Barack Obama for lifetime dictator

Hey, I know you love Obama, and you’re thrilled that he’s going to be our next president. And I hate to burst your bubble. But the simple fact is that it’s not going to be enough. The country is headed down the tubes in a way that no president will be able to fix.

E.g., let’s talk health care. Obama’s healthcare plan (very similar to Clinton’s, if said similarity hasn’t been sufficiently pointed out) is radical enough to be tarred by republicans, drug companies, and the insurance industry. But it fails to bring about key changes that independent industry experts agree will need to happen. For two examples: (1) Change the way doctors are compensated. An article from last year’s New York Times terms it this way:

In the United States, nearly all doctors are paid piecemeal, for each test or procedure they perform, rather than a flat salary. As a result, physicians have financial incentives to perform procedures that further drive up overall health care spending.

Doctors are paid little for routine examinations and very little for “cognitive services,” such as researching different treatment options or offering advice to help patients get better without treatment.

“I don’t have a view on whether doctors take home too much money or not enough money,” Dr. Bach said. “The problem is the way they earn their money. They have to do stuff. They have to do procedures.”

(2) The insurance companies: by their very nature, they make a profit when most folks paying into their system stay healthy while a relative few get sick. Therefore, if universal healthcare is the goal, then removing the profit of the insurance companies is unquestionably desirable.

Yet as much as it’s a step in the right direction, Obama’s plan doesn’t even aspire to address either of these two simple issues. The reason is political.

First, understand that healthcare reform is politically feasible today (when it wasn’t in the early 90s) is because corporations are now feeling the pain of our nation’s increasingly insane medical costs. But amorphous corporate will can only push so hard against the lobbying interests of the drug/insurance cartel. Hence Obama’s plan, which goes exactly as far as it possibly can in today’s political climate. Suggest enacting the more drastic changes that Obama, his advisers, and all honest industry analysts know need to enacted, and his plan will be shot down just as Hillary Clinton was shot down in the early days of her husband’s administration.

One other quick example, more significant but easier to explain: Social Security and Medicare. Check out the second chart on this page, which points out that these two programs, left unchecked, will positively swallow the federal budget over the next few decades if left unchecked. Note that every year we put off reforms adds one trillion dollars to the cost (and that’s according to Republicans!). Yet no candidate dares to go near this issue with a ten foot pole, because the very mention of anything like a sacrifice in this area is political suicide for anyone seeking re-election (or, of course, 1st-time-election). For his part, Obama is singing the Cut Government Waste song.

So. Obama can get elected, and then drop the truth on us, right? Well, even putting aside the re-election imperative, he can’t. Because, as Jon Stewart so eloquently put it, “the President doesn’t make laws.” Congress makes laws, and since every member of congress is up for re-election every two years, we’re right back to the same corporation-run political election system.

In other words: the change that we need — that everyone smart knows we need — cannot be brought about by Barack Obama, President. Now, if you believe that Obama is a very very smart guy, then you know that he knows that his solutions are somewhat half-assed, and that he’s ignoring some difficult truths, all out of political necesity. It probably pains him, but he also knows that he can do at least some good as president, even if he’d lack the power to make the changes this country really needs.

But now suppose we make Barack Obama “Dictator for Life.” Maybe it’s not as crazy as it sounds. All it would really entail is two slight changes in the political structure: (1) give him the power to do whatever he wants (e.g. pass laws without congressional approval, toss out a couple of supreme court justices, etc.) and (2) let him stay in power “indefinitely.”

Every time I bring this up I get dirty stares and mumbles of “Hitler” tossed in my direction. Bullcrap. Hitler made his racism well known in his campaign. Barack Obama on the other hand is making obvious his fair-mindedness, reasonableness, and intelligence. Who honestly thinks he’d abuse a position like “Dictator for Life”? Nobody. He’d stay in power just as long as it took to get us out of the messy corner our democracy has painted itself into (Have I even mentioned the climate crisis yet? The percentage of world carbon emissions the USA is responsible for? Hell hath no fury like Google.), then step down and allow our previously scheduled constitutional government to pick up where it’d previously left off. We’ve survived 8 years of George W. Bush playing de-facto dictator — a properly declared and benign dictator would not only be an effective fix, it might also be a refreshing change.

A wise man on cable TV pointed out sometime in the last 7 years that Osama Bin Laden sort of had a point with the WTC bombings, in the sense that, as a democracy, we individual citizens are responsible for what our government does. Regardless of how many times you voted for GWB, you are responsible for for his actions in a way that no Iraqi will ever be responsible for anything that Saddam Hussein did. As such, the killing of citizens in a democracy makes pragmatic sense, whereas the killing of citizens in a dictatorship is mere cruelty.

But my argument isn’t that we should make Obama dictator out of fear — we should do it out of strenght: sooner or later we will have to confront the Islamic Jihadists at a negotiation table. This sounds like an anathema, but the historical fact is that this is the only way that terrorists groups can be dealt with once they’re allowed to take root. Witness now-peaceful Ireland if you need evidence. Knowing that Obama has our confidence beyond some hard-edged 4-year election cycle timetable will give him the edge that will ensure his ability to diffuse the situation.

