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May 01, 2009

"Historic Suspicions"

By: John Caruso

Here's Barack Obama speaking at the recent Summit of the Americas:

I think it's important to recognize, given historic suspicions, that the United States' policy should not be interference in other countries, but that also means that we can't blame the United States for every problem that arises in the hemisphere.

"Historic suspicions"?  Yes, I imagine the International Court of Justice decision condemning the United States for its covert war against Nicaragua might have raised Nicaraguan suspicions of U.S. interference.  And I guess the report of the UN's Historical Clarification Commission for Guatemala, documenting U.S. backing of the genocidal forces the U.S. had installed in the 1954 coup, might have made the Guatemalans suspicious as well.  And I suppose watching U.S. planes, helicopter gunships, and warships destroying the El Chorrillo neighborhood of Panama during the 1989 invasion might also have given the Panamians some suspicions about U.S. interference.

(For just one second, imagine the U.S. reaction if Germany's Angela Merkel gave a speech in Israel calling out the "historic suspicions" of Jews regarding past German "interference" in their affairs.  In fairness to Obama, he did subsequently refer to "past errors, where those errors have been made," though he also said that discussion of those purported errors only rises to the level of "stale debates"; I'll leave the analogy to you.)

By contrast, here's how Obama characterized Venezuela:

You take a country like Venezuela -- I have great differences with Hugo Chavez on matters of economic policy and matters of foreign policy. His rhetoric directed at the United States has been inflammatory. There have been instances in which we've seen Venezuela interfere with some of the -- some of the countries that surround Venezuela in ways that I think are a source of concern.

So centuries of extensively-documented U.S. intervention in Latin America can be dismissed as "historic suspicions"—but when we're talking about allegations pulled out of the collective ass of the U.S. government and leveled at an official enemy, there's no longer any need to qualify this "interference" (which any reasonable person should agree is rightly a "source of concern" to us, though Obama tried to keep this menacing threat in perspective by noting that "Venezuela is a country whose defense budget is probably 1/600th of the United States").

And this was Obama's laugh line in response to Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega's account of just a fraction of the vicious U.S. interference that produced these historic suspicions:

"I am very grateful that President Ortega didn’t blame me for things that happened when I was three months old," Obama said in his only direct reference to the Nicaraguan leader.

("I am very glad that Prime Minister Netanyahu didn't blame me for things that happened before I was born," Merkel said in her only direct reference to the Israeli leader.)  The article also notes that Ortega "prompted a smirk from Obama when he referred to 'Yankee troops.'"  Yes, what a hilarious anachronism!  How amusing our victims can sometimes be!  Like when the U.S.-backed Contras in Nicaragua would cut off men's testicles and leave them in their mouths?  Hey, what's the matter, cat got your tongue?  Oh, no, my mistake, you've got a mouthful of balls!  Ha ha ha!  Maybe Obama should have quipped, "I am very grateful that President Ortega didn't blame me for the U.S.-sponsored castrations and nun-raping that happened when I was still snorting cocaine in my youth."  The laughs just never stop, do they?

The smirk in question—which, as this small survey of his comments indicates, was only the most visible sign of Obama's paternalistic contempt for the banana republicans all around him and their petty obsession with the hundreds of thousands of their citizens killed by direct and indirect U.S. intervention over the years—looked something like this:

All of which illustrates why Obama truly is a perfect representative for the U.S.A., since he is, without a doubt, one of the most unbelievably sanctimonious assholes I've ever heard.

— John Caruso

Posted at May 1, 2009 07:33 PM

I hadn’t really thought about Obama being the perfect representative of the U.S. due to his monumental and monolithic arrogance but now that you mention it, it certainly is true. I don’t know how many innocent men, women, and children have been murdered under Obama’s kinder and gentler imperialism to date but somehow I doubt Obama has lost much sleep over it. He certainly doesn’t look very disturbed by it -- too busy admiring himself in the mirror while congratulating himself on his assured place in the history tomes.

Posted by: Rob Payne at May 1, 2009 10:05 PM

We all remember how funny everyone thought it when Dubya butchered the English language. Of course, he was a subliterate cretin making dumb errors - I guess there's no cause to laugh when the President does it on purpose.

