The two Obamas: An assessment of our capable, but captive president

The two Obamas: An assessment of our capable, but captive president

Obama’s obscuring of the truth about his drone program tarnishes otherwise strong legacy on human rights

Not long ago I had the president of our great country down as a conundrum or an enigma or a Hamlet or a hypocrite—or any combination of these or all four. One way or another, a hard read. Dearly did I wish his name offered some useful music such as to suggest a phrase comparable to the immortal “Tricky Dick.” Nothing doing. Neither “Barack” nor “Hussein” nor “Obama” brings forth any serviceable poetry.

But who and what this president is comes clearer, it seems to me, in the waning days of his presidency. I first twigged to this on the occasion of Obama’s extraordinary appearance at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston after the June 17 murders last year. Finally, our first black president could speak eloquently and forcefully as a black man and stand ready to take on all comers.

That was the president those who voted for him intended to elect eight years ago. Remember his acceptance speech? I do, vividly, although I was living in Hong Kong at the time. When Obama referenced the great Sam Cooke with the phrase, “It’s been a long time coming,” I heard a man who understood text and subtext and knew how to make use of both.

Then came the badly mixed record, especially in foreign policy. And then came the questions. Who is this guy? He cuts a deal with Iran and then sets about defrauding them. He opens to Cuba with the idea America will have its way there yet. Some monstrous political sharp? Some neoliberal Trojan horse? The cleverest-yet front for the Pentagon and the spooks with his bombing campaigns and weapons programs, his crummy reforms after the Snowden revelations, the assassination list he peruses weekly in the Oval Office?

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