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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Obama presidency requires continued scrutiny

    It’s over. The marathon 22-month election season has finally come to an end. Politicians on both sides of the fence have finally called for Americans to unite around President-elect Barack Hussein Obama, II. Journalists across the nation, including college newspaper columnists, have somewhat nauseatingly poured out praise for the new president and relief that the election season is over, changing “”Yes we can!”” to “”Yes we did!””

    Me? I’m following in the footsteps of University of Minnesota, Morris biologist PZ Myers, who announced on his blog Wednesday that he is “”charging up his cattle prod”” for the Obama administration. Like Myers, I’m cautiously optimistic about Obama, as all Americans ought to be.

    American politics never benefits when the president’s cheerleading section is too large. When Americans blindly support a charismatic leader, we lose. We become willing participants in potential corruption and bumbling inadequacy. Pointed criticism and careful oversight are the strongest weapons we have to keep politicians’ toes in the fire, and when we forego their use, we surrender ourselves to the mercy and whim of our leaders.

    President Ronald Reagan enjoyed sky-high approval ratings largely due to his charm and wit. But he was so appealing as a character that absolutely no one was willing to oust him for the doddering, incompetent old fool he was, and the sentiment that he was a “”good president”” stays with us today.

    And let’s not forget the first five years of Bush’s presidency. Most people, even liberals, became ardent Bush supporters following 9/11. Even the supposedly “”liberal”” media was complicit in selling Bush’s fraudulent and, in some cases, outright stupid policies to the American people.

    The result? A broken economy and a continued occupation of Iraq which, by the most conservative estimates, has killed as many Iraqi civilians per year as Saddam Hussein himself did. Only when the Federal Emergency Management Agency, after being gutted by Bush, catastrophically failed to respond to Hurricane Katrina did Americans suddenly turn on him.

    As the old saying goes, there is an entire genre of fairy tales which begins with the words, “”If elected, I promise.”” Breaking political promises is as American as apple pie when it comes to getting elected to the presidency.

    But if it sounds like I’m warning that doom and gloom are around the corner and Obama will be “”just as bad”” as other politicians, I’m not. First, Obama is obviously much smarter than either of these two characters. Second, even Obama’s staunchest supporters have spoken out when he has done something wrong, and he has answered them.

    Blogs and Internet activists erupted in fury when, in June, he voted for a series of amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Among other things, the amendments would have granted telecommunications companies immunity to prosecution for being complicit with federal demands for illegal, warrantless wiretapping.

    In return, Obama issued a statement acknowledging that his vote would anger some people, but with a promise that as president, he “”will carefully monitor the program.”” It wasn’t quite what Internet activists wanted, but it was a step in the right direction. They got his attention, and he distinguished himself from many politicians by acknowledging their support and attempting to clarify his view.

    Obama repeated the act when he turned down public financing, acknowledging the dissatisfaction of others, but noting that his online donation system essentially functioned as a parallel, if not superior public financing system.

    Whether you accept either of these explanations or not, the message should be clear: we’ve gotten through to Obama in the past. We’ve given him an unprecedented amount of scrutiny, and we’ve made it obvious when we’ve been dissatisfied with his choices. The openness and honesty of his campaign made this easy. And we’ve at least gotten him to own up to his mistakes – he hasn’t surrounded himself with an air of invulnerability the way other Americans have. He responds.

    If Obama continues the trend he followed in the Senate to make government as transparent as possible, keeping him accountable will also become easier. The combination of citizen journalism, which has become a powerful force in the last few years, and increased government transparency means that Americans will be able to keep tabs on Obama’s decisions and statements the way they’ve never been able to before.

    The next four years will be a mighty challenge for the first black president – but also for the rest of us. It’s our sacred duty to ensure that Obama fulfills his campaign promises, including working to fix the broken health care and education systems, ending the war in Iraq and hunting down Osama bin Laden, pushing for a balanced budget, fighting discrimination on religious, gender, and identity bases, and stimulating the economy anew – and all of this without raising taxes on the middle class.

    “”Yes, we can”” is a powerful message. But it’s our responsibility to ensure that Obama really does change it into “”Yes, we did.””


    – Taylor Kessinger is a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, math and physics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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