Posted by: RobWeaver at May 1, 2009 10:57 PM

Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, 1933--

"I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested. During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket."

Posted by: Don Bacon at May 1, 2009 11:01 PM

Obama is truly a loathsome creature.. even more so than smirking chimps like Bush and the deranged, xenophobic American right because Obama should know better. One would think he should understand what it is like to be a colonized poeple, to be crushed by the boots of the powerful, to be on the other side empire, to understand how the suffering of those on the other side of empire are minimized, hidden, or whitewashed by the "official record" and by history as if their lives didn't matter at all. He should understand the arrogance of power and the arrogance of the dominant racial or economic class.

Given Obama's unique background, his high intelligence, and his potential to actually bring about fundamental changes in the American power structure, that Obama would rather "pick up the poison chalice", to quote the great Chris Floyd, out of ambition, a huge ego and a desire to be remembered in the history books, and pure lust for power truly makes him a uniquely loathsome individual.

Posted by: hv at May 1, 2009 11:03 PM

Um, ok, so what would be the right thing for Obama to say here? Do you think it would be a good idea for the President of the United States to suddenly start quoting from Chomsky in his speeches to foreign dignitaries, i.e. suddenly start telling the raw truth about American interventionism and Imperialism? What, seriously, do you think would happen if he did? If you've thought this through, please share what you've been holding back. As you can probably tell, my personal feeling is that this post is what's sanctimonious around here, not the expression on Obama's face.

Posted by: Guest at May 1, 2009 11:17 PM

Btw, while we're on this subject, has anyone here noticed the darling of America's liberals, Jon Stewart, seems to have the same attitude as Obama when it comes to Latin America? Or maybe that's the attitude that American liberals have in general when it comes to American foreign policy: it's mostly the fault of the brown people and any critique of America's long, bloody, and brutal legacy of foreign intervention in Latin America is simply "left-wing diatribe", to quote Jon Stewart in a recent episode of the Daily Show where he took the opportunity to indulge in his deep hatred of Huge Chavez.

This kind of sanctimonious attitude does seem to be common with a certain type of American liberal and certainly most Democrats.

Posted by: hv at May 1, 2009 11:19 PM

So I guess Obama's not planning to read the gift from Chavez.

Posted by: Nell at May 1, 2009 11:28 PM

Um, ok, so what would be the right thing for Obama to say here?

How about “I would like to apologize on behalf of the U.S. for interfering with your lives, the murders, the rape, and supporting bloody dictators and we promise not to do it anymore.”

Works for me.

Posted by: Rob Payne at May 1, 2009 11:55 PM

_Open Veins_ obviously opens up "stale debates," so why should Obama bother?

In my mind more reprehensible that Obama's predictable stance is the cover given to Obama by the Beltway left-liberal NGO's. In its recently issued hundred days report card, IPS gave plaudits to Obama for "changing the tone" of US Latin American policy. I guess Obama shaking Chavez's hand was substantive enough for IPS to give his administration a free pass. Among the DC pwogs the one laudable exception to this noxious apologism has been CEPR's Weisbrot... very good on him.

Posted by: gluelicker at May 2, 2009 12:40 AM

Hey, he doesn't say the suspicions are unfounded.

Posted by: Cryptic ned at May 2, 2009 12:55 AM
What, seriously, do you think would happen if he did?

Fiat justitia ruat caelum.

Posted by: NomadUK at May 2, 2009 02:55 AM

waiting to see what happens.

actual changes will not be telegraphed -- the opposition and the braindead press are looking for gotcha quotes.

obama, clinton, biden all know very well that as the leaders of the hemisphere's main market it's their responsibility to shape the post-carbon economy of the americas.

this is a new phase of hemispheric relations.

Posted by: hapa at May 2, 2009 08:17 AM

To Guest,

What should happen? Wasnt the US ordered to pay reparations to Nicaragua by the World Court? That would be a good place to apology for all of the dead bodies left behind in countless countries would also be a good place to start..those are pretty simple and easy things to do at least IF you have any moral decency at all..which the DaliObama doesn't have. That would be change you can believe in...but it aint gonna happen.-Tony

Posted by: tony at May 2, 2009 09:15 AM

but that also means that we can't blame the United States for every problem that arises in the hemisphere.

