It is an occupational hazard that we tend to obsess about problems and disasters. What is more, at this moment in time, “the paranoid style in American politics” seems most acutely observed on the Right (this is no doubt due to the fact that Democrats hold the presidency; during the Bush years, the loudest conspiracy theories seemed to come from the Left).
I can’t tell you how many times I have referred to the 2016 elections, only to have some conservative activist tell me: “Yeah, but the country will be over by then.”
Fortunately, the country is more resilient then some fear. We’re is far from perfect, and the Obama Administration has done things that are very concerning (for example, I have expressed great concern about his trampling on the balance of power and undermining the rule of law). Yet, I am constantly reminded that the amount of freedom we enjoy in this nation is both precious and impressive. And while we must be diligent in preserving it, it’s also worth acknowledging that some of the rhetoric about the state of our country is overwrought — that we still have it pretty good.
Let’s consider the liberty we have in this country to publicly criticize powerful people — with little fear of retribution (this deserves a big asterisk because of the IRS targeting scandal). I’m not known for being an especially harsh Obama critic, but consider this, this, this, and this — and then tell me how many places throughout history would tolerate such things without yours truly being awakened by a “knock at the door.”
Now, you might say that Obama has done some very bad — in some cases, unconstitutional — things. Further, you might even suggest he has attempted to spread lies in order to cover them up or further his side’s narrative — even to win re-election. And you might even be right. But you know what? The fact that those who make such allegations can do so — and be proven right! — buttresses my point.
Let’s take the DOJ report, which indicates that “Hands up, don’t shoot” was a myth. Now, presumably (if you’re assuming tribalism rules the day and we all take “sides” on such controversial incidents), the Obama administration would have benefited from advancing (not debunking) this myth. Yet, an investigation demonstrated that the witnesses alleging Michael Brown uttered those words, and held up his hands, were not credible.
But I’m guessing the only reason we know this is because the DOJ report told us. Would we have known any differently if the report instead corroborated these accounts and “debunked” contradictory ones? Maybe. Perhaps the news media — and this is an argument for preserving a free press — would have done the legwork. Whether we got the truth because the system isn’t corrupt — or whether we got the truth because our system pits ambition against ambition, making the consequences of corruption a strong enough disincentive to discourage such behavior — is almost a moot point. People who would have benefited from telling us a lie instead told us the truth.
Now, let’s take the case of Bowe Bergdahl, and the controversy that surrounded his release. Susan Rice said he served with “honor and distinction” — and President Obama held an embarrassing celebration with Bergdahl’s parents in the Rose Garden. (It seems likely this was a political ploy, that might have even worked, for a time.) But now, wouldn’t it be better for Obama if we all just forgot about him? Of course, it would! Yet that hasn’t stopped the U.S. Military from very publicly charging him with desertion.
The fact that we the government told us these things is a sign that our system of government is still more transparent than the vast majority of nations throughout the course of human history.