In his recent Rolling Stone cover story (“In Defense of Obama,” October 8), Nobel Prize-winning economist, peak liberal and New York Times commentator Paul Krugman lays out what he believes is a qualified defense of Barack Obama’s presidency: A sycophantic love letter from a man who surely must know better, but either has chosen to ignore six years of war, economic pain and social tension, or simply doesn’t care.
“Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history,” Krugman writes. His evidence? Health reform doesn’t suck nearly as much as it might, economic reform didn’t cripple nearly as many big cities as predicted, and most bafflingly, the Obama administration’s environmental policy is, in Krugman’s opinion, doing just fine and dandy, thank you very much.
Never mind that Detroit lies in ruins; that healthcare reform provides a larger conduit for profits and unfair advantages for health insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies than at any point under the previous “free market” system; that one of Obama’s main environmental goals is construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, intentionally holding the ecosystem of the entire Midwestern United States hostage so that TransCanada can make money on the dirtiest form of fossil fuel known to humanity.
This is to say nothing of the Obama administration’s deleterious foreign policy; a domestic surveillance program that disregards every privacy law up to and including the constitutional ban on unwarranted search and seizure; a military-to-police equipment pipeline that gives local law enforcement the illusion of greater power and impunity to do worse and worse things to individuals.
Let’s not forget that it’s the Obama administration’s Justice Department that spied on the Associated Press. It’s the Obama administration that killed Anwar and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki with drones. Chelsea Manning languishes in prison for leaking information to Wikileaks under the Obama administration’s watch.
Krugman believes that the president has “[changed] the country for the better,” despite bitter opposition from the GOP in Congress and people from the left, right and center on the outside.
Krugman believes that the supposedly positive incremental changes the president has made are better than nothing. “No president gets to do everything his supporters expected him to,” he writes.
Reading Krugman’s assessment of the Obama presidency, one must assume that the president’s hands are tied on some issues, that he sometimes necessarily stands by, helpless to do anything while the machinery of the state churns onward, unrelenting. But the policies the Obama administration has carried out have not passed under his nose unnoticed. He is not ignorant of some of the most egregious civil liberties violations his government has perpetrated. It is true that the president is merely one man, but he is a man who stands atop a structure that relies on violence and pain to continue its existence, and he took the position knowing full well that that was the case.
The incremental, superficial change that Krugman lauds is just new window dressing on a house awaiting demolition. To be clear: There is nothing good about the Obama presidency; or any presidency, for that matter. It is the office itself that poisons what might have otherwise been decent people.
Trevor Hultner is an independent journalist, retail salesperson and Internet content creator. When not writing commentary for C4SS, he is the host and producer of Smash Walls Radio (@smashwalls), and is working on a new project about the economics of everyday life.