Obama Worse Than Bush

I voted for Obama in the Democratic primary, because I figured Hillary Clinton was more likely to expand the war in Afghanistan and otherwise engage in the sort of misguided military adventure favored by the shrub. Look what happened. He appointed Clinton Secretary of State, and then sent even more troops into Afghanistan than Bush Jr. would have dared consider. Don’t even get me started about his Mideast policy and spineless cave-in on Israeli settlements. Remember Guantanamo? He’s commander-in-chief, could shut this illegal abomination down whenever he wants to, instead he intends to keep it open indefinitely. Again, W would have closed the place by now and moved on. The fact that Obama was given a Nobel Peace Prize is some sort of sick joke.

On the domestic front, let’s face it: Obama has been a disaster for the country, moving it farther to the right than it has been at any time since perhaps a period of a few years sometime back in the 19th century. He has pursued policies more or less in line with those of Bush, confusing and neutering moderates and progressives (who don’t dare criticize him). Based on his inspiring speeches, they thought they had elected a community organizer, but are slowly realizing that they’ve been had, with the White House now in the hands of a Bush clone interested not in fighting powerful interests but in playing golf with them. By doing this, he has pushed the Republican opposition so far to the right that they’ve descended into lunacy, and ensured that he’ll should have no trouble winning re-election in 2012. The only threat to him is that of the rise of a populist/fascist movement, motivated by blind hatred and the (accurate) feeling that they are being driven into poverty by a ruthless Ivy-league-educated establishment with a lock on the political and financial system of the country. At the Harvard Club in midtown there’s a huge new portrait of him set in a prominent place as you enter the building. The establishment lawyers and financial types who congregate there know that he’s their man.

The military budget is now significantly higher than during the Bush years, and taxes on the wealthy even lower (taxes on large estates are lower than under Bush). While Bush expanded Medicare significantly to cover prescription drugs, Obama’s health plan was written in partnership with those responsible for the problem (high costs): doctors, insurance and pharmaceutical companies. The great innovation seems to be to expand access to medical care by forcing people who can’t afford it to buy insurance from rapacious insurance companies. Obama’s choice for Fed Chairman: same guy as the one Bush had running his Council of Economic Advisers, before moving on to the Fed and presiding over the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. If there’s any difference between Obama’s treasury secretary (Geithner) and Bush’s (Paulson), I’m unable to see it and haven’t met anyone who can. Geithner is now in charge of gutting the few minor reforms that were passed in the aftermath of the crisis, while institutionalizing a system of government backing for too-big-to-fail financial firms of sizes expanded since the Bush years. The organized looting of these firms by their employees that brought on the mess of 2008 is now back in full-swing.

Next year’s presidential campaign is predicted to cost a billion dollars, which Obama has already started raising from the financial industry and other interest groups. He faces no progressive or moderate opposition at all, with the only question to be resolved that of exactly how extreme his Republican opponent will be. I’ll be covering all this here on the blog, but on days when I don’t get around to giving you my thoughts on what is happening, two other places you might want to consult are FireDogLake and Naked Capitalism

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59 Responses to Obama Worse Than Bush

  1. MarkoB says:

    the prime axiom of neoclassical economics, and much else besides: when the rich are happy, great things happen. Corollary: when the poor wallow in misery, wonders never cease. I bet all the theorems of that other body of theory that is “not even wrong” are based on the prime axiom. Adam Smith himself called it the “vile maxim” of the “masters of mankind.” There are clear parallels between string theory and neoclassical economics. Might make for an interesting research paper.

  2. Mikhail Obamachev says:

    April Fool, none of this actually happened… right?

  3. Casey Leedom says:

    Okay, sorry, moving my way through your posts in reverse order. My bad.

    Breath. Really and seriously. Politics is “The Art of the Possible.” It’s weird and absurdly true. As a Died-In-The-Freaking-Wool liberal I have many dashed hopes in this game. But as a Died-In-The-Wool realist, eehhh, I’m open to what comes next. It really is better than what came before. Really.

    And by the way, if you are ever in the South Bay, drop me a line. I’ll organize a bike ride/hike and a party and we’ll all have a grand time.

    In the mean time, yeah, we’ve all got to try to influence things in reasonable directions.

