Bruce Springsteen wrote a spirited 600-word endorsement of President Obama on his website last night, following up on his announcement that he’d be campaigning in the battleground states of Ohio and Iowa. Bruce stumped loudly for Obama in ’08 and it’s no surprise that The Boss would go all-out to get him re-elected over a plutocrat like Romney. The endorsement reflected the change all Obama supporters have undergone over a harsh four years: “Last time around, he carried with him a tremendous amount of hope and expectations. Unfortunately, due to the economic chaos the previous administration left him with, and the extraordinary intensity of the opposition, it turned into a really rough ride.”
But while he goes on to praise the president on a impressive list of achievements from job creation to healthcare to women’s issues to foreign policy and killing bin Laden, there is a big unspoken white elephant in the room: Guantanamo.
Before Bruce even wrote his endorsement Andrew Kirell from Mediaite wrote a scathing indictment of The Boss’s continued support for Obama this year, based on how he criticized Guantanamo in ’08. Kirell correctly reminds The Boss of his ’08 railing against “rendition, illegal wiretapping, rolling back of civil liberties, no habeas corpus if you’d like to defend yourself against charges brought against you.”
That Guntanamo remains open four years later and habeas corpus still not properly reinstated has presented progressives with their biggest philosophical quandary. And one that—like Bruce—many avoid bringing up. I suspect a big part of this is the strength of Obama’s own previous vitriol against the unconstitutionality of the Bush Administration policies. In ’08 Obama was on the same page as Bruce and other progressives. After taking office something changed—he turned to a different page. Based on how progressives had related to him on this issue it forced us to ask, Did he just flip-flop, or did new privileged information that comes with the presidency make it clear undoing all those Bush policies simply wasn’t possible? If we were in the same position, would we have made the same decision? And does that mean we were wrong to demonize Bush on this issue all along?
Progressives are the position of having to admit that either Obama bailed on a core value or that they and he were both simply being naive in ’08, and that the other guys were kind of right on this point.
Asking these questions starts to unravel your entire philosophy, to undermine the certainty that your party and its worldview has the correct prescriptions. No wonder no one wants to talk about it.
But simply not talking about it is problematic. Just last week Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that due to the threat of potentially catastrophic cyberattack Congress should mandate unprecedented access to private sector data. He insisted the government wasn’t interested in spying on individuals and that this was strictly for our own good–but what he outlined sounded something like the Patriot Act on a Lance Armstrong dose of steroids.
In light of the president’s reversal on Guantanamo and habeas corpus over the last four years, we have to ask ourselves: Is Panetta right? Were we being too idealistic to think that things that are in our best interest aren’t sometimes distasteful?
If we were wrong, we should own up to it. If we weren’t wrong, we should hold Obama to addressing the issue in a second term, should he win. Of course, either option is political poison three weeks before an election. Which I’m sure is why this was the big white elephant left out of Bruce’s endorsement.