Tuesday, September 28, 2010

President Obama on Human Rights: Missed Opportunities, Serious Failure of Leadership

I follow Charles Blow on Facebook because he's one of the best political commentators around, in my view.

And so I'm interested to see him today commenting at his Facebook page on the revelation that the Obama administration wants to make it easier for federal snoops to wiretap the internet.  Charles Blow's Facebook comment: 

Obama is really disappointing on these civil liberties issues.

Indeed.  The failure of this administration to support a consistent and strong platform centered on human rights, and its refusal even to talk the language of human rights as its weak centrist compromises fail to ignite its base's admiration, have created a serious political debacle for the Democratic party.  And a mess for the entire nation, as we watch the rabid right poised to regain control of D.C. in the coming elections.

Meanwhile, the absolutely stupid attacks by Democratic party leaders on the Democratic base continue.  The president has just opined in a Rolling Stone interview that those of us who voted for him in the first place most not have been serious, if we're not overwhelmed with his "accomplishments" to date. And the vice-president has informed members of the Democratic party's base underwhelmed by the administration's failure to fulfill its promises of progressive change that we need to stop whining.

As Lincoln Mitchell notes at Huffington Post, the persistent tendency of this administration to blame its supporters for the administration's own failures is colossally dumb.  Any political party that wants to energize its supporters for an approaching election appears not to be serious about winning, if it prepares for the election by alienating its own base:

While it is possible to craft an argument as to why the administration has done so few things for the base, it far less clear why so many senior administration officials feel compelled to make these kinds of nasty comments about one of their party's two biggest constituencies without whom the Obama presidency would never have been possible. More importantly, it is not smart politics. Confusing swing voters for the base and disparaging, often gratuitously, the base is not the path to electoral victory, but it seems to be the path down which the Democratic Party may again be going.

This is a theme about which I began writing early in the history of the current administration.  To be specific, as soon as it became clear to me that the Obama administration intended to walk down the calculating pragmatist path of Clinton and other "New Democrats" (and this was early on, with the selection of Rahm Emanuel as advisor in chief, the selection of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation, and the cynical, immoral games that the administration began playing with the human rights of gay citizens immediately), I began blogging about what a tragic mistake Obama was making.

It was clear to me from the outset of this administration both that the Obama administration had a unique window of opportunity to enact significant progressive changes, and that it would fail at enacting significant change of any kind if it did not rise to that opportunity.  It was clear to me from the start of this administration, that if it crafted its message and agenda consistently around the core human rights principles that the president acknowledged on Human Rights Day in 2008, this administration would succeed.

And that it would fail if it veered away from that message and agenda.  As it has chosen to do.  And so the mess now facing the entire nation in the coming elections . . . .

For anyone interested in a smattering of my ongoing commentary on this question of human rights and the Obama administration, here are some of the postings I've written on that topic from the start of the new administration: 

Human Rights Apply to All Peoples, Places, Times: The Human Rights Backdrop of the Rick Warren Selection

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