  4. Cliff says:

    I think I am a much bigger fan of Peter Woit the political commentator than Peter Woit the physics commentator ;D

    Seriously, you’re right in just about everything you say here. I voted for Obama also. Nothing wrong with embracing the mistake. What I really can’t stand is the completely irrational unwillingness of Obama supporters to realize that his nice-guy facade is a complete lie. People desperately want to believe he’s some victim of the establishment rather than a part of it. Grow up people, you were deceived by a bunch of empty PR. Now we have to figure out what to do about it.

  5. chris says:

    very well said. i never thought that you political views would be so absolutely congruent with my own ones – although the tone of your budgetary comments was hinting at it.

    why did you not become a journalist, really? you ‘ve got talent for it.

  6. Nigel says:

    Look on the bright side, Peter. At least President Obama has got America firing its cruise missiles and dropping its bombs in the Libyan Civil War. So it’s not all bad news.

  7. eldavojohn says:

    OMG!!!1!1! I LUV you’re knew blog format! Like, I had gotten really sick and tired of you’re “blah blah blah string theory blah blah blah like math …” and that shit is hard! It’s about time you switched to something worthwhile and I’m glad I stayed and kept reading.

    This is such a HUGE coincidence. Just the other day, me and my one friend LaShawnda, were talking about how there just isn’t enough like politic blogs on the ‘Net. SRSLY! You can’t find anything like this anywhere! I even searched on AOL and you’re like the only person with enough balls to diss the president.

    And you totally changed my mind. I used to be some sort of Obama parrot but after reading your blog post, it really made me think. And after I thought I had like this revelation and then I totally agree with you now.

  8. tomate says:

    I see this as refined mock of aggressive and vague political writing, raging over the internet. No surprise that more than one commentator liked it: for the information standards today, this is high journalism!

    But jokes sometimes are a good way to say what one really thinks… is that so?

  9. Desperate scientis says:

    Well, I think you can relax because there is no way Obama will win over Palin in 2012. So our next president will be even better.

  10. chris says:

    if a president is not able to locate a country on a world map, does that imply that (s)he will not send troops there?

    if this is so, i am all for palin.

  11. Do you think really that Obama is his own man ? That he has any power ? I think no and thought then that he is a straw man and he is afraid. Where did he come from – who put him there ? clearly he is someone who obedient to the powers that be.
    I was one of 300.000 who voted for Ralph.

  12. steve newman says:

    hi peter-
    i’ve been coming regularly for the physics, but i like the new format.
    i consider string theory, standard model cosmology (and probably a lot of the math, which i don’t understand), a total dead end.
    just like the political scene, its depressing that the wrong way is in
    power and squashes any opposition. a miniature version of the wrongness of things, is your aricle about the police war on bicyclists!
    I agree with the commenter who said that your new blog direction is probably an admission of (hopefully) temporary defeat in the physics wars.
    i’m less enthusiastic about the food reviews, especially in the context of all the grim stuff. finally, i agree completely with your assessment of Obama.
    looking forward to seeing how your blog develops. maybe you should rename it to “More than Even Wrong”.

  13. Roger says:

    I think I get the joke. You’ve written a parody of an anti-Lubos blog!

  14. Claver says:

    If the wise play the fool, still the fool remains more foolish indeed!

    Nice one Mr Woit.

  15. S. Molnar says:

    Satire or not, I agree with almost everything you have said in your 1 April posts. I differ in the matter of BBQ – I refrain from eating land animals so that my atmospheric methane contribution will be of the direct kind only – and I have one example of the Obama administration being better than Dubya’s. The Transportation Secretary, who is an open Republican, unlike the crypto-Republican Obama, has actually done a respectable job of promoting cycling infrastructure, pedestrian access, and public transportation. He clearly comes from an alternative universe.

  16. anonymous says:

    This may be a great time to mention the new element that is speculated to be the bearer of all political mass in the universe:
    Govermentium (Gov). Govermentium is normally stable and does not change under most circumstances (including new election cycles), has a transient state where it spews a great deal of negatively charged taxions. Governmentium has 1 neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of governmentium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete when it would normally take less than a second. Governmentium has a normal half-life of three years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause some morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

  17. The real worry is the brute hammer of censorship – good choices are not made with missing information. An educated, well informed public is imperative for the survival of democracy – We have now at this very moment in the internet an amazing tool for the freedom of information – or in a parallel world – a twinkling of the eye it is gone and more and more you will be finding we are living in a totalitarian regime. If you want to control people just make them feel stupid or better yet shut the book stores, control the web. In a few years most everyone will forget how to survive.