Look! It's a man, and he's made entirely of straw!

Posted by: SteveB at May 2, 2009 09:25 AM

Does anyone here actually expect a President of the United States to admit to the crimes of our post WWII regime?

The problem with this kind of analysis is the presumption that anyone in that position has the power to change anything on his own. The government is so firmly under the control of the military-industrial complex that straying very far from the reservation guarantees the administration's sabotage.

The collapse over FISA should have provided enough information. Right now the best hope for a progressive agenda requires a true understanding of how our country is ruled, and a need to inform the rest of the country. Snark within an insulated community won't get it done.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at May 2, 2009 11:15 AM


I agree with you... No one gets to be president without believing in the basic goodness of the Empire...the problems are institutional, not individuals..sure one President might be less odious than another but they don't get to the position to even be considered a viable candidate unless they have demonstrated that they have internalized the values and perspectives of the ruling class etc and so on...So you are right that we should not expect his holiness to be anything all that great...See Paul Street excellent book on this: "Barack Obama and the Future Of American Politics." The best book I've read on the topic in general. One day liberals will grasp this....-Tony

Posted by: tony at May 2, 2009 12:10 PM

I remember having this conversation around here before. Yes, ego and ambition, even narcissism are prerequisites for wanting to be president. But the system is such that we're going to have a president no matter what, a leader of the American Empire stained from its origins with the blood of native people and slaves, and in widening circles from there. I'd rather have Obama in that role than any of the others we're likely to see there, because at least he has flashes of self-awareness and can understand the "historic suspicions" of America's many victims. I feel like he's already internalized Galeano's ideas, so whether he reads the book or not is beside the point. What is the point, is that being president is morally compromising, because from the moment you take office, you become responsible for the flaws of the system itself. Soon enough you will have innocent blood on your hands, as Obama discovered when approving drone flights in Pakistan. I believe he knew this going in, so the question becomes, what kind of person would willingly put himself in this position? He is either a moral cretin, as most of you seem to believe, or someone who believes that it is better to act in the world we have, than to wait for the perfect world of our imaginings. Moral purity is worth nothing if not put to use, so if he can improve the situation in concrete ways over what it would have been had he not acted, then I think he feels it is worth the risk of moral purity. There is a certain courage in this, just as there is cowardice in attacking from the secure position of having done nothing.

Posted by: eatbees at May 2, 2009 12:11 PM

hapa: waiting to see what happens.

I'd say there's no need to wait; you can just look at how they've handled the Haiti senatorial elections to see how much change we can expect in the hemisphere.

As for not wanting to telegraph intentions, perhaps, but nobody forced Obama to choose those words or that tone. He could easily have made it through this summit without dismissive condescension (even if he didn't fall to his knees and beat his breast in shame over the evil we've done). In fact the "given historic suspicions" bit was apparently a departure from his scripted remarks—and had he just said "given the history in the region" instead, we'd be having a different conversation. Things like the smirking, the bit about blaming him personally, and especially the "stale debates" quote—the entire tone he chose to adopt (emphasis on "chose")—are the best indicators of his actual views.

NomadUK: Exactly. But don't you know you're not being pragmatic?

Posted by: John Caruso at May 2, 2009 12:21 PM

You know what is astounding? I'm an American resident in Central America, I run into Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Panamanians all the time and they have no hatred of me or my country, despite knowing the horrific history most have had with el norte. There is a certain amount of fear and a lot of sincerely held hope that it won't happen again, but there is none of the hatred that the ordinary South Carolinian or Georgian would show a fellow countryman from the Northeast 150 years after the end of the civil war.

BTW, you can just about forget getting any accurate press coverage of Latin America in the US. Did you know that Uribe has managed to win re-election despite a prohibition of it in Colombia? Or that he is trying to change the law so he can be re-elected again? But everybody in America knows that the evil Chavez did the same thing because he is a dictator. I noticed no mention of US interference with Venezuelan or Colombian elections in the Obama speech either.

