The Agony Of An Old American Political Mongrel

You, my nonviolent European Radical friends, have asked for my thoughts about the American condition at this important time in history. As you know I write from inside the belly of the beast – for I actually live and work inside the famous, or infamous, Beltway of Washington.

It would be good to join you in Rome for the forthcoming important congress. Reasons of health prevent my attendance at what are always delightful events. However, I am with you in spirit and with you through the medium of this written message. Moreover, I am feeling quite well after many months of dealing with a malignant melanoma in my left foot. Good doctors and dumb luck help in such matters.

As you know, it is rather uncomplimentary to call an American a mongrel because this refers to the mixed parentage of dogs in comparison to those of pure breeding lines. However, I find that I must apply that term to myself in regard to my own political thoughts these days.

I was raised as a liberal, left, humanitarian, with great concern for civil rights, for the downtrodden. In some respects, my ancestors had what might be called quite radical roots. It was natural for me to wander into the civil rights arena many years ago and become an open advocate and even a street protester for equal rights for Negroes. From 1960 to 1963, I was the Chief of the Administration of Justice Section of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In that position I often found myself in potentially violent situations in part because my responsibility was to investigate and report on the harsh behavior of racist officials, especially in places like Birmingham, Alabama or Jackson, Mississippi. In volatile places like those, I always felt in personal danger for myself and also for any minority citizen seeking to implement a basic freedom, such as the right to vote.

While originally I supported Hillary Clinton’s recent campaign for the presidency, eventually I became a supporter of the candidacy of Barack Obama. It was a thrill for me to see reports of massive voting by black citizens in Mississippi and Alabama. I knew that I played a small part in making that happen and I looked back in pride at my contribution on the front lines of civil rights reform in the 50s and 60s.

Inauguration Day on January 20, 2008 was historically wonderful, gratifying, and emotional. Most of my friends and family were down there in that huge crowd and reported that there were tears of joy and gratitude all around them. The promise of America was fulfilled once again. Miracles happen here. No country on earth has a record of such achievements in all fields, especially those dealing with equality and fair play. I decided to stay at home, a few miles away, and watch it all on television, which I did and found myself frequently in lonely tears of gratitude at the American wonders unfolding before my eyes.

The First Family made a wonderful impression that day. As human beings, they came through as kind and considerate and intelligent. The First Daughters make fine role models for all young children. That family – all four of them -- still has my admiration and that of millions of other Americans for their decent personal qualities.

The greatest accomplishments during the first ten months of the Obama Administration would seem to lie in the field of drug policy, a matter of great interest to you, my Radical friends in Europe, and to me. In large part this is due to the work of many people at the state and local level, work that I helped lead at the Drug Policy Foundation during the 80s and 90s. We at the Foundation supported such initiatives and campaigns because we believed that the national government was locked in old ways. Many state and local laws on medical marijuana, for example, have created a massive ground swell in support of treating marijuana as an ordinary article of commerce that may be regulated and taxed. Full legalization is a long way off but such actions by several states make much sense. The Obama Justice Department has helped by adopting prosecutorial guidelines that discourage most federal criminal law suits against medical marijuana dispensers and users in states that have laws allowing such behavior.

That is, I am sorry to say, the end of the good news. And this is where the tale of my agony begins.

I have never voted for a Republican candidate for president, and in the past I usually disagreed with conservative political commentators. Now I find myself more in agreement with conservative politicians and critical commentators on the many shortcomings of Mr. Obama and of the people in his Administration. As I said, I feel like a political mongrel. Here are some of the shortcomings that I see.

There is the simple matter of basic governmental competence. Mr. Obama recruited an amazing array of staff during his run for the presidency and conducted a brilliant campaign, one unmatched in recent history. Yet, from the very start of his actual presidency he seemed to be beset by dumb errors and stupid missteps. It was embarrassing to observe that he and Justice Roberts (two graduates of Harvard Law School) could not correctly utter the few words of the presidential oath of office. It had to be repeated later in the White House.

There have been dozens of such dumb errors during the intervening ten months. I call them dumb errors because I cannot believe they were intentional, although some observers believe they were indeed intentional. One of the latest examples of political missteps is found in the claim that his economic stimulus actions have created or saved hundreds of thousands of jobs. Inquiring reporters found that many of these claims were laughingly inaccurate such as claiming successes in facilities that denied having any need for help. Usually supportive comedians on late night television are now using claims of success as fodder for their jokes. Sadly, few politicians can survive being made the butt of television comedic derision, week after week.

The element of derision has now appeared in some segments of the liberal press. For many months, most of the press treated Mr. Obama as a rock star, who could do no wrong. Now that is beginning to change. Some members of the press seem quite disturbed over his repeated apologies for American actions and policies on foreign policy in past years and for his warm support of the actions of other countries, especially those in the Arab and Islamic world. The same can be said for his obsequious behavior toward the thugs who rule Russia and Iran. As a lifelong open critic of many American actions, I applaud honesty in political commentary, but I do not accept the harmful idea that any American president should go around the world spouting the infantile theme that America has been horrible and I want to apologize and make you all love us. It is a sad day when the major ingredients of American foreign policy seem to be surrender and appeasement.

This is not to say that I support a militaristic foreign policy. Indeed I believe that we may be at the point when it would be a good idea to disengage from Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as possible. That is quite different than repeated presidential pronouncements on how terrible America has been in the past.

The amount of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in the Obama Administration and among many leading American black leaders is appalling. Reverend Jeremiah Wright is an outspoken bigot who has stated openly and on many occasions his hatred of white people, of Jews, of Israel, and even of the United States. As he has been heard to scream many times on that famous television clip, “Not God bless America, but God damn America!” The mainly black audience in the church cheered. The fact that candidate Obama was a member of that audience for twenty years almost led me and many other American to vote for anybody else for president. I put aside my doubts and did vote for Mr. Obama but now those doubts have come back to the surface.

How else can we explain his dismissive treatment of Israel and his much better treatment of Israel’s tormentors? In light of the presence of Jewish Americans in senior positions in the government that dismissive treatment could be explained of course as a form of tough love to an ally with whom there are unshakable bonds. However, to me and to many others it seems to be sadly mistaken and is a sign of weakness, like so many other such actions.

Most of the civilized world is unsure of how to deal with Iran and its persistent threats to destroy Israel. Obama’s consistent weakness and indecision in this arena as in many others create fears that nothing will be done. That is, nothing until Israel is reduced to a smoking pile of radioactive rubbish littered with corpses. At that point, of course, something will indeed be done -- Mr. Obama will lead a heartfelt memorial service. My sincere prayer is that I am terribly wrong on that pessimistic prophecy.

More prayers are in order to hope for a more rational American approach to deal with the threat of Islamic extremism, in addition to that from Iran, at home and abroad. The Fort Hood massacre was clearly an act of Islamic terrorism and yet Mr. Obama and leading members of his Administration were unsure and cautious. They urged that there be no rush to judgment. However, in this case members of Congress and of the press of all political persuasions did rush to criticize those in political power who seemed blind to the obvious.

What is not obvious and what needs careful thought is a strategy that will happily accept the presence of millions of law-abiding Muslim citizens and that will also deal with those many extremists who are ready to launch jihadist attacks on innocent infidels. This calls for some very sophisticated analysis at the highest levels of power but that analysis does not seem to be happening in an Administration that places the highest priority on not offending Muslim sensitivities. Such a thoughtful analysis certainly does not seem to be taking place in other countries of the West, such as those in Europe.