  18. Bobito says:

    Right on the money, so to speak.

  19. Josuah Chamberlain says:

    Glad to see that you come to your senses. Isn’t being able to think independently,that is to say, being able to think for yourself a wonderfull thing!!!!

    Being president of the US for Barack and Michelle Obama is all about being the coolest kid in the class….scaled up big time. That it requires the destruction of human beings in the Muslim world and the destruction of American teenagers economically coerced into carrying out imperial policy in the Middle East is of no consequence to these two sociopaths and the previous two socoipaths-Bush W and Bill Clinton…all three working on behalf of the oil companies and the hedge funds. It is all going to end very badly and in tears.

  20. Andrew L. says:

    I agree with most of this post except that he’s worse then Bush. Bush’s administration INSTITUTED most of the most horrific polices you complain about. The problem with Obama is that he’s gone along with them after BSing the nation. He’s not a real Democrat,as I’ve said many times. He’s a corporate token. But the really frightening part is how the Corporations have decided to use his weakness to eliminate the middleman entirely and return us to the 18th century of gilded age psuedodemocracy and legalized slavery of non-wealthy people. They’ve done this by a sustained 2-pronged attack through the subversion of the Supreme Court that now is systematically handing the country over to them piece by piece beginning with the Citizens United decision-and the shift of the Republican party into lunatic policies that are almost comically pro-wealthy and anti-middle/lower class.The local attack on labor is the centerpiece of the latter. All is not completely bleak, though.The plutocrats’ huge mistake was directly attacking the rights of workers in such a heavy handed and overt manner and not even bothering to conceal thier contempt for the suffering working poor. People are ANGRY and they see through the scam now.They tell me, “oh,the mindless rabble will forget this in a few years.” I don’t think so, this was too direct and vicious. Taking away workers rights,demonizing them and cutting thier pay while laughing is pretty hard to spin effectively. That was thier mistake-they’re usually a lot more subtle then this. Right now,that anger is locally directed-it may take a few more years before that anger is directed upwards towards Washington. The real breakthrough will come when they see that Obama and “bluedogs” like him aren’t just the “lesser of the two evils”-they’re as big a part of the problem as the Conservatives are. Personally-I’m seriously considering moving to Canada when I get my PHD.

  21. OK progressives/liberals time to give a culinary review, how was the crow? Hope you liked it because you’ll be eating that almost exclusively for most of the foreseeable future. You thought that because your weapon is individual honesty you were immune to this, that this dish could only be for the Republicans who’s main weapon is shared illusion. Nope. Anyone can be wrong, anyone can be had. Liberals are had when the truth is falsely employed while conservatives are had when illusion is falsely employed. Bush was a wolf in wolfs clothing while Obama is a wolf is sheep’s clothing, and so yes, he’s worse. I don’t mind when obnoxious ignorance does the wrong thing compared to when supposed compassionate wisdom does the wrong thing. I can understand when denial and illusion turns out to be denial and illusion but I can’t forgive when honesty and knowledge turns out to be illusion
    Bush never claimed to be on the side of the powerless, unlike the current occupant who did. WE HAVE BEEN HAD. In the next election VOTE INDEPENDENT! Who? Whomever most represents the attitude that creativity and liberty will solve our problems because ONLY RESPECT FOR THE INDIVIDUAL WILL. Nothing of any value was ever invented by a committee, and it maters not whether the committee that rules us is a government committee or a corporate committee it is rule by closed committee that must end. Return the patent/copyright office to INDIVIDUALS and take it out of the hands of the MOBS THAT NOW RULE OUR LIVES whether they be the Ivy league gangs or the crime boss gangs the government gangs or the corporate gangs, educate children to be EMPLOYERS NOT EMPLOYEES, CREATIVE PRODUCERS NOT PASSIVE CONSUMERS. If we continue to rely on gangs to get us out of what only individual initiative can overcome WE ARE DOOMED

  22. Chris W. says:


    Uh, excuse me for asking this, but who will these employers employ, and who will consume what these creative producers produce? Just wondering…

  23. Tim R says:


    I used to be sorta naive too, back in grad school. At least I never had a lapse in judgement as large as yours.

  24. Dave Miller says:


    I realize that this is a bit of an April Fools’ spoof and should be taken with a grain of salt…

    But, in my experience, most intelligent liberals AND conservatives would agree with most of what you wrote here. The two things we could reasonably hope for from Obama were an end to the senseless wars and an end to the bailouts of the fat cats.

