What Backtracking From Campaign Promises?
Though I appreciated the NYT's call for the impeachment of Jay Bybee today, their news pages have been consumed lately with trying to classify President Obama as offering little change from George Bush. Earlier in the week, Peter Baker characterized Obama's foreign policy as shifting "only a little" from George Bush's. And today, David Herszenhorn and Jackie Calmes they cite Obama's characteristic caution as evidence of him "taking softer stands."
It was inevitable that Mr. Obama’s lofty pledge to change the ways of Washington would crash into the realities of governing, including lawmakers anxious to protect their constituents and an army of special-interest lobbyists.
Mr. Obama has not conceded on any major priority. His advisers argue that the concessions to date — on budget items, for instance — are intended to help win the bigger policy fights ahead. But his early willingness to deal or fold has left pundits and prognosticators, and some loyal Democrats, wondering: where’s the fight?
I agree with Eric Boehlert that this misrepresents Obama's words on the campaign trail. With stars in their eyes, these reporters imagined Obama's soaring rhetoric to promise much more than he actually did. In both of these articles, there is little evidence to suggest that the President ever made such sweeping statements as a candidate or that he's shifted on any major issue (hence the "Mr. Obama has not conceded on any major priority"). For example, they cite Obama's reluctance to renew the assault weapons ban, when he pretty much didn't promise that during the campaign, and when he has not closed the door on the option.
With regard to foreign policy, I don't know how you can say that he hasn't followed through on his promises, even the ones I don't particularly support. He said he would withdraw from Iraq and move forces to Afghanistan. He said he would negotiate with enemies and work with allies. He said he would push for the eradication of nuclear weapons from this planet. And that's exactly what he's done. This speech would not come out of the mouth of George Bush.
There's been several remarks directed at the issue of the relationship between the United States and Cuba, so let me address this. The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba. I know that there is a longer -- (applause) -- I know there's a longer journey that must be traveled to overcome decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day. I've already changed a Cuba policy that I believe has failed to advance liberty or opportunity for the Cuban people. We will now allow Cuban Americans to visit the islands whenever they choose and provide resources to their families -- the same way that so many people in my country send money back to their families in your countries to pay for everyday needs.
Over the past two years, I've indicated, and I repeat today, that I'm prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues -- from drugs, migration, and economic issues, to human rights, free speech, and democratic reform. Now, let me be clear, I'm not interested in talking just for the sake of talking. But I do believe that we can move U.S.-Cuban relations in a new direction.
As has already been noted, and I think my presence here indicates, the United States has changed over time. (Applause.) It has not always been easy, but it has changed. And so I think it's important to remind my fellow leaders that it's not just the United States that has to change. All of us have responsibilities to look towards the future. (Applause.)
I think it's important to recognize, given historic suspicions, that the United States' policy should not be interference in other countries, but that also means that we can't blame the United States for every problem that arises in the hemisphere. That's part of the bargain. (Applause.) That's part of the change that has to take place. That's the old way, and we need a new way.
You can argue whether Obama has gone far enough, and whether his policies are best for the country. I certainly have argued on those grounds. But you just cannot say that he's backed off his major campaign promises, because it's simply not true. Why the Times keeps going to this idea is beyond me.
And by the way, apparently Obama's handshake with Hugo Chavez has caused a tizzy on the right, as if no Republican has ever shook the hand of an adversarial world leader before. This act has gotten so stale. By the way, Chavez has restored his US envoy so there are already tangible steps toward resolution as a result of basically nothing but a handshake. The dirty secret here is that the neocons NEED enemies because they can only rule by fear.