Debate Forum Left: 4/12/11

Obama a flip-flopper? Quit your crying.

By Ben Tompkins

Benjamin Tomkins

I have never in my entire life seen any president take so much crap for things beyond his control. Ever since 2008, when then-Senator Obama said if he were president he would try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators in a civilian court in New York City and close down Guantanamo Bay, he’s been doing everything in his power to deliver on that promise. Congress, however, has done absolutely everything they can think of to stop both of those things from happening. Finally, after years of being blocked at literally every turn by a Congress that is hostile to the idea of any 9/11 conspirator setting foot inside the country for any reason, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his compatriots, in the interest of actually dealing with them sometime in the next 50 billion years so we can move on with our lives, would be tried in a military tribunal. So on whom do we dump the blame? Well, let’s ask Fox News. They’re pretty impartial, and decided to run the following headline, coincidentally the morning after Obama officially announced his intention to run in 2012:
“Obama Flip-Flops on Military Tribunals.”
That … is friggin’ objective. And by that I mean a bold-faced misrepresentation of the situation in order to secure conservative political capital in an upcoming election year. After all, isn’t that what news networks are supposed to do? But listen, what I find profoundly frustrating about this “Obama broke a campaign promise” outrage, is that anybody in their right mind has got to realize is that if the American people are going to require our candidates to make promises in definitive ways on subjects that we know darn well they will only be able to pull off if they can get it through Congress, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.
Now most people I talk to want Guantanamo Bay shut down and the 9/11 conspirators tried in New York City because Guantanamo Bay is basically a constitutional oubliette into which we toss people who are so horrible we think it justifies making exceptions to our principles, and people who murder Americans on American soil should be tried in civilian courts. I think that’s perfectly reasonable and so did Obama, so he told everyone he “promised” to do those things. Of course, we all know it’s not going to be as simple as waving a magic wand, but nobody’s going to listen to a presidential candidate saying, “I’m going to do these things provided Mayor Bloomberg wants to pay for it and Congress doesn’t bar spending for transferring Guantanamo Bay inmates to American soil.” I mean, I would, but to most people a statement like that sounds wimpy. So what do we do? We require our candidate to roll the dice as a prerequisite to getting elected. That’s a BAD thing for the voters to ask a candidate to do.
And to his credit, Obama did do everything reasonable to get these things done. He found a place in Illinois that was willing to stash the Guantanamo Bay inmates when their home countries wouldn’t take them back, and the state put together a case which has been described as “one of the most well-researched and documented cases I have ever seen in my decades of experience as a prosecutor.” Then Congress steps in and bars spending a single penny on transferring Guantanamo Bay prisoners to American soil, thus wrecking the trial and the closure.
Well, I suppose Obama has to make the best of the situation, accept defeat on Guantanamo Bay, and try the 9/11 conspirators there. Am I disappointed that happened? Of course. But I also realize that having a president who is responsive and flexible to reality is much more valuable than one who simply ignores a failing war in Iraq and perpetuates a mindless, interminable occupation so he can still look cool in front of his friends.
I suppose in closing I’d like to point out that many people seem to carry a misconception that our government is populated with liars because politicians like to distort reality to gain political advantage. That’s crap. Do you know why politicians lie to us? Because we invite them to do so. When we tell a candidate we will vote for them if they “promise” to do something we know darn well they only marginally control, we are openly instructing them to soft soap us. If a candidate thought we would flay them alive for writing checks their bodies can’t cash, they’d speak about the issues in a much more sophisticated and pragmatic way. It is the responsibility of the American people to maintain a high standard of intellectual rigor for our candidates, and if we don’t, be willing to accept the consequences of our shortsightedness.

Benjamin Tompkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, CO. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue.

Ben Tomkins
Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

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