    I was never an Obamaniac, but I too thought Obama would be better than Hillary and hoped he would be better than McCain.

    I now think we elected Hillary W. McCain in ’08.

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

  25. Matt says:

    Nothing is more offensive than a naive person who claims that everyone else is naive.

    Where to begin? First, Afghanistan. Obama campaigned on increasing the fight in Afghanistan. He talked about it repeatedly, especially in the debates. That you are surprised of his decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan is rather strange. Did you think he was lying about his AfPak policy during his campaign?

    And Guantanamo. Okay, let’s say President Obama, the Commander-in-Chief, unilaterally declares that he’s closing Guantanamo. What happens to all the prisoners? Where do they go? No state will try them–just look at the fiasco in NYC when Holder attempted to hold the trial for one of the 9/11 conspirators there. Ten years later, they eventually just gave up.

    And no state will agree to hold the prisoners, either. Nor any foreign non-torturing country. None of our European allies have agreed to take them in. So what is Obama supposed to do with all these people? If he releases them all, and one of them commits another major act of terrorism, the blowback would be far more devastating to the liberal cause than Guantanamo’s existence. If you can think of a way for Obama to somehow make state or local American politicians have a spine and take in Guantanamo prisoners, please tell me. The mere fact that you think it’s just as simple as the Commander-in-Chief declaring the end of Guantanamo (what, in some sort of executive order?) is preposterous. How do you physically carry out that policy?

    And on it goes. Health Care Reform? The model is a carbon copy of the system we have here in Massachusetts, and you know that if Ted Kennedy were alive when the national plan had been passed, he’d have been jumping with joy. Here in MA, 98% of adults have health insurance today, and 99.7% of children. Have you seen the national rates? How can you possibly argue that nationalizing the MA plan wouldn’t be a staggering improvement, especially considering that the national plan, unlike the MA, also includes countless additional trial programs for actually making health care delivery less expensive over time, like bundling, ACOs, revised payment schemes inspired by the Mayo Clinic, computerization, etc. If you or Jane Hamsher or Howard Dean had your way, we’d be stuck with the status quo, just like the GOP wanted. So tell me, do you really think a national version of the MA plan is worse than the status quo?

    This whole making-the-perfect-the-enemy-of-the-good thing is what makes me so disgusted with the hard left. Do you know what the original incarnation of Social Security looked like, and how long it took before the program took its modern form? Would you have demanded that FDR veto the original Social Security plan?

    The choice between the Dems and the GOP has become the choice between Coca-Cola and arsenic. On the one hand you have an ideologically blurry party with liberals, moderates, and conservatives represented, and on the other hand you have a party that’s basically the John Birch society. If it hadn’t been for the GOP’s massive federal tax cuts, two decadal unfunded wars, and a Medicare prescription plan bigger than Obama’s health care bill, all put entirely on the national credit card, there would be no short-term or medium-term debt crisis right now. And you think Obama is worse than Bush? Who would Bush have replaced Souter and Stevens with on the Supreme Court?

    As for the Fed, the best possible thing the Fed could be doing is a massive quantitative easing program that pours a huge amount of money into the system. And that’s precisely what they finally decided to do, and they’re keeping at it, despite many right-wingers demanding that it’s going to lead to too much inflation. You think another term of Bush would have them doing monetary stimulus on that scale?

    Your post is ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky whining. Politics is very, very hard, and it’s for grown-ups who have a grip on the real world. You fight hard and take what you can get. But this attitude of declaring that it’s all a big sell-out and you’re just going to take your marbles and go home is childish and immensely counter-productive. You think if Gore had won in 2000 we would have had Iraq and those massive tax cuts, let alone Alito and Roberts on the Supreme Court, who are responsible for Citizens United?

    Here’s a good idea: Find a way to eliminate filibusters and other anti-majoritarian parliamentary rules in the Senate. Nancy Pelosi and Obama got everything you wanted through the House, including a public option, cap and trade, a much bigger stimulus package, and over two hundred other bills. But they all died in the Senate. Was that Obama’s fault too?

    I’d like to see the Peter Woit plan. Compaining is easy, but productive suggestions are much more difficult.

