Can a Conscientious Liberal Back Obama?

Jeff Jacoby

10/21/2012 11:01:00 AM - Jeff Jacoby

YOU'RE A PASSIONATE and committed liberal. Four years ago, enthralled by Barack Obama's biography and inspired by his oratory, you voted for him with pride. You embraced his promise of hope and change. You were deeply moved by the racial progress he symbolized.

But above all you voted for him because he expressed such enlightened views.

You didn't just want a Democrat back in the White House, you wanted one who would bring progressive clarity to US national policy.

For eight years, you'd fumed at George W. Bush's offenses against the Constitution; now at last, you believed, you were supporting a president for whom civil liberties would be an unshakable priority. A president who wouldn't be beholden to Wall Street and its rivers of cash. Who would prosecute the war on terror without abandoning core American values or trampling basic human rights. Whose administration would function in the sunlight, a jewel of transparency, accountability, and due process.

That was the president you expected. It wasn't the president you got.

"I will make clear that the days of compromising our values are over," Obama had said in 2007 as he campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination. In an address to the Woodrow Wilson Center, he had excoriated Bush's approach to counterterrorism – the excesses of the Patriot Act, the warrantless wiretapping, the indefinite detention of terror suspects – for reflecting a "false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand." In an Obama administration, he vowed, things would be different.

Yet the president you voted for hasn't abandoned Bush's antiterror legacy, not by a long shot. Since Obama took office, warrantless wiretapping of Americans' domestic communications has skyrocketed. According to a new report by the ACLU, "more people were subjected to [electronic] surveillance in the past two years than in the entire previous decade." Instead of repealing the Patriot Act, Obama signed a law extending it through 2015.

The president who was going to shut the US lockup at Guantanamo is now spending millions of dollars to upgrade it. Far from doing away with trials by military commission, he ordered them resumed. The eloquent progressive who vowed to roll back Bush's post-9/11 wartime excesses has become almost a caricature of what he used to condemn. He meets regularly to review a "kill list" of terrorist suspects and decide who should be targeted for death. He has drastically expanded the drone war that Bush began, raining down missiles on countries where we aren't at war, killing or maiming hundreds of innocent victims in the process. Astonishingly, he has even claimed – and exercised -- the power to order the extrajudicial killing of American citizensterrorist operatives. he believes to be

Neocon hawks may not blink at such things, but conscientious liberals like you were always appalled by them. "We have compromised our most precious values," Obama said as a candidate. Will you compromise your values by voting for him again?

And what about all those other values you counted on Obama to uphold?

On the campaign trail, his top priority was to codify Roe v. Wade. "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act," he declared. Once in office, it dropped from his agenda.

You trusted Obama when he said his administration would be "the most open and transparent in history." Instead it launched an unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers and leaks, and retreated into a "bubble of non-accountability."

When you voted for Obama in 2008, could you have imagined that he would extend the Bush tax cuts? That he would commit US forces to war in Libya without the congressional approval he himself had said the law required? That he would show so little concern for pro-democracy dissidents and protesters resisting tyranny? That he would expel 1.2 million undocumented immigrants in three years, more than any president since the 1950s? That he would load his administration with so many former lobbyists – after having promised that he wouldn't?

If a Republican president compiled such an atrocious record, you would do everything you could to prevent his reelection. Can you vote in good conscience for a Democrat with such a record?