I think that one can easily find reasons to vote for him: for ending the use of torture, for getting us out of Iraq on Bush's timetable, for having at least some inkling that we need a sound energy policy, for a willingness to raise taxes on wealthier citizens, for supporting the Dream Act for immigrants, or for insisting that quasi-religious employers provide all legal health coverage. Or just for not being Mitt.
I'm not one who rested his hopes on Obama in 2008 to change much of anything, so I'm not angry that a liberal will has been suborned by the dirt of the political process. He never claimed that he was a liberal, and despite the animosity and name-calling from an increasingly shrill American right wing, he isn't one. Nor do I think that Obama's failures can be entirely chalked up to a recalcitrant and wilfully bone-headed Congress, though there's something in that. Barack Obama made many campaign promises leading up to his election, has kept a very few, and has proven as opportunistic as politicians usually prove if they succeed at politics. In this I am neither disappointed, angered nor surprised.
There is, however, a list of crimes (none crimes of omission) that must be laid directly at the President's feet (a president whom I like personally, in the sense that we can like someone personally whom we've never met, in the same way as I hated Reagan, Bush, Cheney, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales "personally"). My list may not be exhaustive but each is an ethical deal-breaker for me:
1. Foreign policy conducted by drones on innocent villagers half a world away, a policy which in the hands of G.W. Bush would have rightly been labeled racist.
Victim of 2009 U.S. drone flight, Waziristan
2. Unprecedented use of the 1917 Espionage Act in the prosecution of government whistleblowers while at the same time sanctioning strategic information leaks by high ranking personnel (the Seal Team 6/bin Laden and the Anwar al-Alaki episodes being cases in point).
3. Unprecedented deportations of immigrants which is quickly, among many other consequences, cementing a police security state.
4. Unwarranted and illegal surveillance of citizens and unprecedented use of National Security Letters to obtain information against citizens neither accused nor suspected of wrongdoing, which is quickly cementing a police security state.
5. Unprecedented prosecution by Obama's Justice Department of Muslim Americans who decry national policy in the Middle East, including the use of drones and our no-fault policies with Israel, which is quickly cementing a police security state in which free speech rights under the First Amendment are being routinely violated. This includes the arrest and indictment of Jubair Ahmad, a 24-year-old Pakistani legal resident living in Virginia, charged with “providing material support” to a designated Terrorist organization (Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT)).
6. Arrogating the power to kill anyone, including American citizens, without accusation, due process, or legal remedy. Case in point: Anwar al-Alaki and his teenage son.
7. Signing into law the National Defense Authorization Act, thereby arrogating the power to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone, including American citizens, without accusation, due process, or legal remedy. The Justice Department is currently pushing back hard and with some success in spite of previous legal setbacks, in the suit brought against the President by Chris Hedges et.al. which correctly claims the act is unconstitutional.
8. Refusing the rights of due process and legal redress to the inmates of Guantanamo, many of whom are not guilty of crimes, while insisting that Guantanamo remain in operation, and backing down in the face of outcry when anyone suggests its inmates should have speedy civil trials.
9. Putting in place Tim Geithner to manage the TARP bailout money, which Congress allocated to help underwater homeowners and which Geithner openly and avowedly used to help the banks ("foaming the runway" for the banks, as he notoriously phrased it). And for being generally indebted to Wall Street and hence, in the end, a foe of any meaningful regulation of banking, which to this moment remains unregulated.
There is also the unmistakeable element of idealism mingled with disappointment in my vote. It is a symbolic act, an unwillingness to participate any longer in a political charade that is, at its core, corrupt, all the players bought and paid for. I'm not recommending my course of action to anyone. I'm too old to have to pick a lesser evil. It's time to work on my kharma.
End note: You might want to consider the sage advice of MSNBC's Chris Matthews of the large forehead, who explains here that democracy means only two choices. Only 'idiots,' he assures us, vote for 'numbskull' third-party candidates. Otherwise . . . who knows what might happen?