  26. Marty says:

    Matt’s comment is a good example of why I’m glad Peter avoids political commentary in his postings (except for April Fool’s Day…). Why the ad hominem attacks? They add nothing useful or interesting. There seems to be something about political views, religion, and sports team rivalries that can bring out some of the worst in people. Well reasoned discussions that avoid ideology and strong emotions are enjoyable and thought provoking, but it seems too hard for some people to keep the discussion at that level…

  27. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Marty,

    You’re quite right, Matt’s comment does an excellent job of showing why I don’t allow political discussions here except on April 1. The internet unleashes too many of people’s worst characteristics, including that of vilifying anyone who disagrees with them. Only a self-destructive idiot would choose to spend his time moderating such discussions.

    For the record, no, I don’t think that “if Gore had won in 2000 we would have had Iraq and those massive tax cuts, let alone Alito and Roberts on the Supreme Court, who are responsible for Citizens United?” I actually was quite a fan of the Clinton/Gore administration, something which now seems to make me, according to Matt and other Obamaites, a member of the “hard left”. My problem is just with Obama, and the collapse of moderate/progressive politics in the US that he has been (partly) responsible for enabling.

  28. Matt says:

    Perhaps you would be willing to tell me what specific things a hypothetical Bill Clinton 2008 presidency would have done differently? Clinton failed to pass health care reform, enacted Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, and shut down much of welfare, not to mention presided over most of the financial deregulation that led to the financial collapse of 2007.

    It was much easier for Clinton to look good when the economy was roaring along. But Obama inherited the worst financial picture since the Great Depression. He somehow got nearly a trillion dollars in fiscal stimulus through (you should read through the list of separate items in that bill, which also included a huge boost to science research funding), plus at least as much monetary stimulus through the Fed. He saved the American auto industry and with it millions of working-class jobs. He finally ended the banking middle-men in student loans and the insurance middle-men in Medicare Advantage. He finally got DADT ended, got a federal hate crimes bill and the Lily Ledbetter act through, and dropped the federal defense of DOMA. He ended the global gag rule on foreign aid groups providing family planning services, too. And, refusing to give in to GOP demands, he is refusing to send ground forces into Libya, and letting the Europeans do the job (poorly, as we’re now seeing). And he replaced two Supreme Court justices with liberals.

    Please tell me how Bush would have handled all this. I just don’t understand. Please explain it for everyone.

  29. Peter Woit says:

    Sorry Matt,

    I don’t do rants about how politicians I approve of do everything right, and ones about how politicians I disapprove of do everything wrong I only do on April Fool’s Day. The world is very complicated, and it’s also quite different than in the 1990s: militarism and inequality between the rich and the poor in the US has increased dramatically. Progressives and moderates should be holding Obama accountable for his failure to do anything about these problems, not making excuses for him about how it’s impossible.

  30. Matt says:

    I notice that you’re not willing to give specifics. I know you’re disappointed, but please tell me concretely what you would have Obama physically be doing differently.

    How does he get a bolder agenda through the buzz saw of the Senate, given the filibuster and other procedural roadblocks there? Look at all the bills they got through the House but that failed to get through the Senate, from a public option to cap and trade to a much bigger stimulus bill, etc.

    How would Obama have gotten around that? I mean, look at what they had to do to get the health care bill through the Senate—they needed to do all kinds of crazy workarounds and loopholes, and even then it barely squeaked through after nearly a year of constant effort.

  31. Matt says:

    And, for goodness sake, Bush brought us Dick Cheney as VP, Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary, and John Bolton as UN ambassador, just to name a few. These were all raging sociopaths. Was there ever a group of more horrible human beings in top US posts than these guys, who did more domestic and global damage? Were Obama’s picks of Joe Biden, Bob Gates, and Susan Rice really worse?

    I just don’t understand.

  32. Peter Woit says:


    I did give specifics in this posting:

    1. Expansion of the war in Afghanistan. He’s Commander-in-Chief.

    2. Failure to close Guantanamo as promised. The place is a disgraceful violation of international law. He’s Commander-in-Chief, personally directly responsible for the place, and could have flown its inmates to a legal military prison in the US.

    3. If he wanted to decrease military spending, he could have proposed this, and vetoed legislation that increased such spending.

    4. It was his choice to veto the UN resolution on illegal Israeli settlement activity.

    5. Appointment and Reappointment of those responsible for the financial crisis (Bernanke + Geithner).

    6. Bonus points for what he has done recently concerning the treatment of Bradley Manning.

    You can argue back and forth about whether Obama could have gotten better legislation through the Senate (and now his problem is not the Senate, but that he and the Democrats politically did such a bad job during his first two years that they lost the House), but the record is clear on what he has done on his own.

