January 23, 2009

 dennis-trainor-headshotDennis Trainor, Jr • Operation Itch writer/ editor header

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Bye- Bye GITMO

Bye- Bye GITMO

Barack Obama went from becoming the first black president of the Harvard Law Review (1990) to becoming the first black president of the United States of America so quickly, that it is not a stretch to say that we have only known him as a candidate. His life, for the last eighteen years, has been one carefully modulated and expertly managed campaign. Even when he held such underachieving slacker status positions such as United States Senator, his votes, his appearances, his public statements- and even the shirtless beach photos – have all been part of the larger campaign. As a candidate, perhaps no one has ever been as good as Obama. He has been so good, in fact, expectations of his presidency are rivaled only by an Evangelical Christian’s expectation that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Like Christ, Obama is now a myth. The man will never walk in step with what we think of him, because we have projected so much onto him. Yes, it does speak well of his campaign that it was able to leverage the desperation of so many who were so horrified of our own inaction these past eight years. We needed a savior to rescue us from the shame brought on because we had, collectively speaking, done nothing after George Bush stole the 2000 election save for prop up a cottage industry that fed us a steady stream of clever anti-Bush t-shirts and bumper stickers for us to brandish on the sidelines as our President proceeded to treat the constitution as a pesky little obstacle in his way as he waged his comic book battle of good vs. evil, now let loose from the safe confines of his little village idiot of a head and leaving a trail of blood soaked deserts and unknown blowback in its wake. 

There are some who will give Obama high grades for a longer than average honeymoon period simply because the man has replaced will be remembered by history as the worst president to ever hold the office. Alfred E. Newman would have been an improvement on Bush, the subliminal thinking will go, and Obama is surely better than Alfred E. Newman. But for many, the bar is set unreasonably high. Like Christ, many praise Obama as a revolutionary. I’m more inclined to agree with Ashley Sanders, former spokesperson for the Ralph Nader campaign, who described the change that Obama has sold us as

a hazy feeling that Obama (despite all evidence to the contrary) was the peace candidate, the environmental candidate, the Black candidate, the people’s candidate. The whole production borrowed ideas that were actually dangerous to Wall Street, gutted them of danger, and resold them as ideas that were dangerous to Wall Street. It used spectacle to create the illusion that an infinity of similar options was the same thing as a meaningful choice, as real change or authenticity. It was the triumph of ideology: getting people to vote against themselves in the name of themselves.

The whole thing smacked of buying punk clothes at Hot Topic. 

As Americans, we know not where to get punk clothes but at Hot Topic, and are so entrenched in ad culture that we would not know a revolution unless it was being sold to us. Here is what is being sold to us in the first week of the Obama presidency: Obama has swept into town and takes swift action in reversing the criminal culture of torture and rendition and secret prisons by issuing an executive order to shut GITMO. This much is true.

However, in reversing the criminal policies, Obama is still reluctant to go after the criminals. The Obama faithful, like abused foster children in a new home, do not want to look back. They agree with Obama when he says, “I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” One does not need their special superhero decoder ring to get the message that Obama is not going to rush in to investigate Bush, Cheney and company. And many on the left are out front supporting such an attitude that can best be summed up with the attitude of “ah- so what Bush lied to Congress lied to Congress, the American people, the U.N. and the result of those lies is an illegal, immoral and (no longer a footnote in these tight financial times) pornographically expensive war. And so what that as we wage this war we torture. We participate in secret renditions. So what! We elected a guy who walks on water, let’s just move on! (dismissive pun intentional)

To be fair, some approach it with a little more political savvy, couching their cowardice in Machiavellian political strategy. Dan Sweeny, blogging at the Huffington Post, sums up a persuasive argument for inaction. Listen closely, and you hear an argument that will be repeated, one way or another, in coffee shops, bars, and Hot Topics all throughout Obama nation:

What we know for certain is that the mushy middle of the country wants to move on. They want the cooperation and bipartisanship that Barack Obama has promised. And if the Democrats can show those people that they’re making every effort to reach across that aisle, even as they push a solidly progressive agenda, the Democrats have the opportunity to effect a seismic shift in voter trends. Karl Rove once boasted of creating a permanent Republican majority through his brand of slash-and-burn politics, so it’s particularly ironic that now, less than a decade later, the Democrats have the opportunity to do the same, mainly because of the utter failure of Rove’s methods.

The Democratic Party will only get one shot at killing the GOP with kindness. If it elects instead to put every ex-Bushie before a congressional committee, to investigate every alleged crime and misdeed of the Bush administration, the opportunity will be lost. We will return to the bomb-throwing, trench-warfare politics of the past several decades, and the huge gains that Obama has made for the Democratic Party’s image as the adults in Washington will be destroyed by the endless partisan battles that follow.

Even as Sweeney holds up the carrot of a bipartisan America, his endgame is rooted in crushing the Republican party. What can be more partisan than that? This is the very context that is strangling us. When judged against the intentions of the founding fathers, the current two party system fails. It was George Washington, in his farewell address, who warned against the two party system, saying “It serves to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration….agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one….against another….it opens the door to foreign influence and corruption…thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.” Arguments rooted in the left vs. right, or Olberman vs. O’Reilly, or Obama vs. McCain only distract us from a more accurate descriptor of how our system works: Corporatism. It was Mussolini said that Fascism should be called Corporatism, because it is a merger of state and corporate power. Can anyone look at the handling of the bailout, or how we elect presidents for that matter, and tell me that we do not live under the stranglehold of Corporatism?

