Remember “hope and change”? That was the slogan that President Obama used to get elected president. Today, eight years later, the slogan only serves as a sad reminder that Americans ended up with no hope or change but instead with nothing more than a failed presidency.
On the domestic level, liberals hoped that Obama would finally make the welfare state work — that he would successfully manage the economy by balancing the budget, restoring jobs, growing the economy, and even expanding Social Security, Medicare, education grants, and other welfare-state programs.
Alas, those hopes were dashed. Federal spending and debt continue to soar through the roof. Unemployment remains at 30-40 percent for black teenagers. The Federal Reserve is inflating a new financial bubble. Social Security and Medicare remain in perpetual crisis.
Obama’s welfare-state legacy will always be defined by Obamacare, the socialist healthcare reform program that was supposed to finally fix America’s healthcare crisis. Not surprisingly (at least not to libertarians), it has only made things worse.
Of course, we libertarians never had any hope that any aspect of the welfare state would be eradicated under Obama. As a liberal, he’s a died-in-the-wool welfare statist — a person who believes that it is the role of government to take care of people with doles and who believes that government should force people to take care of others. There was never any chance that Obama would abandon his welfare-state philosophy. Our only hope, as libertarians, was that he wouldn’t make the situation worse. That hope was obviously dashed with Obamacare.
It was in the domain of foreign policy and civil liberties that people had hope that things might change under an Obama presidency. The hope was that Obama would usher in a new era for the United States — one in which America’s perpetual, ongoing wars would be brought to an end and civil liberties would be restored to the American people.
Imagine the sea change in American life if eight years ago, Obama had ordered all U.S. troops to exit Afghanistan, the Middle East, Korea, Europe, Africa, and Latin America and return home. Imagine if he had dissolved the federal government’s ongoing permanent authority to seize people, put them into concentration camps or military dungeon, incarcerate them, torture them, and execute them, all without due process and trial by jury. Imagine if he had ordered an end to America’s assassination program. Imagine if he had ordered an end to the NSA’s secret surveillance of American citizens.
Indeed, imagine if Obama had merely closed Gitmo.
If he had done those things, while Americans would still be grappling with the crises that the welfare state produces, they would be living a life of peace, harmony, and security. No more threat of anti-American terrorism. No more war on terrorism. And no more out-of-control warfare-state spending and borrowing.
If Obama had shifted America’s direction with respect to the welfare state, today people would be celebrating his presidency. Instead, everyone acknowledges that he has changed nothing and that, in fact, his presidency has been nothing more than another eight years of George W. Bush.
What better proof of that phenomenon than the fact that today U.S. troops are back in Mosul, 13 years after more than 200 U.S. soldiers were killed in that city as part of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq — an invasion that Obama, ironically, opposed. Moreover, U.S. troops are still killing and dying in Afghanistan despite the fact that they have been doing that for 14 years. In fact, the death and destruction under Obama has actually expanded. Today, it includes Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia.
Was Obama being false and disingenuous when he campaigned on “hope and change”? Did he intend to continue Bush’s legacy the whole time he was campaigning to become president? Did he really intend to continue and expand America’s many ongoing wars and conflicts? Did he really intend to keep Gitmo’s torture-prison camp open?
I don’t think so. What happened was that once he assumed the presidency, Obama encountered an immovable force that every new president encounters, one whose power far outweighs the power of a president. That force is the national-security establishment, namely the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. That’s the reason that President Obama was unable to change America’s warfare-state direction. That’s why the wars have expanded. That’s why Obama wasn’t even able to close Guantanamo Bay.
From the first grade on up, Americans are taught that they live under a government that has three branches — executive, legislative, and judicial. They’re taught that the military, the CIA, and the NSA fall under the control of the executive branch.
As Michael J. Glennon documents in his book National Security and Double Government, that’s the myth. The reality is that it is the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA that are in charge of running the federal government. That’s because they are the most powerful sector within the government. That’s why the federal judiciary, the members of Congress, and even the president inevitably defer to whatever they want to do. That’s why nothing ever happens to Pentagon, CIA, or NSA officials who destroy evidence, kidnap people, foment coups, torture, lie, or assassinate.
As Glennon points out, the national-security sector of the federal government continues to play the game by letting the other three branches appear as they are depicted in high-school civics textbooks. What matters to them is not which branch is perceived to be in charge but rather that they are the branch that is actually in charge.
The fact is that Obama never had a chance of moving America in a different direction, no matter how much he might have wanted to do so. He never had a chance of ending America’s ongoing wars. He never had a chance of closing Guantanamo. That’s because the national security establishment wanted the wars to continue, and it wanted Gitmo to remain open.
Ongoing wars, conflicts, and crises enable the Cold War-era national security establishment to justify its existence to the American people. That’s how it gets its ever-growing budgets from Congress. That’s how it gets its overwhelming influence, especially within Congress. That’s how it maintains the entire military-industrial complex in high cotton.
Does that then mean that Americans have no hope for change at all? No, it simply means that if Americans want to see fundamental change with respect to the warfare state, they must first recognize the nature of the problem and then focus on how to resolve it.