Posted by: drip at May 2, 2009 12:27 PM

What a salient point: what has kept John Caruso from the presidency is a lack of courage! When John's walked a mile in Obama's shoes, then he can talk. Until then, we should smile approvingly at Obama's subtle enlightenment and presumably good intentions. He took our sins upon himself!

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at May 2, 2009 12:33 PM

...I run into Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Panamanians all the time and they have no hatred of me or my country, despite knowing the horrific history most have had with el norte.

I had the same experience in Palestine (during the 2002 Israeli invasion) and Yugoslavia (days after Clinton stopped bombing), when people had every reason to be angry at a U.S. citizen specifically or the U.S. generally. It's humbling.

Posted by: John Caruso at May 2, 2009 12:42 PM

Yeah, John, unless you want to be President of the United States, just shut the hell up, coward.


Posted by: Paul Avery at May 2, 2009 12:45 PM

he is, without a doubt, one of the most unbelievably sanctimonious assholes I've ever heard.

Which reminds me: I got an email today from Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun with this headline:

Our Washington Post ad Supporting (and Gently Critiquing) Obama Was Published on Wednesday

Click on the link to see the ad and you'll see it described as an ad that "gives President Obama supportive feedback about how to increase consistency between his message and his programs."

Anyway, John, it seems to me that calling the President a "sanctimonious asshole" doesn't quite strike the proper balance between "support" and "gentle critique." Please try to do better in the future.

Posted by: SteveB at May 2, 2009 01:11 PM

John Caruso: Well, how about WE all get an online petiton apology to send to South Americans mentioned, just to let them know WE care?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 2, 2009 01:29 PM

"Moral purity is worth nothing if not put to use..."

Huh? Are you saying morality is worth nothing unless it is put to use in such ways that innocents may die?

How about just helping, loving, healing others? That's moral, and that way, innocents don't die. Taking action where innocents die, and thinking yourself absolved of culpability because you were "exercising moral purity," is delusional. Causing innocents to die by your actions isn't moral, it's the opposite: it's amoral. It is evil masquerading as virtue.

Posted by: Oarwell at May 2, 2009 02:00 PM

Sure, it would be ludicrous to expect Obama as an individual occupant of the White House to make a radical departure from US imperial disposition toward Latin America -- a more or less assured orientation toward the US' southern neighbors since the Monroe Doctrine -- absent social revolution in the US.

But the whole point of training our sights on Obama's limitations is _precisely that_ -- to disabuse ourselves of the diversionary folly that "Obama is such a moral, decent guy, if only he wasn't hemmed in by the permanent establishment." Who the fuck cares, glimpsing his fundamentally innocent soul, sure to be appreciated in the liberal precincts of Bethesda, is irrelevant and besides the point.

Posted by: gluelicker at May 2, 2009 02:13 PM

Eh. I like Mike Meyer's idea personally.

Posted by: Nikolay Levin at May 2, 2009 02:17 PM

In other words, it seems to me that those who get all bent out of shape by what they regard as an inordinate focus on Obama's personal shortcomings, are in fact not interested in a truly structural analysis of US imperialism in Latin America and the possibilities of a tectonic shift in that arena, but rather in attaching lingering hopes to Obama's essential decency -- a conceit which is disingenuous and/or stupid. Politically speaking (as opposed to gossip column-speaking) I don't care if Obama is a saint or a sinner because it plain doesn't matter. It does make good fodder for bar talk or blog talk though.

Posted by: gluelicker at May 2, 2009 02:32 PM

"Fiat justitia ruat caelum"

- George Bush (you forgot the attribution)

I dislike this answer intensely, as it can be used to justify absolutely any policy preference, no matter how extreme - in fact, it positively encourages extreme reactions and discourages compromise and nuance. The whole point of my objection was that any United States President has got to deal with the fact that power in the world is divided amongst groups with widely differing points of view. I am very, very sorry to have to be the one to tell you that many millions of innocent people are going to die during your lifetime, for very bad reasons. The world can get better, or the world can get worse. So far, black-and-white thinking has done a very bad job of making it better.

