Ziemer: Obama's moral decline

BY JEREMY ZIEMER | JUNE 14, 2013 5:00 AM

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In 2004, then-Sen. Barack Obama gave a celebrated speech to the Democratic National Convention.
Three years later, he announced his candidacy for president of the United States. Much was promised, including a stronger moral leadership from the community organizer, constitutional-law professor, and outspoken senator.

But we are now in the second term of Obama’s presidency. There is no doubt whether Obama has an oratorical capability that could even persuade Cicero. But it is well beyond the time to take his words on faith. Now more than ever, we have to focus on his actions.

I was an active supporter of Barack Obama in 2007. I was there in Springfield when he announced his candidacy, and I was even a precinct captain and delegate to the state convention in Iowa. I was happy to see such a thoughtful individual rise to such great heights. It felt like my generation was doing something good.

But it is nigh on impossible today — especially after the scandals of recent weeks — to see the moral change we were promised.

Leading up to the 2008 election, there was a collective nausea in the country thanks to the many ethical failings of President Bush and his administration. Sen. Obama tapped into that sentiment with his 2004 convention speech — “we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries” — and, at a later occasion, even promised to close Guantánamo Bay prison, a symbol of Bush-era excess. Obama has failed to deliver the moral leadership that he promised to effect.

Last week, it was revealed that the National Security Agency has been spying on American citizens to an unprecedented degree. You might say, of course the NSA is spying on us; all it has to do is take a look at Facebook or Google Plus.

But it turns out that its surveillance goes much deeper than that. The NSA can access citizens’ information from the servers of big technology companies. It also can find out whom you are calling, and if it even suspects anything, it can go to the FISA court to gain explicit authority to listen in on the content of your calls. If you were wondering, the FISA court has rejected only 11 of more than 33,000 total applications.

Combine this with the multitude of scandals made public recently — especially the administration’s intrusive probes of journalists involved in investigative journalism — and it is hard for this writer to stay on Obama’s moral plausibility wagon.

Admittedly, Obama gave a rebuttal to his critics. He seemed to invite the debate and, in fact, I even felt a bit swayed by his heartfelt words and the plausible truths. But, it’s hard not to believe that this is just the president claiming to invite debate to deflect criticism after a dirty truth has been revealed.

Unfortunately, it does not look like the surveillance issue will go away soon. Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian has lent a voice to this issue and shed light on the increasingly plausible argument that this type of government activity is not simply a Bush or Obama-only thing or simply bureaucratic inertia but rather a concerning trend emanating from the very logic of fighting a so-called “war on terror.”

It is worth considering whether our society needs the government so deeply involved in its people’s lives and whether society would not be better off if our government used taxpayer money to foster projects to facilitate cultural and economic expansion, rather than closely monitor its people’s personal lives.

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