President Obama, during his first campaign, declared forcefully and clearly that he would close Guantanamo Bay prison within a year. There was no qualifications, no “ifs” and “buts;” it was a simple straightforward and forceful declaration of intention. It’s been more six years and the prison is still operative. It holds un-indicted prisoners, several captured under such dubious circumstances that it’s possible that some are shepherds or traveling salesmen caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, I had leisurely talks with five people in their late twenties about the topic of Guantanamo Bay Prison. Here are my accounts of these conversations.
One had never heard of Guantanamo Bay. She had voted for Mr Obama twice.
One had heard of Guantanamo Bay prison but he did not know whether it had been closed or not. He had voted for Mr Obama the first time and abstained the second time out of disinterest.
One knew Guantanamo Bay prison and he knew that it was still open. He had voted for Mr Obama once and deliberately abstained the second time. He now sports a bumper sticker proclaiming Obama to be a “dick.”
One had never voted for Mr Obama and she knew that the Guantanamo Bay prison was still open in spite of the president’s campaign promise.
The last person, an academically and professionally successful young woman, knew well about Guantanamo Bay prison and she knew it had not been closed. She is a forceful Obama supporter who was not able to vote for technical reasons. She argued that the president was unable to close the prison because of “Republican opposition.” She said that Republicans always stop him from doing anything good.
Now, her political position is interesting because the young woman was in good faith herself but her assertions were false. Guantanamo Bay case is an excellent test of the president’s own good faith and credibility. The President of the United States is the undisputed Commander in Chief of the armed forces, “undisputed.” A single one sentence order from him would start the process of closing the prison. Any opposition from any part of the political spectrum would be impotent to stop it. The president would have to take the political fallout of his order, of course, but that’s exactly why a politician should not make irresponsible promises.
There is a Chapter Two to the analysis of this clearly failed promise of the president. Even if he absolutely wanted political cover, he could have done it during the two years when his party had an absolute majority in Congress. And, by the more way, the president would have received considerable support from all sides had he had the courage to take the step explicitly contained in his campaign promise. There are plenty of conservatives like me who hate the idea of people detained indefinitely without charge. The legal technicality employed by Pres. Bush to put detainees in Guantanamo out of reach of American constitutional guarantees on the grounds that it’s not American soil was not his finest moment.
President Obama either lied or he spoke irresponsibly. It does not hurt him much with his followers. It seems, they like a good speech expressing generous sentiments above all. My side is not responding in a politically effective way to the reality of his appeal.
The Republican Party’s own political discourse is all over the place. It sounds like a cacophony where the only word emerging are: “Obama bad.” This lacks seriousness. Republican politicians have forgotten basic rules of good communication, rules about attention span, about clarity and about the value of repetition.
If it were my call, I would do the following:
Name three things that the president clearly promised to do and that were doable and that he did not do. (Stopping global warming isn’t tone.) That the president did not do them has to be easily verifiable. Closing Guantanamo Bay prison is a good example. Keep repeating slowly the three unkept promises.
Name three things that the president did that were done badly. The deployment of the health insurance exchange is a good example. Keep repeating them. Keep repeating that they were doable, that others would have done them well.
Name three things that he should have done and that he failed to do or did badly, irrespective of promises he might have made or not. The three things have to be actions that are within the bailiwick of every American president; they have to be part of the job. Reforming the Veterans’ Administration before he had to fire his own appointee to head it would be a good example.
Here, that’s nine things, not many but as many as my young interviewees of Memorial Day are able to understand, digest or retain durably. Maybe that’s even too many.
My communication plan deliberately stays away from foreign policy where Americans disagree strongly, especially when it comes to military intervention. It refrains deliberately from the common couplets presenting Mr Obama as the Devil himself, or even as “socialist” (a word devoid of meaning.) The plan highlights the fact that President Obama has been a very bad manager of American interests, that he did not take care of business anywhere near the level of competence and attention Americans ordinarily expect. Many independents and some liberals should come to the conclusion that Obama would be fired for simple non-performance if he were not protected by his office.
The objective is to make very difficult or impossible for a future candidate to anything to ride on the Obama wave. After a few months, there should be no Obama wave left at all. If Mrs Clinton should be the Democratic candidate for the presidency, for example, she should not be tempted and not be able to borrow Barack Obama’s likability without also putting on his cloth of gross incompetence. She should thus be forced to ride on her own likability which is very low, as everyone knows.
This is a plan to establish the fact , without unnecessary acrimony, without hysteria, that Democrats produce so-called “leaders” who don’t do the job even minimally. It’s a constructive step toward making it difficult for the Democratic Party to saddle us with yet another non-doer, Hillary Clinton, for example. (She is a woman who has also done absolutely nothing except be loyal to a husband who deserved no loyalty.)
I am quite pessimistic. I think we are already in an advanced stage of fascism with a one-party system not far int the future. The ray of hope comes from today’s Peggy Noonan column , as it often does. She argues (WSJ 05/31/14 ) that Mr Obama inaction and bad actions are giving government a bad name. I hope she is right; I hope I am dead wrong.