The recent haggling over Guantanamo Bay is such classic Democratic Party politics, it almost makes you want to laugh. Almost, except that it’s, you know, revolting. Eight years of Clintonian squirming was bad enough, but now we have Barack Obama, smoking Habeas Corpus and not inhaling it.
Making a Decision/Not!
Why is the Gitmo decision classic Democratic Party thinking? Because when certain of us said we wanted Gitmo closed, we sort of meant a change in policy -- we didn’t mean just physically closing the plant, moving the prisoners elsewhere, and leaving the policies essentially unchanged. This is what this generation of Democrats does every time: every time they come to a fork in the road, they try to take it.
There’s always some sort of semantic twist involved with their policies, an asterisk, some kind of leprechaun trick to get around doing the simple right thing. They’re all for gay rights, and then once the lights come on, they’ve basically codified the closet by ushering in Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
They campaign against the war in Iraq, promise to get us out, and say they were against it all along -- and then once they get in power, they start using words like eventually and in 4-6 years and once the situation stabilizes. Later it turns out that what they meant by being against the war all along was their conviction that we should have invaded on a Thursday instead of a Tuesday, or some such bullshit.
The Matter of Gitmo
Now there’s this Gitmo business. This, folks, just isn’t that tough a call. The prison (and the much less publicized archipelago of hard sites in foreign countries where more terror suspects are held) was a symbol of everything wrong and stupid about the Bush administration. Snatching people up by force and dumping them in rocks on the middle of the ocean without due process is the kind of thing that was last done by "civilized" cultures back in the days of the Roman Empire; since then it’s been the exclusive province of sociopathic third-world dictators like Stalin and Mobutu Sese Seko.
It was absolutely imperative, from a public relations standpoint if nothing else, that Obama immediately repudiate these practices, design some kind of due process to deal with the already incarcerated prisoners, and show the world that what happened during the Bush years was an insane aberration, a result of our having accidentally elected an emotionally retarded sadist to the White House.
Instead, Obama is on his way to doing exactly the wrong thing. He’s going to make a show of closing the base, but retain the underlying idea by keeping some of the prisoners in indefinite legal purgatory. In some ways this is worse than what Bush did, because Bush at least took a clear stand -- he was nuts and thought this was the right thing to do. No matter how you look at Obama’s decision, it’s weighed somewhere along the line by political calculation. Either he thinks indefinite decision is right and he’s bowing to public appeals by closing the base, or else he thinks it’s wrong and is bowing to opposition outcry by maintaining the old policy.
It’s one thing to change your mind or play both sides of the fence on matters that don’t involve human lives, on theoretical/hypothetical campaign issues, but another thing to do it with actual incarcerated human beings as the key variable in the political equation.
Better than the Alternative, But...
I still like Obama, in a lot of ways. Having a president with less ability to inspire public confidence at a time like this, with our economy in such a death spiral, would be a disaster; God knows where we’d be right now with a McCain or a Mike Huckabee at the helm. But this guy has to show some stones somewhere along the line. He has to just forget the DC game and just take a clear stand on an issue like this sometime. He’s kind of running out of time to rescue his all-important first impression.
Also See: The Official End of Obama’s Honeymoon