Long before he became president, there were signs in Barack Obama of a tendency to promise things easily and compromise often. He broke a campaign vow to filibuster a bill that immunised telecom outfits against prosecution for the assistance they gave to domestic spying. He kept his promise from October 2007 until July 2008, then voted for the compromise that spared the telecoms. As president, he has continued to support their amnesty. It was always clear that Obama, a moderate by temperament, would move to the middle once elected. But there was something odd about the quickness with which his website mounted a slogan to the effect that his administration would look to the future and not the past. We all do. Then again, we don't: the past is part of the present. Reduced to a practice, the slogan meant that Obama would rather not bring to light many illegal actions of the Bush administration. The value of conciliation outweighed the imperative of truth. He stood for 'the things that unite not divide us'. An unpleasant righting of wrongs could be portrayed as retribution, and Obama would not allow such a misunderstanding to get in the way of his ecumenical goals.
LRB 22 October 2009 | PDF Download