In response to a query from a Reader in Portugal, written so that hopefully an automatic translator wouldn’t lose too much meaning:
I can tell that your English is much better than my Portuguese. I had to use a computer translator to understand your blog. (I confess I do not understand the ongoing story about the penguins at all. Is it a parody of your government?) Hopefully you can make use of my thoughts.
I get the idea that you are as cynical about your government as I am about mine. Still, I hope what I have to say is useful to you. There was once a tradition in the US that we can criticize our President and our government only among ourselves, and that we should leave our political differences at the nation’s borders. In this day and age, that is nonsense – the entire world can read about Americans arguing over politics on the internet and hear us doing it on television, so it is useless to hide the fact that we have strong differences of opinion over here.
In my opinion, President Obama has been a tremendous disappointment. I knew before he was elected that he would change our health care system so that we would pay more taxes for it but not get any real different service from our doctors and hospitals. That has come true. I knew before he was elected that he would continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while falsely claiming to be bringing them to an end. That has come true also.
But, he promised us that he would work to bring down our national debt. Instead, it has increased by 50% since he took office. He promised us that he would protect our civil liberties and would respect the limits on government power enshrined in our Constitution. Instead, he has continued to spy on American e-mail without getting search warrants, continued to hold prisoners in Guantanamo Bay without giving them access to attorneys, used government money to subsidize private religious activities, and treated gay people like second-class citizens. He has not even managed to appoint enough judges to adequately fill vacancies on our courts, despite having a very friendly Congress which ought to have given him the ability to appoint nearly anyone he wanted.
I do not think any President could have stopped our economy from crashing the way it did. But a responsible President would have found a way to mitigate that damage without giving billions of dollars to the very corporations that were responsible for setting up that fall. To be sure, President Bush did similar kinds of things, and if we had elected John McCain instead of Barack Obama to be President, I doubt things would be very different from what they are.
Obama has delivered on all his campaign promises that I did not like and he has broken all his campaign promises that I did like. Americans may have better emotions about their government with him as the President; people in other nations may have better emotions about the US with him in office. But I think Obama lacks the skills to really be a good President because he never did the sorts of things earlier in his career that would have trained him to become a real leader. If the USA were led by a Prime Minister instead of a President, maybe he’d have been good at that job. But that is not our form of government.
The most frustrating thing, however, is that I see no evidence to support the idea that the other major political party in the U.S. will select a candidate for President in 2012 who will be any better than Obama. I dislike feeling so hopeless, but I can take solace from the fact that the US is still a major industrial power, a wealthy nation, and one that is governed by laws and a strong Constitution — so President Obama can only do so much damage while he’s in charge, and eventually will have to step aside for someone else, who will probably wind up doing a different kind of damage in his or her own way.
I do not know very much about politics in Portugal or its economy. I know that your Prime Minister has reached out to other political parties and has promised reform and efficiency in government and that must have cost him a lot of political support. I know there was a scandal concerning whether he had earned his degree at university, which seems like it is not as important as whether he is leading the government in a good direction or a bad one, and there seems to be a lot of questions about whether he is taking money from companies in exchange for government contracts. In that sense he seems to me to be like former US President Clinton or Italy’s Prime Minister Berlusconi — he may be corrupt and dishonest personally, but it also seems like he’s actually a capable leader and must possess some degree of charm in person. You would know better than I, of course.
It also seems like your nation, like mine, has confronted some difficult financial choices recently; at least your Parliament has confronted Portugal’s looming pension problem in a meaningful if not entirely satisfactory way, which is more than I can say about our Congress and our pension problem here in the USA.
As one lawyer to another, I say to place your trust and hopes in the rule of law, and to remember that the most important, yet least understood, decisions about what life will be like in the future in a civilized nation are made in its courts and not its parliaments. Do not forget that you play an important role in that system.
Thanks for your note, [Portuguese Reader], and I hope to hear from you again.