Trying to convince the Obama administration to investigate the Bush administration for war crimes is a noble cause, but it is not going to happen. Unless, that is, Obama is a Trojan horse. Thomas Friedman, ( in a January 20th Op-ed for the New York Times, wrote “…Indeed, dare I say, I hope Obama really has been palling around all these years with that old Chicago radical Bill Ayers. I hope Obama really is a closet radical. Not radical left or right, just a radical, because this is a radical moment…” If Obama is truly a radical, a kind of post modern, Trojan horse of a radical, he will shortly appoint Dennis Kucinich to a cabinet level position to establish a Department of Peace that will replace the Bush doctrine of preventative war with one of pro-active, preventive peace (image the peace core on steroids, with a budget even 1/10th of the pentagon). If Obama is a radical, he will instruct the Senate to pass HR676 this session and bring single payer universal healthcare for all to the United States. If Obama is a radical, he will stop using the word clean next to the word coal. Thomas Friedman knows, and you and I know, that Obama is not that type of radical. He is a “Hot Topic” kind of radical.

What needs to happen, if the past administration is to be held accountable for war crimes, was outlined recently by John Nichols, who pointed out:

A Founding Father seeking evidence of the checks and balances so carefully constructed to guard against executive tyranny would be hard-pressed to discover them in the Washington of 2009.

This is not Obama’s fault. He inherits executive powers so massively inflated by his predecessors George II and Prince Regent Dick that even he has said they must be diminished.

But presidents are not in the business of defining downward the authority vested in them. That is Congress’ job.

The work should begin immediately. Members of the House and Senate should assert that theirs is a co-equal branch of government. This need not be an affront to Obama. It is about identifying and condemning the excesses of the Bush era.

Lucky for us, Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison has already drafted the Executive Accountability Act.  In addition to affirming that it is the sole legal right of Congress to declare war and restoring the writ of habeas corpus as an essential principle,  the act would also criminalize lying to Congress and the American people about the reasons for going to war. 

That, in this age of corporatism, is the kind of radical you can’t get at Hot Topic.


Dennis Trainor, Jr is the host of Operation Itch. In addition to regular video commentator for THE UPTAKE, he was the the writer/ performer of The Hermit with Davis Fleetwood. He is currently at work on two books, My Progressive Dilemma (chronicling President Obama’s 1st year in office) and a novel adapted from his play, I Coulda Been a Kennedy.






  1. Dennis —

    Thanks for the shout out, even if it was in a less-than-glowing light. I would like to point out that, first, I’m 100-percent in favor of the Executive Accountability Act. Indeed, during the last election cycle, the one question I made sure to pose to each and every one of the Democrats running against the last three Republicans in South Florida was, “If elected, would you vote in favor of the Executive Accountability Act?”

    I also agree about the corporatist influence that has metastasized on the American body politic. However, I’m of the opinion that the disease can’t be cured without amputating the GOP. That done, a new second party would inevitably rise in the wake — it always has, after all — and it would be up to conscientious citizens to make sure that such a party best represented the people, not the corporations.

    Unfortunately, I think it will take a new party to see such change. Anyway, great article. Enjoyed it.

  2. Found your videos on youtube and finally made my way over to this site. Very good stuff, my friend. Nice to see someone else has their eyes open. I will openly admit politics both bores and disgusts me at the same time, however I despise the fat and complacent human cattle of this country. There is much going on, hopefully this will be a place that can keep me informed of the more “interesting” things going on that do not receive the media attention they deserve.

  3. “I don’t see this order as anything but symbolic, it has no teeth.” Like the Democratic Party in general, Scott.

    What gets me is the rhetoric that the Dems will “kill the GOP with kindness”. It’s like they’re expecting the GOP to take a break from their ruthless divisiveness because the Dems extend their hands. It’s not going to happen. They’re already starting to throw around terms like “terrorists’ rights” in reference to Obama’s closing of Guantanamo, which may not even mean an end to the abolition of habeas corpus.

  4. I disagree that Obama did anything with this order. Closing GITMO does not close down the system of camps. After reading the order, I don’t believe that it does anything to change the torture policies. It seems to state, “the military should use military standards”. It does not say anything about geneva convention standards or international standards. I think it sets up low ranking people to take the fall for upper echelon decisions.

    I don’t see this order as anything but symbolic, it has no teeth. And, to me only REAL action means anything. In the US, real doesn’t seem to mean anything to people. They buy empty symbolic gestures and slogans and cheer.

  5. Very good Op/Ed. I agree that many Americans have projected their hopes onto Obama, and in essence are giving “savior” status to our newly elected President. Many of these people have stepped up for the first time in actually turning out to the polls, donating money, or whatever. While in many respects, this is a good thing — in other ways it is not. Even fewer people are actively involved in actually working within groups on an on-going basis towards the realization of achieving universal health care, peace, economic, environmental and social justice (that is, all of the issues you have mentioned). Thus, all of these people have hitched their wagon of hope onto Obama. This is a way, has relieved them of any social or personal obligation to work or push for the very agenda that they would like to have advanced. Obama has said himself that he is not and never proclaimed to be the “progressive candidate.” If he is not pushed by the people on these issues, then only the corporations and power brokers will do so now that he is in office. The worse thing that could happen is that people will now sit back and do nothing in anticipation that Obama will do the right thing for them. This, does not allow for people to “get off the hook,” in terms of accepting responsibility in creating the change they desire.

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