A standard two-term presidential run is nearly a decade. We elected FDR to four terms. Is an open-ended term really so unthinkable? For most would-be leaders it may well be. But here’s a guy who would know what to do with the power, and who’d know when it was time to step down.

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Posted: Thursday June 26, 2008 by Alesh Houdek · · Comment feed for this post: RSS, atom

 

Comment

  1. Alex    Jun 26, 10:52 PM #  

    Your parallel with North Ireland is faulty in several aspects: a)Islamic jihadists are a ragtag collection of warring factions that don’t have a central party or organization equivalent to Sinn Fein and any time an organization has negotiated a peace process plus political recognition (Hamas) the rest turn against them; b)Islamic jihadist groups don’t have political objectives to negotiate over. What are you going to offer that’s politically palatable to the rest of the area?; c)Islamic jihadist groups are really tools of a few governments (Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, even Egypt). Those are the real negotiation partners.

    Anyway, as to the central point of the post: a bening dictator (a philosopher king) is too big a risk to a democracy no matter how defective. Mention one single case in history in which the gambit has paid off —in which a country was returned to democratic rule in better shape and without deep social and political gashes. Chile would be the closest, are you ready to defend Pinochet?

    Besides, those changes are not “slight” at all. Giving the executive unchecked legislative powers is pretty much throwing aside the Constitution. I know we are discussing fantasies and in fantasies anything can happen, but in the real world this defective democracy of ours pulled out of worse crisis: —the Great Depresion, WWII— without panicky moves.



  2. mae    Jun 27, 10:17 AM #  

    The important point Alesh raises is that people have been putting all their hopes that things will “be okay” once Obama is elected. That’s never been true of any president and won’t be true now. The only power the US population has to effect change is through large numbers of us getting together and demanding it. We don’t have the money, we’ve got the people. It’s that simple. Waiting for another multi-millionaire- Obama- to change things is a pathetic national myth.



  3. squathole    Jun 27, 10:27 AM #  

    1. Is this post about buildings or food?
    2. Not every member of Congress is up for election after 2 years. That’s only true of the House. Senators are elected for 6 year terms, except in WV and MA, where it’s for life.
    3. There are no wise men on cable teevee, so your reference to one is fabricated. The closest thing is Sideshow Bob, but he’s not on cable. (Is he?)
    4. Even if I could swallow the concept of a dictator, benevolent or otherwise, I can’t accept the reality of embracing an untried one like B.O. Plus/but/also it’s unlikely that a professional politician would make the best choice of one. You’d want somebody with charisma and a lot of wise friends to rely on. Like a porn star from a good family. Or a lobotimized musician.



  4. alesh    Jun 27, 10:44 AM #  

    Alex~

    I agree that the analogy leaves much to be desired. But I think Islamic terrorists want the same thing most people in the Middle East want — much, much less American involvement in their affairs. Not only would this be easy to do, but I suspect it would sharply reduce the terrorist’s strenght and numbers.

    Believe me, if I had a historical example of this working, I would have used it. You’re exactly right about Pinochet, but I’m on record as being down on him. Still, there’s a first time for everything. And really, you would have to admit that it hasn’t been tried all that often. Nobody told the founding fathers “if you think this Democracy thing is such a good idea, show us one example where it worked.” Well, actually they probably did tell them that, but the point is they didn’t listen. They just did the right thing.

    Mae~

    That’s an interesting perspective. I think there’s a role for the “power to the people” thing, but let’s not get carried away. Check out Al Gore’s recent TED talk. What he says, essentially, is that it’s great for us to buy the CF bulbs and the Priuses, but if you really want to do anything on the climate crisis, it’s only going to happen by gettig your government to make some serious changes.

    Squat~

    Ah, I see you've misunderstood the name of my blog. It's my fault -- i owe you an 'about' page.

    Obama is no ordinary politician. Come on, you see this, don't you? You wouldn't be willing to turn the reins over to him for four years if you didn't trust him, now, would you?



  5. Alex    Jun 27, 11:13 AM #  

    I disagree with you again. I think Islamic terrorists are not reacting only to US involvement, they are also reacting to the growing moderate influence in their countries since the 60s. Basically they want to be the controlling force. We are just in the way. But you are right that less US involvement would reduce their number (although not their radicalization which is their strenght). We are a very convenient recruitment tool and a handy enemy.

    Either way, cut the funding and they go away. So Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc; have to be dealt with.

    The other point: has it been tried? Plenty times. More than democracy. Historically, authoritanism has been the prevailing system, precisely because since Greek times people have been saying this democracy thing is almost unworkable. Most authoritarian governments try to govern in a more or less benign way (rapacious, screw-the-country dictators and kinds are relatively rare).

    I’m just very wary of authoritarian rule.

