Hey, remember that time back in the early 2000s when George W. Bush announced that he was running for his second term and on that very same morning it also came out that the Bush administration was flip-flopping and now supporting gay marriage, after assuring his base in the 2000 campaign he was adamantly against that?
Of course you don't remember that -- that never would have happened. George W. Bush was many things -- most of them awful -- but he and his advisers like Karl Rove understood that nothing was more important politically than keeping "the base" happy and motivated going into a holy war of a re-election campaign. It's the reason why he was re-elected in 2004 with 51 percent of the vote even though many moderates had joined liberals in seeing through his Iraq War scam by that time.
If Bush had flip-flopped on an issue that his base considers non-negotiable -- like gay marriage -- on the same day he asked people to work for his re-election he would have been not only savaged by at least some leading conservatives, but the Beltway punditry would have questioned Bush's sanity.
That's why I find it stunning that Obama would officially launch his 2012 re-election campaign -- with a video that essentially urges his 2008 supporters to get out there and volunteer and do all the hard work that got him elected on the first time -- within minutes of the bulletin that he was betraying yet another of the principles that caused all of those people to knock on doors for him in the first place.
I'm talking, of course, about news that not only has Obama now closed the door on his major promise -- both during the campaign and in the first week of his presidency in January 2009 -- to close Guantanamo altogether, but now he's abandoned his plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 terrorists in a civilian court, in the criminal justice system that Americans from both parties once hailed as a thing that truly did make our nation exceptional when compared to others.
Yes, yes, we all realize that Obama's original and noble plan for closing Gitmo was thwarted by some of the most gutless cowards -- both Democrat and Republican -- ever to claim the titles of U.S. Representative and Senator, grown men who cower under their desks at the mention of the very word "terrorism," who insult the hard work not to mention the intelligence of American prison guards with their insane notion that it's not safe to hold a terrorist in a maximum security facility on our soil. But on this issue, like so many others, Obama has caved without a fight.
I'm not sure what Obama and his people thought that all those people -- the ones who knocked on doors and launched Facebook groups and made so many of those $20 and $30 donations -- were thinking when they got behind that whole "change" thing. It wasn't changing the Republican Wall Street hack at the Treasury Department for the Democratic Wall Street hack. It was, however, heavily motivated by shame over the things that had been done in our name during the nightmarish Bush years -- pre-emptive war, waterboarding, and opening of Guantanamo, which became an international symbol of how far America had fallen so quickly in the area of human rights.
It never occurred to any of those volunteers that Obama is so cheerfully asking today for help that he would carry on some of the worst of the Bush-era policies -- including the Kafka-esque notion of indefinite detentionand the growing sense that Gitmo is now a permanent symbol of the new America.
Look, when it comes to Obama I'm a realist, and I think you can divide it into thirds. A third of his presidency has been a welcome change (expanding health care coverage, the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'), a third has been areas where the president's heart is in right place but there's been an alarming lack of fight (energy and infrastructure jobs, climate change) and then one-third is WTF stuff, some of it on the economy but most of it continuing the Bush-Cheney national security nightmare and further expanding the powers of presidencybeyond what is constitutional or prudent. But when Obama caves so lamely on something that was supposed to be a cornerstone of his presidency -- restoring the American way of justice, even for terror suspects -- ir feels like it was George W. Bush asking today for four more years, and not Barack Obama.
I'm a journalist, not an activist, but sometimes I think about what would be effective for people who are activists. I have little doubt that -- if things continue on their current course, with the stunning weakness of the GOP field so far -- Obama will be re-elected next year, and it seems like a liberal Democratic primary challenge would be a massive waste of time. But Obama's announcement today was all about the money -- right? -- and his plan to raise $1 billion dollars for 2012. If you're a liberal and disappointed about his handling of the Gitmo mess, don't show him the money until he comes up with a new and better plan. Because one of the many, many sad realities of American politics in 2011 is that the only place you can really hurt a guy is in the wallet. Obama will almost surely still be a better choice in 11/12 than whatever job-destroying, chastity-belt-waving clown is opposing him, but that doesn't mean he deserves your hard-earned cash, too.
UPDATE: Three really strong pieces on the shameful cowwardice of our political "leaders":
-- From Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, a personal favorite:
-- From 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser:
I suppose in life timing is everything. To me, as a lawyer and a 9/11 widow, DOJ's announcement today acknowledges the sad defeat of our U.S. Constitution when it comes to 9/11. 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. His slogan asking us to "join in" by writing him a check
-- From the New York Times editorial board: "Cowardice Blocks the 9/11 Trials":
That retreat was a victory for Congressional pandering and an embarrassment for the Obama administration, which failed to stand up to it...Mr. Holder was right to sound bitter about the decision at his news conference Monday. But the Obama administration must shoulder some of the blame. As The New Yorker reported last year, it did little to prepare the political groundwork for a local trial and barely defended the idea after the unfounded attacks began.