President Obama has done a number of things recently that have alarmed and troubled many of his supporters on the left. He has opposed efforts to establish a “truth commission” that would delve into Bush administration abuses and alleged crimes surrounding the torture and detention of prisoners in our custody; he has changed his mind about releasing graphic photos of the mistreatment of prisoners under U.S. control; he has decided to restart the military tribunals at Guantanamo that he had earlier condemned under Bush/Cheney (albeit with better protections for the accused) and he has continued to prosecute the war in Afghanistan in an aggressive manner, even calling back a general to take charge who still has a cloud hanging over him from the scandal over the above-mentioned abuses.
I’m not going to defend all these decisions or say that they are the correct moves. They could very well prove to be mistakes on his part. I don’t know.
But what I find refreshing and reassuring about these moves is that it demonstrates that, unlike Bush, Obama is NOT an ideologue following an agenda chiseled in stone. What it shows me is that Obama is not so filled with self-assurance as Bush was that he cannot be persuaded to change his mind when presented with compelling evidence. I may not like all the decisions on their face, but I have to accept that he has a lot more information than I do.
Bush, as you may recall, never seemed to change his mind about anything. Commentators frequently acted like this was a good thing, but it clearly was not. Bush was a die-hard ideologue and a true believer in his own righteousness who lived inside a bubble of like-minded people providing continuous positive support and feedback. Bush never changed his mind because he rarely, if ever, was exposed to contrary or competing information and even if he was tended to disregard it as false or heretical.
Obama, on the other hand, is not afraid to engage people with differeing views and constantly strives to find common ground. I like the fact that his views are not set in stone and that he will make the best decision at the time based on the best possible information. I did not vote for Obama because I agreed with him on every single position and I do not expect that he will always do everything just the way I think he should. I voted for Obama because I respect his intellect and his judgement and I want him to use it while he is in office. If he makes some bad decisions and some mistakes, that is to be expected. He can also correct those mistakes more quickly if he is not locked into a misguided ideology.
People who supported Bush, however, did not want him making his own decisions. They wanted him to go strictly by the book - that being the wingnut playbook which has failed miserably everytime it has been enacted. And Bush did just what they wanted in spades. He followed their playbook to a T. Unfortunately for Bush, and all the rest of us as well, the playbook led us into our current economic disaster as well as our foreign policy quagmire. And even more unfortunately for Bush, he has now been abandoned by all the true believers who refuse to accept that their ideas don’t work and now claim that Bush was not a “true” conservative and did not follow their playbook faithfully enough.
I would much rather have a president who is willing to “flip-flop” on occasion rather than staying the course even when it means driving us over a cliff.