So, after almost a month of media adulation over Obama’s apotheosis, I watch the bronze oak leaves rain down in the front yard, a metaphor for the nation’s jobs that continue to be lost at a dizzying pace. With the latest jobless rate reported at 6.5%, the highest in 14 years and expected to go much higher, Obama’s honeymoon period with the American people likely will be the shortest on record. By the time he takes the oath in January, budgetary constraints may require the Inaugural Ball to be held at a YMCA gym, dinner to be a bag of White Castle burgers, and only a DJ to provide the dance tunes.
The economy is collapsing faster than the Artic ice cap. Financial results reported by General Motors and Ford point to both filing bankruptcy in the next six to 12 months. GM’s stock price hasn’t been this low since people wore “I Like Ike” buttons, and the last time Ford’s stock was under $2 the Bee Gees were singing “Stayin’ Alive.” When the media get tired of speculating about what kind of puppy the Obama girls are getting they will be back to the grim reality that Bush and his rogue gallery of henchmen have ransacked the country in the name of “free” markets and a “war on terror” that has been conducted more like a war on the taxpayers.
Dwight, an old corporate PR acquaintance back in my Dallas days, used to observe, after 20 years of shilling for some of the town’s best-known businesses, that the primary job of CEOs was to “fill their sacks.” This meant running a company to the best advantage of Numero Uno, “then getting the hell out before anyone notices the silver candlesticks are missing from the mantle.” Dwight, who was fond of wearing a white fedora a la Truman Capote, opined that three or four years were usually more than adequate.
It’s sobering, indeed, to realize that Bush and Buddies have had eight years and not just a company but an entire country in their clutches. Undoubtedly carpenters have been scheduled at the White House and the residence of the Vice President to have doors temporarily widened to allow them to get their huge sacks out to the U-Haul trucks on the driveways. (Cheney will need at least two trucks, courtesy of Halliburton.) Oh, for the days when all we had to worry about was a missing 18 and a half minutes of tape or an illicit tryst with an intern, as repugnant as both of those episodes were.
To say that Obama has his work cut out for him is to call the Battle of the Alamo a little spat with the Mexicans. His odds of success may not, in fact, be any better than those dealt Col. Travis, hallowed be his name. Here’s why: World attention is on the U.S. economic crisis as if that is the problem in and of itself. Unfortunately, I think it is only a symptom of systemic abuses as wide ranging as any we’ve seen since the Harding and Coolidge administrations that set the stage for The Great Depression.
Well-timed reading two Sundays ago in the NYT magazine was an article entitled “After the Imperial Presidency.” The writer interviewed two Republican senators, Virginia’s John Warner, who is retiring, and Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, both of whom decried the extraordinary rise in power of the executive branch during the Bush years at the expense of the legislative branch. While both men claim to be staunch defenders of the Constitution and its doctrine of separation of powers, the author ultimately got them to admit that they had compromised their principles in recent years when the Bush machine engineered threats to their chairmanships of powerful Senate committees, the point being that partisan politics has superseded spectacularly the intentions of those knuckleheads we affectionately call the Founding Fathers.
The notion of an imperial presidency is hardly a recent phenomenon. FDR, remember, served for nearly four terms and exercised the power of a monarch during desperate times of depression then world war, the low point of which had to be the internment of Japanese Americans. Congress ultimately rebelled with a term-limitations amendment ratified during the Truman administration.
To me, more important than what approach Obama takes to the economic abyss we’re in is the approach he takes to the office itself. Pundits have said before that the history of Presidents willingly ceding power in the name of the Constitutional good is virtually non-existent (Washington proved exceptional when he was first offered a monarchy and refused it). But this time so much damage caused by an executive branch run amok needs to be undone.
A powerful, positive gesture that would resoundingly announce Obama’s take on the Presidency would be to order within 24 hours of taking office that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay be scheduled for immediate hearings in civilian courts to determine the validity of charges, with release of those whose cases are based on nothing more substantial than a bounty hunter’s accusations.
Concurrent with that should be an immediate cessation of any interrogation techniques that could be classified by the Geneva Convention--or just plain ol’ common sense--as torture. Barack, please end the scuzzy semantic charade of the Bush Administration regarding its “tortured” definition of torture that not even George Orwell could have conceived.
Next on the list should be the abolition of blanket domestic wiretapping, which, ironically, has swamped the NSA’s ability to glean anything useful in anti-terrorist efforts because of the massive number of phone conversations now monitored, according to James Bamford’s new book, The Shadow Factory.
With these actions Obama would not only be able to restore some dignity to the nation on the international stage but he’d actually cut the federal budget in the process.
And here’s another suggestion, Barack: Don’t continue Bush’s noxious use of signing statements, his way of blowing a raspberry to Congress when he deigned to sign a bill by saying implicitly, “I’ll implement this legislation as Me, Myself, and I—and Dick Cheney—see fit.” Please, Barack, sign the legislation or veto it—but don’t make up your own version. In addition to being a community organizer, Obama also taught Constitutional law at the University of Chicago—so, in contrast to the current President, he’s actually read the document (the version without the pictures) and should know better.
The list of things to deconstruct from the Bush years goes on and on, but I’ll mention only one more controversial item that begs for the light of day. I know you’re already up to your keister in economic alligators, Mr. Obama, but you need to persuade Congress to pursue hearings into what anyone with an iota of sense knows was an illegal quashing of information and/or a willful misinterpretation or fabrication of intelligence involving the WMD rationale for the Iraqi war. Just as a Republican Congress pressed impeachment proceedings against Clinton on the basis of perjury about his shenanigans in the Oral Office, today’s Congress must send a message on a much more critical issue of executive power—the ability to make war.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s categorically taking impeachment “off the table” in 2006 was unconscionable. I’ve had that action explained to me as an effort to avoid an all-out partisan war that could have jeopardized the Democrats’ chances in the 2008 elections. If so, then, for the sake of partisan political maneuvering, the nation was subjected to another two years of incredibly damaging policies, not the least among them was the systematic deregulation of banks and brokerages—namely the relaxation of capital-reserve requirements—that helped lead to the current economic meltdown.
While impeachment may be moot, criminal prosecution is not.
I know people will say that now is the time to come together to deal with the crisis at hand; now is not the time for divisiveness over something that happened five years ago. But, until we come together and demand the truth and the consequent justice that truth will require, we do nothing to reduce the odds of another President again using the Constitution for toilet paper. To borrow from a Republican named Reagan, “If not now, when? If not us, who?”
Barack, the economy may or may not get better in the next couple of years; but if you see to it that the silver candlesticks find their way back to the White House mantle then your legacy will be secure.