The challenges, he said, were real. He called them serious and said there were many.
America had gathered because the country had “chosen hope over fear; unity of purpose over conflict and discord,” and proclaimed “an end to the petty grievances and false promises.”
But three years to the day that Barack Obama told millions of Americans that it was these choices that brought him to Washington in his inaugural address from the steps of the Capitol Building — the hope, change and abolishment of false promises remain largely out of reach for the American people.
Obama took the oath of office on January 20, 2009, beginning a position he earned by promising a new era of peace and accepting his role as, as he put, aiding in the ushering in of “a new era of responsibility.” Three years later, however, the country’s commander-in-chief has been persistently pounced on by both the press and public alike. He advertised a future built on hope, not fear, yet recently authorized the US military to indefinitely detain any American it sees fit. There was more hope back then, hope for a unity of purpose over conflict and discord, yet he continued George W Bush’s war in Iraq for more than 1,000 additional days and even aided the uprising in Libya — without asking Congress for approval or giving much in the way of an explanation.
And as we reach four years after he addressed 1.5 million people in the US capital and spoke to billions worldwide, we can anticipate another speech on those same steps – and according to most recent polls the same person will deliver it. Despite opposition from his own party in addition to that from the other side of the aisle, President Obama is currently polling as the most likely winner in the 2012 election. After three years of broken promises, failed policies and dangerous legislation, is America only less than half done with Obama’s reign in the White House?
Two days into office, Obama signed Executive Order 13492, vowing to suspend proceedings at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba – and to have the facility shut down within a year. And on January 22, 2009, the new president cited that “significant concerns “ raised at home and abroad about detentions at the facility allowed him to insist that ending America’s detention program there “would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.”
But not even two years had passed when Obama approved the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill, effectively preventing the closure of the facility, and as of January 2012, 171 men remain in the prison. Some have now been there for over a decade.
“The commitment that the president has to closing Guantanamo Bay is as firm today as it was during the (2008) campaign,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said earlier this year. Yet days before those comments to the media, Obama signed the updated Defense Authorization Act for 2012, allowing the same grave, torturous and inhumane conditions Guantanamo’s detainees have come to know so well to be imposed on Americans. In a signing statement that accompanied the bill, the president said, “I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.” That declaration, however, was given two years after his last presidential memorandum promising the closing of Guantanamo — a promise broken time and time again.
And as Americans wait for the closure of Gitmo, many of the president’s other promises have either gone unfulfilled or broken – and many of them impact more than just the few dozen men behind bars at the facility in Cuba.
On the campaign trail, Obama outlined a goal of putting humans back in outer space, insisting on having moon missions up and running again – with a Mars program being a not-so-distant goal for future generations, if not this one. Only a year into office, however, Obama told NASA to cancel its moon program.
“By the mid 2030’s,” the president said at the Kennedy Space Center in 2010, “I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow and I expect to be around to see it.”
A year later, NASA’s shuttle program was abolished completely.
And also during his White House campaign, Obama vowed to “cut wasteful and ineffective programs” and “slash earmarks.” Obama would vow to cut those earmarks to under $7.9 billion – their pre-1994, Clinton Administration level. But one year into Obama’s term, congressional earmarks had more than doubled that figure.
Then, in July 2008, Senator Obama told ABC News, “I cannot guarantee that it is going to be in the first 100 days. But what I can guarantee is that we will have – in the first year – an immigration bill that I strongly support, and that I’m promoting. And I want to move that forward as quickly as possible.” Less than three years into his presidency though, Americans assumed to be in the country illegally can be detained, cuffed and questioned by law enforcement agents in Alabama, Arizona and Georgia. A swarm of immigrants has already migrated from Alabama in an exodus brought on by the fear of imprisonment, and other minorities say that they continue to feel prosecuted in America as anti-immigrant sentiment expands. And even a decade after 9/11, Islamophobia is as rampant as ever.
For those that can work legally in America, Obama campaigned to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011, insisting that full-time workers must be able to “earn a living wage that allows them to raise their families and pay for basic needs such as food, transportation and housing.” But as 2011 has come and gone, and the federal minimum wage in America remains at $7.25, the same place it was at in July 2009. Under the George W Bush administration, however, the then-president was successful in having the wage raised three times. For those making substantially more, Obama had plans to eliminate the tax cuts for the wealthy installed by his predecessor. Three years in, they remain fully intact. He also vowed to keep major companies from extending bonuses to their executives during bankruptcy proceedings, but you don’t have to look much further than any Occupy protest to learn that the rich are getting richer. Even after companies that exploit the unfortunate are unable to pay their bills, CEOs and other executives continue to see skyrocketing raises at all-time highs.
In terms of government spending, Obama’s plan on the campaign trail called for ensuring that federal contracts over $25,000 would go before competitive bidding from potential contractors. Even with a budget in the billions, however, the Department of Defense in particular has ignored that promise – and Obama has failed to enforce it himself. As recently as this week, RT reported that the Pentagon had extended millions of dollars’ worth of no-bid contracts to private security firms, including Academi (formerly Blackwater), so that the DoD could continue to encourage armed action south of the border in the War of Drugs while avoiding both liability and a paper trail.
Then were the rules about lobbying. According to candidate Obama, his administration would refrain from appointing anyone to office that had worked as a lobbyist elsewhere in recent years. But three months ago, Obama brought aboard Broderick Johnson as a senior adviser — who previously had lobbied in favor of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which has already become one of the most controversial issues in the president’s re-election campaign. Despite insisting that the revolving door between the White House and corporate lobbying needed to be closed for good, 17 former lobbyists were appointed to the Obama Administration – during his first two weeks in office alone.
Looking back on the last three years, the promises were indeed plentiful. But, sadly, they were matched largely by the mistakes, gaffes and lies that Obama delivered instead. “We are ready to lead once more,” he said during the January 20, 2009 address, insisting that America’s brightest era was ahead.
It might have outshone the errors that marred the Bush administration, but between ongoing wars, promises rescinded and America’s superiority on thin ice, to many that hope was never delivered. And the change? It wasn’t for the better.
US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo / Jewel Samad)