Wednesday, April 6, 2011

You Can't Please Everybody

"I truly wonder how you can trust a leader who carries no compunction to keep his promises or his word — whether those words and promises were made in support of gay rights, to not start or perpetuate illegal/useless/costly military campaigns (or wars), in support of environmental causes even to the detriment of big business, to put an immediate end to torture and unlawful detainment, to rein in the bloat and greed of Wall Street, to oppose gun control, or to correct the broad overreach of a previous administration."

Kristen Breitweiser
Huffington Post
April 4, 2011

Life is never easy when you've lost someone you love — and, politics aside, most people, I suspect, sympathize with people like Kristen Breitweiser and the other spouses and children of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Not Ann Coulter. In her book "Godless: The Church of Liberalism," Coulter criticized Breitweiser and the other so–called "9–11 widows" (whom she dismissed as "Democrat ratpack gals") for "enjoying their husbands' deaths."

That always seemed more than a bit harsh to me — and to lots of other folks — but I'll say this for Coulter. She doesn't retreat after she's taken a stand. In spite of intense criticism, she stood by what she wrote.

(She kinda reminds me of Bush in that respect. Even if everyone told Bush he had made a mistake, he wouldn't acknowledge it. One of my co–workers even told me that he admired the fact that Bush wouldn't back down once he had taken a position on something. I've never really been sure how I felt about that.)

In fact, considering the criticism Breitweiser and the other "Jersey girls" got from the right in general and Coulter in particular, it must have been like a slap in the face (at least) when a clearly left–leaning administration announced this week that it would not prosecute the 9–11 conspirators in civilian courts and would, instead, turn the matters over to military tribunals — where things will be handled in considerably more secrecy.

Breitweiser, a lawyer, didn't hesitate to say what she thinks in a piece she wrote for Huffington Post titled "The Sad Defeat of Our Constitution."

She urged her readers to "take a second to contemplate this decision and recognize what it says about President Obama, the Department of Justice, and the United States."

I've done that, and still I wonder: What does it all mean? What does it say about Americans, what they all experienced on 9–11 and what they think of it now, nearly 10 years later? Many Americans still give lip service to a desire for justice/retribution, but are they really committed to it?

I think I can guess how Breitweiser feels. She feels betrayed. She earned the wrath of the right when George W. Bush sat in the Oval Office, and she expected better from his successor.

"At least when President Bush was in office, he was candid about his feelings regarding the alleged 9/11 conspirators in our custody," she writes. "He didn't care about them. He allowed them to be tortured. He was fine letting them rot in the heat of Guantanamo for all of eternity. They were less than human to him and he certainly was never going to afford them the benefits of our U.S. Constitution or the Geneva Conventions. That was President Bush. Whether you agreed or disagreed with him, you, at least, knew where he stood. And you could, like it or not, rely on his word."

But she doesn't feel she can rely on Obama's pledge.

He "gave us ... his golden word," Breitweiser writes, that Guantanamo would be closed down and the conspirators would be tried in open court. Yet Guantanamo remains open, and the announcement that the trials now will be held in secret was announced the same day the president announced he would seek a second term.

Can you say "appeasement?" Breitweiser certainly can, although she does so in somewhat different words.

The announcement concerning the military tribunals "acknowledges the sad defeat of our U.S. Constitution when it comes to 9/11," she writes. "How truly tragic in my eyes. And you would think that a man who was once a constitutional law professor might feel the same way. Yet, not so much for President Barack Obama who has chosen this great day to announce his billion–dollar campaign for re–election."

It's hard for me to tell how this will affect what Breitweiser — or anyone else who suffered such a loss on 9–11 — will do on Election Day next year. But I can see a cumulative effect that is building, and it isn't encouraging for the president.

Four years go by so quickly, don't they?

Four years ago, Obama wasn't even the front–runner for his party's nomination, and his campaign rhetoric focused primarily on the war in Iraq.

But today, slightly more than halfway through Obama's term, the war that began as a result of the attacks that killed Breitweiser's husband continues (in fact, a young man who attended the school where I earned my master's degree was killed in Afghanistan a few days ago).

The issues changed and evolved in the 2008 campaign and, by the time Obama had been nominated to run against John McCain, the focus had shifted from the wars to the economy — and Obama ran as the anti–Bush, promising to change the policies that had led to so much suffering at home.

And many people forgot about the wars, about the 9–11 attacks. But not Breitweiser.

Obama, I think, suffers from an irreconcilable mental conflict. He thinks the presidency should work in one way when it actually works in another.

He'd like to be the Obama who ran in 2008. Obama the Outsider could rage against injustice and present himself as the defender of the oppressed, opponent of needless wars and wasteful energy policies.

But Obama the Insider has a record from which he cannot run away. The subject of the military tribunals is only the latest example. The administration capitulated, then pointed fingers. "Yes we can" has increasingly become "No we won't because they won't let us."

That's not a winning strategy. The voters were given a chance a few months ago to reject them in the midterms — but the voters embraced them instead.

Obama continues to do things his way — even though his way shows an appalling absence of leadership.

At this point in their first (and, in some cases, only) terms in office, previous presidents hadn't announced whether they would run again. They were too busy being president.

At this point in Bill Clinton's first term, the Oklahoma City bombing had not yet occurred.

At this point in George H.W. Bush's term, the Gulf War had just come to a whirlwind conclusion.

At this point in his first term, George W. Bush had not yet landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier where he declared that the mission had been accomplished in Iraq.

Yet, at this point in his term, Obama has begun his campaign for re–election by retreating on an issue that is of such importance to many of the people Obama will be counting on next year.

I can hear the rationalization from the Obama camp. Where are they going to go? his advisers must be asking themselves. Where, indeed, will the Jersey girls and their ilk go?

That isn't really the issue, though. They don't have to go anywhere. In fact, that should be the administration's real concern — that they won't go anywhere, that they will stay home on Election Day.

That's what happens when constituencies become demoralized, disenchanted, disappointed. It's what happened to the Republicans after the Terri Schiavo episode and Hurricane Katrina (and then the economic implosion in 2008). It's what happened to the Democrats in 1994 when they lost complete control of Congress for the first time in four decades.

Those voters had no enthusiasm, no motivation. They didn't participate. And many of the voters who were part of Obama's coalition in 2008 are in danger of not participating in 2012 because they believe — whether rightly or wrongly does not matter — their concerns have not been addressed by this president.

It might be different if the military tribunal matter was an isolated case. But it isn't.

Decisions are made by those who show up.

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