Posted by: Guest at May 2, 2009 02:42 PM

The world can get better, or the world can get worse. So far, black-and-white thinking has done a very bad job of making it better.

You have it exactly backwards: black-and-white thinking in the pursuit of justice is practically the only reason the world has gotten better—the black-and-white thinking of people like this and this and this. There's no virtue in compromise on fundamental issues of right and wrong. Just the opposite: the catechism of "compromise" and "nuance" pawned by salesmen like Obama is the mortal enemy of real progress, as it always has been and ever will be. Their institutional role is to defuse the power of popular movements, in the service of their actual constituents.

The world has become more civilized not through the self-serving machinations of supposedly "moderate" leaders like Obama, but through the tireless struggle and sacrifice of people who refused to settle.

Posted by: John Caruso at May 2, 2009 03:32 PM

The problem with this kind of analysis is the presumption that anyone in that position has the power to change anything on his own. The government is so firmly under the control of the military-industrial complex that straying very far from the reservation guarantees the administration's sabotage.

Not exactly a challenge to the military-industrial complex, but let's imagine Obama announces tomorrow that he's sending a bill for single-payer health care to Congress, that he knows the insurance companies and for-profit health-care "providers" are dead-set against it, and that he therefore needs two million Americans on the mall in Washington on the day his bill is introduced to "remind" the Congress who they're supposed to work for.

Wouldn't he get his two million people, and more? And wouldn't a popular President allied with a powerful popular movement create a political force that at least has the potential to overcome the iron grip that corporate interests (in this one area) have on our government?

Yes, I know Obama is never going to do this, but that's my point: shrugging his shoulders and saying he has to write a bill "acceptable to the insurance industry" is his choice.

Posted by: SteveB at May 2, 2009 03:52 PM

I would probably have responded to Guest, but I've been out all day, and John did such a good job.

I think that's pretty pragmatic of me, right there.

Posted by: NomadUK at May 2, 2009 04:53 PM

"You have it exactly backwards: black-and-white thinking in the pursuit of justice is practically the only reason the world has gotten better."

I couldn't possibly disagree more strongly. My fundamental objection to your position is that "justice" as used by the Serbs in 1992 or George Bush in 2003 cannot be non-circularly distinguished from "justice" as understood by MLK, a truly great man if there ever was one. Anyone at all can put on the mantle of justice.

That was the point of my attributing that Latin phrase to George Bush - he obviously believed that what he was doing was just, and he obviously believed that doing it without regard to its consequences was a good idea.

Posted by: Guest at May 2, 2009 05:01 PM

SteveB -

I'm SO GLAD to see another human being say this! I often think it: a million people surrounding the Capitol when Congress is in session could get what they want.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at May 2, 2009 05:01 PM
he obviously believed that what he was doing was just

I think that's debatable. Just? To the extent he's capable of independent thought, I very much doubt he thought that (as I very much doubt Tony Blair though so, either). Potentially profitable? Politically expedient? Expeditious? Fun? Kick-ass? Satsifyin'? Much more likely.

In any event, I hardly think that the fact that sociopathic politicians regularly — and depressingly successfully — rationalise their slaughter of innocents should be used as an excuse for a politician who appears — or at least claims — to have a mandate to change the status quo to continue to promulgate lies about his country's involvement in the slaughter of innocents.

However, whilst not serving as an excuse, it might well serve as an explanation.

Posted by: NomadUK at May 2, 2009 05:51 PM

SteveB: Totally agreed. People who talk about Obama's inherent powerlessness and his need to work within the system are blinding themselves to the multitude of simple things he could do—of which your example is just one small instance—to effect enormous positive change.

Guest: Anyone at all can put on the mantle of justice.

Yes, but that doesn't mean we're incapable of distinguishing the ersatz from the real thing. And we don't need to wander dazed through some limbo of moral relativism, waiting for an objective definition of "justice" to miraculously materialize, before we can proceed with changes that genuinely make the world a better place.

That was the point of my attributing that Latin phrase to George Bush - he obviously believed that what he was doing was just, and he obviously believed that doing it without regard to its consequences was a good idea.

