As criticism of Obama’s recent decisions about releasing photographs and documents that pertain to torture or human rights abuses committed by US troops, there is an excellent essay by Howard Zinn in the latest issue of the Progressive (here) that puts Obama in context is a more constructive way.
First and foremost, Zinn reminds people that Obama is a politician – rather than a regular citizen – and that as such his decisions are guided far too often by politics, rather than ideal. The caveat, however, is that as a politician, the public can pressure him in ways that others, such as corporate power brokers or unelected officials, are not.
As Zinn says “Our job is not to give him a blank check or simply be cheerleaders. It was good that we were cheerleaders while he was running for office, but it’s not good to be cheerleaders now. Because we want the country to go beyond where it has been in the past. We want to make a clean break from what it has been in the past.” Zinn’s reference to the past goes well beyond the last 8 years under Bush II.
As Zinn states, “we have to get out of the mindset that got us into Iraq, but we’ve got to identify that mindset. And Obama has to be pulled by the people who elected him, by the people who are enthusiastic about him, to renounce that mindset. We’re the ones who have to tell him, “No, you’re on the wrong course with this militaristic idea of using force to accomplish things in the world. We won’t accomplish anything that way, and we’ll remain a hated country in the world.”
Obama has talked about a vision for this country. You have to have a vision, and now I want to tell Obama what his vision should be.
The vision should be of a nation that becomes liked all over the world. I won’t even say loved—it’ll take a while to build up to that. A nation that is not feared, not disliked, not hated, as too often we are, but a nation that is looked upon as peaceful, because we’ve withdrawn our military bases from all these countries.”
Whether progressives want to accept it or not, Obama at this point represents power, pure and simple, and as Frederick Douglass famously said – power concedes nothing without a demand. It doesn’t mean that we can’t still have hopes and aspirations for what the Obama administration might accomplish in the areas of health care, financial reform, etc, etc… but it does mean that if the left wants to see more radical change its going to have to fight for it, just as it against any other presidential administration in US history.