Obama at 99: The Ambiguity of Dissent

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99 DAYS OF OBAMA: The Ambiguity of Dissent
by Jack Random
I began writing the political commentaries in earnest in the year 2000 when Republican operatives used staged protests and Machiavellian legal maneuvers in the theft of a presidential election.  (How strange that an administration begun by circumventing the democratic process would soon lead us into war on the pretense of championing democracy in the Middle East.)  I was compelled to write.  Words flowed onto the page in horror and outrage and they never stopped for eight long years.  

Now we are officially in the age of Obama.  Tuesday marks the 99th day of the Obama administration, one day short of the media’s traditional grading period – a tradition founded in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt.  

The tradition of dissent goes back much further to the founding of the nation and the first amendment of the Bill of Rights.  Dissent is the heart of democracy and its defense is every democratic government’s most solemn responsibility.  

It is ironic that a government which sought to suppress dissent, that accused its critics of appeasing the enemy, that painted its opposition in the colors of treason, that in fact arrested, detained and defamed dissidents for opposing its oppressive policies, should have brought forth a tidal wave of dissent that expressed itself on the internet, on the streets of protest and eventually on the editorial pages of newspapers and in the commentaries of talking heads.  


During the Bush years (a period that may be become known as the lost years for democracy, civil liberties and civil rights) dissent was vibrant, strong and ultimately effective.  

It is ironic that under a new administration that pledges transparency and promises to protect our rights as zealously as their predecessors destroyed them, dissent has become relatively weak and something less than compelling.  The tea bag protests had all the signs of a media sponsored event whose protesters were not entirely clear on the nature of their cause.  

After 99 days of the Obama presidency we are beginning to understand that our new leader is a complex man and a brilliant strategist.  He has given us grounds for protest but he has held it in check.  He wavered on his pledge to pull our troops out of Iraq but he did not rescind it.  He has made good on his promise to increase troops in Afghanistan but he has also shown a willingness to consider options, including negotiations with more moderate elements of the Taliban.  He aroused a media frenzy by releasing memos that partially exposed the extent of the Bush administration’s criminal policies on torture but gave assurances that he was not interested in prosecuting the perpetrators.  When the protests rose to a level of outrage by the progressive left, he allowed that the Attorney General and the Department of Justice would retain the right to press criminal charges.  

By pushing through Congress a massive economic stimulus package he offered fuel for opposition to both the right (on grounds of excessive spending) and left (on grounds that too much was given to the banks and corporations but not enough to the working folks and small businesses) but his policies appear to have stopped the bleeding.  Moreover, he has deflected further criticism by devising a plan to continue the rescue effort without additional government spending by allowing the government to become shareholders in exchange for the investment we have already provided.  

In 99 days Obama has transformed the image of America and restored our reputation as a nation that leads by its example.  His overture to Cuba, freeing travel and remittances to families of Cuban citizens, was modest but significant.  His willingness to open a dialogue with Iran despite the rhetoric of its president and indeed his acknowledgement that Iran’s true leader is not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but the Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khameni shows promise of improved relations.  His much-publicized handshake with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez overshadowed a dramatic shift in Latin American policy in which America will no longer be Big Brother.  

Obama has won the hearts of Europe and at the very least opened the doors to new and cooperative relations around the world.  

Within the nation Obama has moved the ball forward on climate change, environmental protection and a green economy, reversing the policies and the supreme idiocy of the Bush global warming deniers.  He has proposed regional high-speed rail systems, an innovation that would at once create plentiful high-skilled, well-paid jobs while going to the heart of the American oil addiction.  

He has not forgotten his promise to reform health care and his pledge to achieve coverage for all Americans though he is faced with entrenched congressional resistance.  

He has ordered the closing of Guantanamo Bay, a scourge on the integrity of the nation, though implementing that order may yet prove problematic.  He has acted on his pledge to purge lobbyists from the halls of power though once again he has encountered institutional resistance.  Despite its standing as a third rail of politics he has at least addressed the nation’s gun problem.  (Let us hope the fact that our “liberal” gun policies are supplying assault weapons to Mexican drug cartels will lead us to reinstitute the ban and reign in our out-of-control gun marketers.)  

He has broken ground on a new partnership with Russia, suggesting that we could stop plans for missile defense in the Czech Republic in exchange for cooperation on nuclear disarmament in Iran and elsewhere.  (Has anyone noticed the occupation of Chechnya has officially ended?)  Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has already agreed in broad terms to resume the process of reducing nuclear arsenals.  

Faced with an immediate crisis in the capture of an American ship captain, Obama responded quickly and effectively, nipping in the bud what would surely have become a prolonged media obsession.  

He lifted the Bush-era restrictions on stem cell research and promised a new respect for science and technological innovation.  He lifted the ban on pictures and media coverage of the casualties of war so that Americans can pay their respects and remember that we are still a nation at war and that our warriors are still paying with their lives.  

Against the backdrop of his predecessor it is difficult to assess the new administration objectively.  With the weight of the younger Bush lifted from our shoulders perhaps anyone would appeal to us.  The problem is:  the legacy of catastrophic destruction is so severe that the nation and the world require much more than a good man with good intentions.  We require more than a Gerald Ford or even a Jimmy Carter (a great man but an ineffective president).  We require a great leader with both the values and ideals we treasure and an acute sense of how to accomplish change.  

It is critical that we continue to press our case on Afghanistan, Iraq and the prosecution of the Bush war criminals as well as every other issue where we stand in principled opposition.  It is important that we continue to press the case for meaningful climate change legislation, comprehensive health care reform as well as labor rights and trade policy reform.  

It is important because it appears he is listening – not only to those of us on the left but also to those on the reasonable right.  

The first 99 days of Barack Obama have been a challenge to us all.  But the next 99 days and each succeeding 99 days will only bring more and greater challenges.  That is the world we are living in and that is the circumstance that greeted our president on inauguration day.  

To these eyes, weary after so many years of well-earned cynicism and dissent, it appears to me that we might have chosen the right person for the job.  At last.  



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