    About Bush Jr.: Yes, he and the people around him were awful and did a huge amount of damage to this country. The question now is whether Obama is going to fix any of it or continue along the same lines. Under Bush Jr., most Democrats were appalled by what was going on, now they’re defending it.

  33. Matt says:

    >2. Failure to close Guantanamo as promised. The place is a disgraceful violation of international law. He’s Commander-in-Chief, personally directly responsible for the place, and could have flown its inmates to a legal military prison in the US.

    In what state? He needed Congressional approval and state approval to move them. Don’t you remember all that wrangling going on in his first year, all the crazy US and state legislators screaming that these Guantanamo prisoners were supervillains who couldn’t be contained even in supermax facilities, and refusing to vote to allow the prisoners to come in? Don’t you remember all the jokes by Jon Stewart about how foolish those legislators were, given that we had man-eating serial killers in these prisons?

    In the abstract, it all seems so simple. But the president doesn’t have a magic wand. He’s got the veto pen, the state of the union address, and he’s commander of the armed forces. He doesn’t get to vote in Congress, and he can’t overturn Supreme Court decisions. Do you know of any off-mainland military prisons other than Gitmo where he could have sent the prisoners, and, importantly, that he could get Senate approval for?

    The rest I basically agree with. But that’s all small potatoes compared to what Bush did. The Israel UN vote? Who cares? Bradley Manning? Criminal treatment, but come on! Bush would have waterboarded him to death. Bush invaded Iraq for no good reason, and Obama has finally wound it down. Bush presided over the biggest economic collapse in modern history, and Obama turned it around. Bush tortured hundreds of innocent prisoners to death, and Obama’s contribution was to keep those photos from getting out. Coca-Cola versus arsenic, again. But perhaps the McCain-Palin ticket would have been more to your liking.

    The fact is that Bush was a reckless man, and Obama is not, and that’s probably the single most important reason why Bush was far, far worse. And that’s more generally true of the GOP versus the Democrats. So the lesson is never, ever to elect the GOP, because they’ll put in place all kinds of horrible, horrible policies that the Democrats are too cautious to sharply reverse as soon as they get back into office. The lesson is not to say that the Democrats are worse than the GOP, and that nobody should care if the GOP wins the next election. I’m sure the Paul Ryan budget plan would not be to your liking.

  34. Matt says:

    I’m not making this up. Here are the results of a simple Google search on “guantanamo house vote”:

    “U.S. House votes to block Guantanamo transfer”

    “House votes to prohibit moving Gitmo detainees”

    Here’s a sampling, from http://entertainment.xin.msn.com/en/radio/938live/headlinesnews.aspx?cp-documentid=4510680

    >>The US House of Representatives has approved legislation to stop the moving of terrorism suspects from Guantanamo Bay to American soil

    It prevents the transfer of prisoners by prohibiting the government from spending any money to do so.

    The vote is a blow to US President Barack Obama’s efforts to prosecute prisoners in America.

    The spending ban makes it impossible for Mr Obama to follow through on his campaign pledge to close the prison by re-locating the prisoners.

    The Obama administration has condemned the tighter restriction.

    It argued that Congress should not direct how the administration prosecutes such cases.

    There are still 174 detainees at Guantanamo prison.

    So Peter, what should Obama do about it?

  35. Matt says:

    What drives me most crazy about the Guantanamo fiasco is that Obama is getting it from both sides. The right wing is calling him a terrorist-loving, America-apologizing, naive Marxist for trying to close it down, and the left wing is calling him a capitulating, lying, worthless scum bag for keeping for being unable to get its closure through Congress. If you have any concrete ideas for how to get closure of Gitmo through Congress, please let me know.

  36. Peter Woit says:


    One reason for emphasizing the Guantanamo story is that it’s the clearest case where Obama had the power to do something and refused to use it. When he came into office, he clearly had the authority as commander-in-chief to issue orders to the military to shut the Guantanamo prison, send transports down there, pick up the prisoners, and fly them back to military prisons in the US. Had he had done this, I seriously doubt that Congress or the States could have gotten a court to issue an enforceable order that the prisoners be sent back to Guantanamo. This might be a bit trickier now due to the Congressional legislation, but I still think he should do this and suspect he would do very well in court making the case that this is not up to Congress, but up to the Commander-in-Chief. Do you really think a court is going to rule that a President leading a nation at war does not have the power to hold captured enemy soldiers on US soil if necessary?

