I Wanted to Like President Obama. Now I’m Just Sad.
President Obama hadn’t been at the podium very long Friday, giving a press conference in which he was promising to rein in National Security Administration eavesdropping, when I had the following thought:
I’m sad. I wanted to like this presidency so much more than I do. Instead, I just hate it less than Bush’s.
And yes, even though it’s been a long time since I trusted President Obama on the issue of civil liberties, I still remember the hope I — and a lot of people — had in 2008.
I remember the ecstatic crowds that greeted then-Sen. Obama in West Philadelphia that year, old African American women standing on the streets with tears running down their face that they were actually witnessing a black man rise to the pinnacle of power in this country.
I remember the celebrations I saw in the street on Election Night, a few days later, taking care to note what I saw so that I could tell my then-infant son about it someday.
And I remember being worried that, with George W. Bush gone from office, I’d run out of things to be angry about, and thus run out of things to write about.
Pretty naive, huh? But it turns out that President Obama is, at the very least, merely human: Imperfect, flawed, and (even as president) likely to embrace the very features of government that he would have rebelled against as Community Organizer Obama or even State Sen. Obama. Citizen Obama spoke out against injustice and “stupid wars.” President Obama perpetuates them, and pretends he doesn’t, or offers the excuse that he at least isn’t as bad as the last guy. What a disappointment.
Though I’d long since felt betrayed, my sense of sadness was sealed Friday when the president said the following:
I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot. As I said in my opening remarks, I called for a thorough review of our surveillance operations before Mr. Snowden made these leaks. My preference — and I think the American people’s preference — would have been for a lawful, orderly examination of these laws; a thoughtful, fact-based debate that would then lead us to a better place, because I never made claims that all the surveillance technologies that have developed since the time some of these laws had been put in place somehow didn’t require, potentially, some additional reforms. That’s exactly what I called for.
So the fact is, is that Mr. Snowden’s been charged with three felonies. If in fact he believes that what he did was right, then, like every American citizen, he can come here, appear before the court with a lawyer and make his case.
But, of course, the president’s preferred “thoughtful, fact-based debate” was only ever going to take place behind closed doors. Edward Snowden’s leaks forced it out into public where — in a democracy — is where such debates almost always belong. (There are some exceptions, but not nearly as many as the secret-keepers would have you believe.)
And the president is also smart enough, well-read enough, to know there’s often a difference between what’s legal and what’s right. It may be that Edward Snowden is both guilty of felonies and that he did the right thing—the fact that President Obama had to promise surveillance reforms on Friday suggests that’s the case, even if he can’t really say so in his position as head of government.
He is just a politician, after all.
The lesson learned? Never trust a politician promising to speak truth to power — he is seeking power, after all. It’s OK to vote for him or her. Just don’t give your trust. Demand accountability. And never, ever give them your hope.