    The Founding Fathers did look at democratic systems in history. They debated long and hard about Greece, the English Civil War, teh French revolution, etc. They weren’t that “democratic” either, in the sense that pure democracies are just the dictatorship of the majority. They ended up with a republic dedicated to serve its citizen’s natural rights, which was the radical concept. They didn’t invent the wheel, they perfected it.



  6. Alex    Jun 27, 11:19 AM #  

    I do agree with Alesh (to Mae’s point) that putting so much faith in Obama to fix things is folly.

    A more interesting idea: let’s do away with this two-party radicalized system we have (even though the radicalization is more political than practical) and come up with centrist parties or a coalition of parties so only the ideas and policies that benefit the most on balance are implemented. The rest would get mired on government immobility, which is not a bad thing per se.



  7. squathole    Jun 27, 11:34 AM #  

    Obama is no ordinary politician. Come on, you see this, don’t you? You wouldn’t be willing to turn the reins over to him for four years if you didn’t trust him, now, would you?

    No, I don’t see that (and neither do you). Indeed, he’s a plain ordinary politician like all the others. No, I don’t trust him, or anybody else, but somebody gets to be president, and we get to vote, so yeah, I’ll most likely vote for him. How’s that for a ringing endorsement?



  8. alesh    Jun 27, 11:56 AM #  

    Alex~

    So the terrorists are being controlled by the governments of those countries, yet their primary targets are the moderate forces within those very countries? Even if this were true (frankly, it strikes me as contradictory), terrorism would become a regional problem, which America could leave for the region to work out.

    “Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc; have to be dealt with.”

    Whoa… what on earth do you mean, “dealt with”?

    Of course authoritarian governments have been sort of the default through history. What hasn’t been tried is for a democracy to voluntarily switch to authoritarianism and then switch back. Who better then us to try it out? We’re right to be wary, but we shouldn’t let our caution paralyze us.

    I generally agree with your summary of Greece and the US Founding Fathers. BTW, fascinating on this topic are the first few chapters of Fareed Zakaria’s “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad,” where he discusses the history of freedom. BTW, plenty of folks would take issue with the notion that the FF’s “perfected” anything.

    Squat~

    When Obama wins there will be free ice cream everyday.

    Alex (#6)~

    Let’s get rid of the 2-party system and the absurd electoral college and have two-part elections, one with a broad field and then a run-off with the two top candidates.



  9. Alex    Jun 27, 02:50 PM #  

    Being funded by the government and by powerful interests within those countries and yes, sometimes to keep at bay moderate forces within countries. Jihadist groups often act as a paramilitary militia eg: the Basij in Iran who answer to the ayatollahs.

    “Dealt with” only means diplomatically and applying pressure. No hawk here. What we shouldn’t do is keep pretending some are friends and allies and some are enemies we would never negotiate with.

    Rome actually switched from a Republic to an Empire and back a couple times. So did the French (bloodily). So you can say it’s been tried and it was disastrous.

    I’d guess that we would be the best country to try. Still not comfortable with it.



  10. alesh    Jun 27, 04:36 PM #  

    Alex~

    I have no reason to doubt you know what you’re talking about, but I’d venture that “terrorism,” when it’s applied within a country by that country’s government, is rather distinct from what the US is addressing with the “war on terror” which is very much a cross-borders type of thing.

    Not to say that both are not evil, but nobody’s thinking of invading Iran because they fund terrorism within their country against moderates.

    The interesting thing about Rome is that even when it was run un-democratically, there were great strides being made there in personal freedoms and individual rights. Contrast with Greece, where the execution of Socrates was decided by popular vote.

    In any case, I don’t think the comparison with Rome is particularly instructive. The same with France, if for no other reason then the violence you mention. This would be a peaceful transition in both directions.

    Still not comfortable with it, but you sure sound like you’re softening.



  11. Alex    Jun 28, 11:27 AM #  

    Ah, but what borders? Those groups do not act (many doesn’t even recognize) country borders. They go back in their claims to tribal borders or even those of ancient empires like Persia and Mesopotamia (Iran-Iraq war) that were igored and divided by colonial West rule. They use religion claims (the Shia/Shiite divide). They support separatist movements in other countries. Then there’s Israel, of course.

    And when US forces or interests are in the way, yes, they attack the US.

    Until 9/11 jihadist-related terrorism was more or less confined to the Middle East. Al Quaeda just took it global, but terrorism remains largely a local/regional problem that has to be dealt with regionally.

    Softening, no way.



  12. Adam    Jun 29, 11:40 PM #  

    The problem is that the ones that would do a good job know they shouldn’t accept the position, and the ones who will screw you the most are gunning for it.



  13. LJ    Jul 3, 05:36 PM #  

    It’s hard to believe this is the same Alesh that authored Critical Miami.
    I am not going to get into point/arguments etc., as I cannot be bothered, but I just want you to know, you lost a long time reader as I am so disappointed.

    P.S. If you want to educate yourself on Europe and other places, you might want to try more than the Sun or Guardian.

    Good luck.



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