I understood your point, but I ignored it in the hope that you'd realize how misguided it was and drop it. For one thing, on most issues Bush wasn't doing what he perceived as "justice"; he was working tirelessly on behalf of his base, and he knew it full well. On other issues it's true that Bush likely rationalized his evil to himself, but you're drawing entirely the wrong lesson from that; Bush's problem wasn't his lack of moderation, it was his lack of values. If the lesson you take from immoderation in the pursuit of evil is that moderation in the pursuit of good is some kind of virtue, you're missing the point badly.

I find it ironic that you admire Martin Luther King so much while simultaneously (and adamantly) rejecting his principles and tactics. If the civil rights movement had followed your approach, blacks might be able to sit in the middle seats on the bus by now, but they still wouldn't be welcome in the front. And we wouldn't be discussing what Obama should or shouldn't have been saying at this summit, because there's no way a black man would have been able to become president.

We don't make progress by seeking "compromise" and "nuance" with the regressive forces in our society, but by refusing to compromise with them on fundamental issues of right and wrong.

Posted by: John Caruso at May 2, 2009 09:31 PM

I'm not arguing for moral relativism. I'm arguing against naiveté. And no, it's not ironic that I would admire MLK while at the same time realizing that what worked for MLK cannot and will not work for the POTUS. And no, you have still not gotten my point.

Posted by: Guest at May 2, 2009 10:55 PM

I'm having a bit of a snit, as you can probably tell. I'm pissed because the commenters on my comment are venting righteous indignation in my general direction instead of attending to my argument, thereby missing my point. Anyhoo, it's an interesting topic and I'm sure we'll chat about it again. Ta.

Posted by: Guest at May 2, 2009 11:22 PM

I'm pretty much on Guest's side here. I think John's anger is misplaced -- while it's true Obama can be "one of the most unbelievably sanctimonious assholes I've ever heard," it's also true that an unbelievably sanctimonious asshole is the most you could plausibly hope for in a U.S. president in 2009 America. The correct people at whom to be angry are those who think that changing things is a matter of electing a "nice" person and then going home.

I know John would argue that politicians have options and don't need to be the horrific monsters they generally are, and would point to exceptions like Evo Morales. But these exceptions are so incredibly rare (and I think are mostly due to unusual structural circumstances, rather than personal virtue) that I don't feel they're worth spending much time thinking about.

On the third hand, the world is changing in a way that makes Obama more personally blameworthy. While (say) Bill Clinton couldn't have brought millions of people to DC for single-payer, SteveB is certainly correct that Obama could (mostly thanks to the internet). Whether Obama genuinely understands this or not is an interesting question. I could argue either side.

But whatever the answer, the proper people to angry at are STILL the nice liberals who allowed Obama to develop all his internet capacity without demanding some control of it. I tried to get people interested in this in 2007, and smart progressives should be planning now to prevent the current situation from happening with another candidate in the future.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at May 3, 2009 12:18 AM

Mr. Schwarz, with all due respect, "Guest" wasn't condemning Obama at all. What WAS being condemned was universal accountability AS A CONCEPT!

"in fact, it positively encourages extreme reactions and discourages >>>compromise and nuance

I don't know about you, but that's the very world I've been trying to change.

Your ideas? Right on. But the credit given??...


Posted by: Nikolay Levin at May 3, 2009 01:54 AM

What is an American president, except an unbelievably sanctimonious asshole?

Posted by: Baldie McEagle at May 3, 2009 08:29 AM

I'll be the first one to admit I'm a little slow, so I'm just now catching this bit of clever acronymic humor on the part of Mr. Caruso:

All of which illustrates why Obama truly is a perfect representative for the U.S.A., since he is, without a doubt, one of the most unbelievably sanctimonious assholes I've ever heard.

I'll remember that whenever I hear a crowd of patriotic Americans chanting, "USA! USA! USA!"