    In any case, looking at how he has handled the Manning case and continued a large number of other Bush-era violations of civil rights on national security grounds, it’s pretty clear that the reason he didn’t do this is that he just doesn’t see the issue very differently than Bush did. Again, if we had Bush still as President, I strongly suspect that he would have emptied Guantanamo by now, through one means or another, and if he hadn’t, the Democrats would be putting heavy pressure on him to do so. Instead they’re rolling over and supporting Obama’s disgraceful and illegal behavior on this issue.

    As for the politics of it, he has caved in to the far-right and done what they want, but they’re never going to love and support him. The “far-left” of people who believe in following conventional legal and ethical standards are not happy with him, but see no alternatives. So he’s not making many people happy, but he is pursuing what will probably be a successful political strategy: govern like Bush, driving Republican opposition to the loony extreme right, while making sure no challenger from the center or the left emerges. To make this work he just needs to convince most people that it’s not his fault that moderate or progressive policies are not being pursued. So far, this is working quite well for him.

  37. Matt says:

    Actually, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution declares that only Congress shall have the power to “make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.” To the extent that Bush made these sorts of decisions unilaterally, he was acting in an extrajudicial–illegal–way. Perhaps Obama should do so as well, but I sort of like the fact that he has decided not to keep breaking the law. Perhaps he was stupid to try to get Congress to act, but that was the legal approach. And his inability to get it done has nothing to do with his desire to get it done. Bush wanted to create Guantanamo, and Obama wants to get rid of it. And yet Obama is worse than Bush?

    The Manning case is a travesty. But Bush did not do a single good thing for the country in his entire eight year presidency. (His only positive accomplishment was PEPFAR, but that was in Africa.) Every decision Bush made was a catastrophe and a screw-up that made our lives incalculably worse. He added literally trillions to the debt, and the cost was strangling many of the good things liberals wanted to get done when he left.

    Has Obama really done nothing good in his two years in office so far? I listed a huge number. Saving us from total financial collapse has to go up on that list. So was the nearly a trillion dollars in stimulus. You should really read the contents of that bill in detail. It’s apparent magnitude seems small only because it all got into one single bill. Read its Wikipedia page:


    The unemployment rate had a major inflection point just when the stimulus package started:


    Then came the year-long struggle to pass a health care bill, nationalizing the MA plan so that 30 million more people get access to health insurance. And he actually paid for the damn thing, despite having to raise all kinds of taxes and cut Medicare Advantage.

    The financial bill was too weak, but at least it wasn’t more de-regulation, like Bush favored. Obama saved the American auto industry, despite enormous criticism at the time and calls to let the auto makers collapse. (And take millions of jobs with them.) He ended DADT and stopped defending DOMA. If it hadn’t been for the filibuster, he would have gotten cap and trade passed, too, as well as a public option and much more stimulus.

    I also mentioned before the Lily Ledbetter Act, the new federal hate crimes bill, and the two Supreme Court replacements. Bush didn’t do anything helpful, and Obama did many helpful things. The few bad things Obama has done (AfPak, Manning, etc.) are as bad as what Bush did, but Bush had nothing to balance that out. To say that four more years of Bush would have been better is just difficult to understand. Are you also saying we should all sit out the 2012 election and not vote for Obama?

  38. Peter Woit says:


    Since Guantanamo is illegal, Obama is in violation of the law by keeping it open. Saying he is going to keep doing this in order to more carefully follow the law than Bush is just absurdism.

    I’m not saying people should sit out the 2012 election. They should make clear that Obama’s cave-to-the-right tactics are not acceptable, work to get a better Democratic candidate and vote for him or her in the primary. If this fails, barring some miraculous decision of the Republicans to nominate someone sensible, people won’t have any choice and will have to vote for Obama, at least if they live in swing states.

  39. Matt says:

    Oh. That actually sounds like a pretty good plan. Why do you have to be so damn reasonable?

  40. chris says:


    you make it sound like Obama is a string theorist. He does not produce results but excuses.

    Looking at it from the outside it is just plain disappointing that with both chambers on his side he could get so little done in the first 2 years.

  41. Matt says:

    Chris, in the American system we have this thing called the filibuster. Look it up. Unless you have 60/100 seats in the Senate, there’s no advantage in having a majority.

