A Liberal Would’ve Done Some Good In 8 Years
I have a confession to make. Though I’ve been a libertarian my entire life, a child of Libertarian activists and a state party leader in my own right — I voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
Hear me out. I was born in the 1980s, and came to understand my place in the political universe in 1996, when I saw there was an election for President and asked my mother which one we were voting for. She didn’t say Clinton or Dole, those names I’d seen on signs in my neighborhood in New Hampshire. She said “Harry Browne”. I remember looking at The Union Leader after the election to see if “our guy” won. I couldn’t even find his name.
George W. Bush became president while I was in my teens, and the impression I had from his election was that it had been “given” to him by the Supreme Court. It looked like it wasn’t just Libertarian voices that weren’t heard – but even votes for the Democrats weren’t counted.
September 11th followed quickly, and a few of my friends’ older brothers quickly enlisted in the military, determined to fight terrorism, while my family referenced Operation Cyclone and kept talking about “blowback”. I was finishing my freshman year of college when Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced.
I went to anti-war protests, hoping to find other Libertarians, which I did — but I also found Democrats. We bonded through our mutual hatred of President Bush. We bonded because we hated the war and the encroachment on our civil liberties. We stood together, against the PATRIOT Act and Guantanamo Bay and “shock and awe”, against the lies of the Administration and the re-election of Bush. I went door to door with Democrats on Election Day in 2004, in the sleeting rain, to ask people not to vote for Bush.
In 2007 and 2008, I began to hope. I had been Vice Chair of the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire for a year, and I volunteered on the Ron Paul primary campaign in NH. He spoke of ending warrantless wiretapping and the PATRIOT Act. He said we’d end the wars. His campaign sparked many of my liberal friends to libertarian leanings, but as McCain became the “100 more years of war” Republican nominee, I turned to Barack Obama for the ways he echoed Ron Paul.
I even volunteered on Obama’s campaign the month before Election Day 2008.
“No more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. That is not who we are. And it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. The FISA court works. The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.”
— Barack Obama, 2007
He was full of gems about the free market, ending war, the PATRIOT Act, and closing Guantanamo Bay. He admitted to smoking pot in college. I knew there was plenty we would disagree on – after all, I’m not a Democrat, but I knew after 8 years of Bush it was time for something and someone different, and Obama was different. He was a liberal, and I was ready for one of those in the White House.
I didn’t get what I wanted though. I wanted a liberal. What I got was…
He’s Really A Social Conservative
Based on an analysis of his various positions on gay marriage, I’ll just say Obama seemed to be perfectly fine with throwing LGBT folks under the bus if it was politically useful. Of course, he came out in favor of gay marriage before the Supreme Court ruled on it, but based on his timing (May 2012) it kind of felt like a bone for the liberal folks who might’ve noticed some of the other crap in this list.
He Was Awful on Weed
Obama could’ve literally changed the world by legalizing cannabis. He admitted to smoking it in college himself, yet his policies for his first term were actually more aggressive than Bush’s. Rolling Stone published a piece called “Obama’s War On Pot” which is worth checking out. Now lately he’s been better – removing a crucial barrier to research on medical marijuana. However, the DEA is still raiding people over cannabis plants.
Obamacare Benefits Insurance Companies
As a libertarian I can’t say I’d support an idealized liberal dream of universal health care, but real talk here: I agree with many people that the health insurance industry needs massive reformation. In the meantime, we got the Affordable Care Act, which expanded the corporate cronyism of insurance companies a whole lot more. It’s really a special interests act, and not for the people, but for business.
Bad Police & More Prisons
Our police forces have become increasingly militarized as federal programs encourage such activities by local police. Incarceration programs are common and the Obama administration hasn’t been on the right side of them. It is worth noting, however, is that Obama’s position on some of this has been evolving in the past year.
The Occupy Movement
Though Obama would say sympathetic things regarding the Occupy movement, when push came to shove, it was Obama’s FBI that coordinated the crackdown on Occupy protests and had protestors under surveillance for questionable purposes.
The Surveillance State
Speaking of surveillance – warrantless wiretapping. I thought Obama was supposed to stop this sort of thing. President Bush signed FISA into law in 2007, and with it the Protect America Act. Obama’s continued the program, which includes data-collecting via PRISM. We learned about this program from Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who is being prosecuted under the Whistleblower Act (more about that next). By the way, Obama extended the PATRIOT Act in 2011, and then after that expired, passed the USA Freedom Act.
During Obama’s time in office, his administration has prosecuted eight people under the 1917 Espionage Act. This is twice as many people as all previous presidents combined. Additionally, the Administration has taken a rather double-standard approach to their prosecutions, protecting their own insiders, ruining the careers of spouses of whistleblowers, while not fixing the very problems these people have brought to light.
Signing the NDAA
Obama proceeded to sign numerous versions of the National Defense Authorization Act which included provisions allowing the government to label anyone a terrorist and detain them without trial for however long they deem appropriate. Indefinite detention has remained in the NDAA for years without his objections. The bill is truly scary.
Not Closing Guantanamo Bay
Check the GITMO clock. This was one of the biggest issues to me, and it looks like this year Obama finally decided to move forward on it, but I don’t count his promise as fulfilled until, you know, it is.
He’s a Warhawk
Now, as mentioned in my opening, I became friends with Democrats over our shared hatred of war. Obama seemed to want to end war in 2007. Yet, his policies have continued it. Obama has expanded drone strikes into Pakistan, killing innocent civilians. Boots are on the ground in Syria as well. Obama has continued expanding our military industrial complex and policies that will have consequences for future generations.
Frankly, there are dozens of other reasons Obama isn’t liberal enough. Some of them, naturally, I’d disagree with as a libertarian, but they’re considerable as well. I consider myself a classical liberal, and I find the implication that Obama is a liberal to be a gross misunderstanding of both the term and the policies he has enacted.
Voting for Obama in 2008 was certainly not my brightest move (better: Johnson in 2012), but it’s a learning experience. If only the rest of America could learn.