Posted by: SteveB at May 3, 2009 12:27 PM

Jon: I think you're missing the point of my post, which is not just to smack Obama, and certainly not to express any disappointment of my own with him (since what he is is exactly what I expected him to be), but to try to dispel the illusions of just the nice liberals you're talking about. If you look at the examples I mentioned of people who didn't compromise in pursuit of what's right, not one of them was a public official. I'm not arguing that we should wait for or expect some savior from on high to help us out; I'm attacking the notion that Obama is that savior, in the hopes of making a dent in the world view of one of those nice liberals, or at least providing ammunition against their arguments. Which is the general reason I spend so much time examining Obama's stools and writing about what I find.

You also seem to be misunderstanding the arguments here. Guest wasn't saying a practicioner of "compromise" and "nuance" of Obama's ilk was the best we could expect (as you are); he was saying that someone like that is exactly what we need. Are you really saying you agree with that?

Posted by: John Caruso at May 3, 2009 12:42 PM

Guest: I'm not arguing for moral relativism.

You wrote, "My fundamental objection to your position is that "justice" as used by the Serbs in 1992 or George Bush in 2003 cannot be non-circularly distinguished from "justice" as understood by MLK"—which is the essence of moral relativism. My very direct response was that just because some people cloak their actions in the "mantle of justice" doesn't mean that we are incapable of seeing through the charade (or seeing the difference between them and people like MLK), and that we don't need to wait for some chimerical objectively-defined distinction to pursue actual justice (about which there are in fact some universally-agreed norms).

In response to the lack of an objective notion of justice, you call for compromise/nuance/moderation, apparently (and at this point I can only speculate, because you've never stated the critical premise) because if everyone acts in moderation, we'll hopefully do some good and at least won't do much harm. Assuming that is the premise, it's deeply misguided, because people like Bush are never going to act in moderation. They're going to pursue an agenda of what we recognize to be all-but-unmitigated evil (no matter how they may couch it), and they're going to fight every hint of progress tooth and nail, as they always have and always will. By acting in moderation when we pursue actual good and seeking "compromise" and "nuance" in dealing with these regressive forces, as you say we should do, we just take one step forward for every ten of theirs.

Getting back to specifics, I find it interesting that the real-world application of the philosophy you're describing is that a U.S. president shouldn't tell the truth about (or at least show respect to the victims of) U.S. involvement in genocide, mass murder, torture, assassinations, the overthrow of democratic governments, etc, and that you were explicitly defending Obama's dismissive attitude and mocking the notion that anything else would be warranted. I wonder if you apply this same standard to Germany and the holocaust, South Africa and apartheid, and other such cases—and if not, why you feel the standard for the U.S. should be any different.

I'm arguing against naiveté.

If you think I'm naive, you haven't understood what I'm saying and you don't understand my position generally. And I'd suggest that if you actually want to have a worthwhile discussion about this—now or in the future—you should do it with respect rather than just this kind of condescension, which you've expressed from the moment you entered the thread.

Posted by: John Caruso at May 3, 2009 01:32 PM I'm just now catching this bit of clever acronymic humor...

Thanks for noticing, Steve, since it's actually the only reason I used those words. I was going for subtlety but I apparently shot right past it to inscrutability, based on how many people seem to be getting the joke.

Posted by: John Caruso at May 3, 2009 02:13 PM

To people such as myself who have come to think of the Holocaust story as the biggest lie of the ages, it really sticks in the craw to see the Holocaust brought up in the context of real horrors as the ultimate paradigm horror. I know how natural it is for all of us, crammed from birth with this lie, to think this way. It takes years of de-programming before the truth settles to its rightful place. May I suggest you begin with the excellent videos at .

Posted by: sarz at May 4, 2009 02:14 PM

Speaking of American Justice in general, and passing on to American Justices in particular, Brad DeLong has some nice quotes relating to Judge Souter's retirement - first quotes from Nino Scalia and Clarence Thomas - "we'll miss him" [my paraphrase], and then this paragraph from a book about the Supreme Court, The Nine:

[David Souter's] whole life was being a judge. He came from a tradition where the independence of the judiciary was the foundation of the rule of law. And Souter believed Bush v. Gore mocked that tradition. His colleagues’ actions were so transparently, so crudely partisan that Souter thought he might not be able to serve with them anymore. Souter seriously considered resigning. For many months, it was not at all clear whether he would remain as a justice. That the Court met in a city he loathed made the decision even harder. At the urging of a handful of close friends, he decided to stay on, but his attitude toward the Court was never the same. There were times when David Souter thought of Bush v. Gore and wept.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at May 4, 2009 02:48 PM

If this were epic fiction, through a deus ex machina (perhaps a fatal heart attack immediately following a public utterance of yet another massive lie) the writer would assassinate The Barockstar Obamiracle, and lay naked the baroque aggression and greed of the Elepha-Donkey janus.

