. I don’t really understand them. I don’t think they did him any good politically or otherwise.

I didn’t anticipate the expansion of the global assassination campaign, or the methods of it.

There were some things that were sort of half-positive. The healthcare reform is an improvement over the existing situation, but doesn’t go anywhere near where it should have gone, nor where I think it could have gone.

There were a couple of other things, but nothing particular, and I don’t expect anything more in the second term.

Durel: You’ve said that various administrations have pursued many of the same policies. Do you think that any administrations were better than any others?

Chomsky: I think that Obama is better than McCain or Romney would have been. If I had been in a swing state in the last two elections, I would have uncomfortably voted for Obama.

Over the years, and there’s some pretty good studies of this, by and large the Democratic administrations have been somewhat more advantageous for the general population than Republican administrations. Larry Bartels is one political scientist who has studied this in some depth.

So, sure, there are differences.

Who would you say was the best President that this country has ever had?

It’s hard to compare the 19th, 18th centuries with today. But, keeping to the 20th Century, I’d say Roosevelt, probably.

Durel: Franklin Roosevelt?

Chomsky: Yes, Franklin Roosevelt, not Theodore.

Durel: And who would you say was the worst?

Chomsky: A lot of them did some pretty awful things. But George W. Bush, I guess, might win.

Durel: You mentioned swing states. I know you endorsed Jill Stein earlier this year, the Green Party candidate.

Chomsky: In the primaries. And toward the end I did think that in safe states it was a good idea to vote for her. That’s what I did.

Durel: I remember back in 2004 it seemed as though you were encouraging voters in swing states not to vote for Ralph Nader. 

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