The Not-So-Strange Case of Obama’s Jekyll and Hyde Presidency

Photo credit: 2008 Wally Gobetz/flickr. Use does not represent endorsement by the photographer.

Barack Obama’s presidency suffers from something of a split personality. It is a confounding cocktail of genuine progress and draconian policy. So what does that mean for concerned citizens, thoughtful activists, and people of faith?

Since I’ve got 1,000 words or so per post, I’m going to focus on the more significant achievements and problems. You can disagree with me in the comment section about the things that should have made my list or those I should have omitted, but please don’t miss the point.

The Obama Administration as Dr. Jekyll:

  1. Appointed two moderate Supreme Court Justices to offset the neo-conservative trend of the court.
  2. Played a significant role in turning around U.S. Auto Industry.
  3. Gave a conciliatory speech in Cairo that polls show marked the beginning of a receding tide of Anti-Americanism abroad. For awhile, anyway.
  4. Advanced women’s rights in the work place with Equal-Pay legislation.
  5. Help for those injured and made sick from the 9/11 rescue and cleanup operation.
  6. Created Consumer Finance Protection Board.
  7. Repealed DADT.
  8. Passed Health Care Reform* including enhancing children’s health care.
  9. Passed credit card, student loan and wall street reform.**
  10. Ended the war in Iraq.***

The Obama Administration as Mr. Hyde:

  1. *Setting aside some inarguable benefits like the ending of preexisting conditions plus new care for millions of people, health care reform is more of a subsidy for the insurance industry. Health care costs continue to skyrocket.
  2. **Wall street reform appears to have been softer than is required to protect against another widespread financial collapse due to fraud and corruption, at a time when abuses continue. Corruption has been shielded by the Justice Department’s failure to prosecute at levels lower than previous contemporary administrations including George W. Bush.
  3. ***While Iraq war has officially ended, we continue to have a planet-sized embassy left behind, along with 5,500 private security forces protecting our largest diplomatic presence anywhere overseas (10,000 State Department employees). Oh, and departure was not our plan. We were forced to leave under the insistence of Iraqis.
  4. War in Afghanistan rages on, after more than a decade and while support plummets to new low.
  5. Despite a veto threat, Obama administration signed NDAA including language allowing for expanded powers for the government and military to fight the war on terror on domestic soil, including the indefinite detention of American citizens by the military without charge or trial.
  6. War in Libya was illegal and in violation of the War Powers Act, adding helium to the ever-expanding imperial presidency balloon.
  7. No reversal on Bush’s tax cuts on the wealthy, a significant contributor to federal deficits.
  8. Guantanamo remains open, regardless of Obama’s executive order.
  9. Continued marijuana crackdown despite campaign rhetoric to the opposite.
  10. Obama will not prosecute war crimes in Afghanistan nor will he investigate the war crimes committed by the previous administration.
  11. Gave the order to conduct extrajudicial assassination of American citizens abroad.
  12. Ethically and legally murky drone strike warfare in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere, including mounting civilian casualties (women and children).
  13. Unparalleled prosecution of whistleblowers. It’s at this point that I have to ask, what happened to those promises of greater transparency?
  14. Presided over the rapid expansion of our top secret security and surveillance state, and its continual merger with the private sector including big-name companies like Google.

Now What?

Supporters of the President may explain away his harshest policy or accuse me of being in the tank for the Right, while the more surly anti-Obama voters may use this to bolster their fact-free ad hominem attacks. There are other, more understandable rebuttals. One person remembers that the world is a complicated place in which those who make the toughest decisions can’t be expected to get it right all the time. Our President has more information than we do, another person says as a reminder. He’s working inside a largely corrupted system, someone else points out. Each of these statements are correct while being something of a scapegoat. Some over-correct by demanding perfection and insisting that the Constitution be inflexible and almost holy. Some don’t seem to mind what our government does, no matter how ugly things get. Some just confine it all to water cooler discussion and feel satisfied to have argued against the growing injustices of American tone and policy. Others tune out and become entirely apathetic.

I look at the first few years of President Obama’s administration and I wonder if our unsettled relationship with elected leaders works best as a reminder of man’s depravity, both ours and theirs. We watch as people are seduced by paranoia, hatred, conspiracy theories, as well as idealism, blind allegiance, misplaced trust, and naivety. Through our best leaders, worst, and those in between, the limits of humanity’s ability to fix itself is projected on the big screen. Their actions fail us, and we fail them and each other by responding in ways that miss the point (or the facts). We can work for positive change without believing that we can erect a fair and enduring paradise on our own. 

Christians will continue to disagree about political issues (which is my guess as to why I so often lose friends on Facebook), but hopefully we can also remember that regardless of who is in charge and what he or she does with that power, this nation is joined to the rest of this world in a state of disarray and anticipation. Until Christ returns, may we work diligently to bring forth glimpses of God’s kingdom on earth, including mercy, justice, humility, hope, and love, while never forgetting that Christ alone is the completion.


4 thoughts on “The Not-So-Strange Case of Obama’s Jekyll and Hyde Presidency

  1. Or, it could all just be more indication that he really was far too inexperienced for the job and should never allowed his ego to drive him into accepting the position as “Poster Boy” for those who were fed up with the insanely corrupt regime of G. W. Bush.

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