Of course such a turn of events wouldn't fix the American federal government -- Plagiarism Joe would differ from The Obamessiah only in skin tone and frequency of smirks, and the same people would be pulling Bidey-Boy's strings as now pull Clarence Thomas Jr's strings.

Posted by: micah pyre at May 4, 2009 03:26 PM

Absurdist projection by "Guest" --

George Bush ...obviously believed that what he was doing was just, and he obviously believed that doing it without regard to its consequences was a good idea.

Dude, there is nothing to indicate that Dubya did anything out of justice, or out of moral, ethical or social rectitude. By all lights, he's a callous misanthrope, and has been since a little lad. By all lights, he's never grown up, he's always been Bar's Little Bad Boy, and he's always been indulged heavily by Bar and Poppy. He has no real empathy for anyone who doesn't see the world as Bar and Poppy taught him to -- and it was mainly Bar who taught him to be cold-hearted, self-centered, derisive and self-assured-as-superior.

The evidence that Dubya thought he was doing justice... what evidence is that, exactly?

It helps to know a bit about those you pretend to analyze as the e-shrink, "Guest."

Posted by: micah pyre at May 4, 2009 03:36 PM

Great piece Mr. Caruso.

I don't think Obama should compromise or hold back any more than MLK did when he said the US was the greatest purveyor of violence on the earth.

Posted by: Curt at May 5, 2009 09:59 PM

Except, Curt, that MLK wasn't the President of the USA when he said that. He was a dissident minister who was already on the outs with decent, responsible white liberals. (Plus, he was assassinated.) Noam Chomsky can say that if the Nuremberg principles were enforced, every US Prez since WWII would have to be hanged; but he's not President either. He doesn't depend on the campaign contributions of Wall Street and the rest of Corporate America, as Obama or any other President does. That gives him a certain freedom, along with the freedom to be ignored by all decent, respectable opinion makers or alternately to be hectored by them for being so bitter and negative and cynical.

I've been thinking about this some more, and I'm not sure what could reasonably be expected from Obama. It seems to me that instead of tippy-toeing dishonestly around the horrific history of US interference and violence in Latin America, he could and should have taken a different tack; if he wants to forget history and accentuate the positive, he could have talked honestly about whatever positive steps he plans to take. ... Oh, erm, well, of course there aren't any. Never mind. Still, his jeer at Daniel Ortega showed that he is not a nice guy hemmed in by his corporate backers but an unbelievably sanctimonious asshole.

Posted by: Duncan at May 6, 2009 10:13 AM

I am with John on this one. He has a valid point -'basically if your "in" the system - to move the levers of the system requires a tremendous amount of moral turpitude and ultimately results in the person being co-opted by the system -primarily because to get to a place where you can move the levers -you HAVE to be compromised before you get anywhere near there.

In short- as has been pointed out - Obama is not some 'magic' event per se- magic social events do not lead with over 200 M in campaign financing. And just who would be a big enough fool to believe that much money came from the internet?

Obama is yet another figure-head and the design is not an accident. People were really tired of the Neocon face -so they just replaced it with something else for awhile.

As facts have borne out -we are still in Iraq/Afghansitan and this minor side show on acknowledging torture does not distract from the fact that basically -foreign policy is pretty much the same, so is economic policy (with the requisite illusory tax-break (' the average person will get back $500/$600/$x00- whopee -they are placated now.

Besides- who would vote for a man who stole from the humble Cesar Chavez in Si se puede?

Posted by: iyamwutiam at May 6, 2009 02:02 PM