After the Edward Snowden revelations, an embarrassed President Obama, who campaigned for government transparency, is reshaping his surveillance policies – secretly. Isn’t this hypocritical? The answer, surprisingly, is no.
President Obama has become aware of the reality of the presidency. What is promised on the campaign trail does not always factor out into reality. Decisions and events of previous presidents force the new president to conform to the new norm. It’s easy to criticize a policy, and but another problem altogether to change it.
President Obama has to do what every president has had to do since John Adams replaced George Washington – adapt.
Past precedents shape any president’s power. Because of the nature of government and the checks and balances put in place by the Constitution, it is hard to bring about change. It’s like turning around a supertanker, which often requires 10 miles before a 180-degree turn can be made. That’s as true of a small town mayor as it is for the most powerful leader in the world. Government is meant to be inefficient and it requires a great deal of effort and patience to change direction.
America’s sense of security was deeply shaken by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. As a result of this event, government became more concerned with secrecy and information gathering. Secret data collection is now a multi-billion dollar operation. Offices are scattered across the nation in upscale business parks, watching and listening to the world’s and the U.S. public’s electronic noise, trying to find the next terrorist who wants to wreak havoc on Americans at home. That is the legacy created by 9/11 and the Bush administration’s reaction to that event.
President Obama can now tweak the structure as he is trying to do, but he does not have the power or the will to tear the whole structure down. There are too many bureaucratic, political and economic forces that now have an interest in preserving the status quo to bring about immediate change.
Another example of this is the Department of Education. Several conservative presidents have campaigned to dismantle this department, but have been unsuccessful. Now conservatives don’t even talk about it. The Department of Education is here to stay.
The same can be said of Social Security, Medicare and even ObamaCare. They’re now in place, and no matter how many bills are passed by the Republican House, it’s not going away, like it or not. That’s the reality of how the government works.
Programs get built up and it takes a tremendous amount of work to end what was started. President Obama campaigned on a promise to get rid of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but five years later, the naval base on Cuba’s eastern shore still houses terrorists captured since the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2002. And there’s nothing the president can do to change things.
Remember when we didn’t have to go through security checks before we got on a plane? It was before the Black September hijackings of three jets in September 1970. These jets were destroyed on the ground in Jordan, blown up after the passengers were offloaded. D.B. Cooper hijacking a Portland plane bound for
Seattle on Sept. 24, 1971, added to airport security, which was followed by the Sept. 11 hijackings.
The War on Terrorism will continue to exist and no president can actually dismantle it, even if the need is no longer there. As a result, Americans can expect to have their actions monitored secretly, like it or not.
We can’t turn back the clock on airline security, the Department of Education, Social Security, Medicare and, recently, ObamaCare. No president, whether Democrat or Republican, can bring about change easily. That’s the nature of precedent.
We voters need to remember this when we listen to the promises of future politicians. Promises are cheap and easy, reform is costly and difficult. Not only do presidents have this problem, we all do. All of us have to live with our previous decisions.