  42. Matt says:

    Again, to get a truer sense of what Obama and the Dems were trying to accomplish, look at what made it through the House. Unfortunately, except for a brief period after Spector switched parties, the Dems didn’t have enough votes in the Senate to overcome the filibuster. It’s a frustrating peculiarity of the American political system.

  43. chris says:


    if someone is too cowardly to bring in an initiative just because a stupid loophole would in principle allow to veto it is not really convincing.

    i always hear a filibuster as an excuse by the dems, never have i heard of them threatening to do it against the other side. i would guess that after 2 years of constant filibusters voters might grow weary of such strategies, but all of the us seem to accept this extreme measure as bussiness as usual – like a nuke, that does not need to be employed, just its existence blocks change of any sort.

  44. Matt says:

    Voters do not “grow weary,” because the vast, vast majority of voters have no idea what the filibuster is. Instead they just blame whoever has the majority.

    To get a sense of the scale of this massive institutional problem, see


    Most of people’s gripes with particular political parties are really problems with the system itself, problems that are insanely difficult to fix. (And outside the president’s powers to fix, by the way.)

  45. jpd says:

    @Matt for historical accuracy, when Ted Kennedy was alive
    the Dems had 60 (same number as with dem spector)

  46. vorpal says:


    Obama didn’t hesitate to skirt the Constitution when initiating a war in Libya, yet when it came to Gitmo he followed, and continues to follow, the “law” to a T.

    I think the contrast in attitude Obama has shown in the above two policies shows where his heart lies.

  47. Matt says:

    jpd- As I said very clearly, the Dems had 60 votes in the Senate only for a very brief period, a few months, after Spector switched parties and before Ted Kennedy died and was replaced by Scott Brown. (Here I’m treating Lieberman as a quasi-Dem, which is frankly questionable.) But nothing can move through the Senate that fast, because of cloture votes, holds, and other parliamentary delaying tactics that the GOP gleefully employed.

    Given your blatant error being brought to your attention, I’m sure you’ll revisit your opinions, right? (Ha!)

    vorpal- So far the president refused to declare war on Libya, despite both Dems like Kerry and Republicans like McCain pushing him to do so, and has sent no troops over, both acts that would have required Congressional approval. So far he’s made menacing gestures and fired missiles, but left the heavy lifting in Europe’s limp-wristed hands. As a NATO treay signatory, Article 6 of the Constitution makes certain demands of us.

    Let me know when Obama changes his mind and decides to invade. Given his (and his Sec Def’s) blatant distaste for getting involved in another Middle-Eastern conflict, I’m not holding my breath.

  48. Matt says:

    Indeed, without a declaration of war, the legal status of presidential authority in matters of no-fly zones is rather murky, especially when there’s a situation of acute humanitarian crisis and UN approval (such as Libya, or Clinton’s intervention in Kosovo, although the UN probably would have approved intervention in Rwanda and Darfur if Western powers had pushed for it).

    See Wikipedia’s entry on the War Powers Resolution of 1973, especially the section on its constitutionality:


    See also as this piece specifically on the Libyan no-fly zone by Michael Kelly, president of the U.S. National Chapter of L’association International du Droit Penal:


    Whether you approve of the Libyan intervention or not, Clinton’s intervention in Kosovo was certainly as significant, so Obama is hardly an outlier among Democratic presidents on this one. Inasmuch as this is a debate over whether Obama is worse than Bush, who actually invaded two Middle Easter countries at a cost of trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives, I’m afraid I can’t concede this point.

  49. Matt says:

    These last few comments really typify why this belly-aching gets on my nerves so much. These criticisms are mostly based on profound misunderstandings and ignorance about presidential powers and the basic structure of American’s political institutions.

    The system itself really sucks. It’s poorly designed, to a large extent because the founders didn’t understand the sociology of party politics. Hell, they thought the Senate was going to be a nonpartisan body of elders! (And the Senate is probably the single dumbest part of our system.)

    The president exists inside this highly constrained, frustratingly obstacle-ridden system, and criticisms should be deployed with all these factors in mind. It’s far, far easier for a reckless president to be destructive than for a cautious president to clean up the mess. That’s the breaks, unless you all can figure out a concrete, well-though-out way to change the system.

    Any ideas?

  50. jpd says:

    whoa, “blatant error”? i wasn’t even involved in your discussion, just pointing out the Spector count was the same as the Kennedy count.
    but now that you bring it up, why is it so easy for obama to invade yet another country but ie not close guantanimo?

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