An Open Letter to President Obama
– by David Matthews 2
Dear President Obama,
First of all, I hope you will forgive me for being somewhat premature here. After all, by the time this article is posted online, you will still be a little more than twenty-four hours away from being sworn in as the next President of the United States of America.
Like you, I am an American citizen. I am also an active voter. I did not vote for you, but I DID vote. And of the past twenty years of being involved in the presidential election process, if there was ever any candidate that truly EARNED their victory, it is you, Mister Obama. I watched as you went from being treated by the media and by party leaders as just a “pop fad”, to being treated as a serious contender, to being considered the best possible candidate, and then to actually elected the next President. I don’t have to vote for you in order to recognize that you truly defied and exceeded all expectations during this extremely prolonged election season that I truly wish would NEVER be as long and as taxing again.
I am also glad that we are finally able to put the mess of the past eight years behind us. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said that you go to war with the army that you have, not with the army that you WISH you had. Well unfortunately for the American people, that saying held doubly-true for guy that we made the mistake of re-electing in 2004. We have had to make do with a Commander-in-Chief that has acted more and more like an overgrown fraternity leader that never got the hint that the keg party was over.
And that sentiment has become painfully obvious for the past month. Indeed if there is any fraternity scene that best describes how we view your predecessor, it would be from the movie “Animal House”, with the fraternity gang sitting in the infamous Delta Tau Chi house after it was relieved of all of its furnishing… including the bar.
At long last your predecessor has become the very “uniter” that he originally pledged to be… for he has united this nation, and indeed this whole planet, in their overall relief that he will be gone and that someone better will be stepping in to clean up his mess.
And that brings me to the meat of the issue, Mister President. Specifically, the mess. And there is a lot of it to go around.
No doubt the first mess that you will want to tackle is the economy. It is the biggest issue on our minds right now because it is the one that affects us directly. But in truth, the economy is just a part of a much larger overall problem that has been festering through several White House tenures. You cannot really blame this overall problem only on your immediate predecessor.
Let’s start with the oath that you are required to take on January 20th. That’s where you put your hand on a bible and say “I, Barack Hussein Obama, so solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” (By the way, you don’t have to add that whole “So help me God” part, although I’m sure that you’ll do it anyway.)
It’s a small oath, but I want you to pay attention to that last part… where you promise “to the best of (your) ability, protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution of the United States”.
You’ll note, Mister Obama, that there is no EXCEPTION to that oath. There is nothing in there that suggests that you’ll only protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution UNLESS there is a war or a war-like state. There is nothing in there that says that you only have to protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution as long as the economy is doing fine. There is nothing in there that says that you have to protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution only during an election year, or ONLY it if it is “politically advantageous”.
The problem, sir, is that for many White House tenures, including and especially the one that you are replacing, the men that have placed their hands on their holy books and uttered the same oath that you will be uttering have FAILED to uphold that part of the oath. They have faithfully executed the office of President of the United States, but they have, either through negligence or malice of forethought, FAILED to protect, preserve, OR defend the Constitution.
They have, instead, passed that responsibility on to other branches of government. Specifically, they have each defaulted to the judicial branch of government to make the ultimate determination, and that is only as long as the judiciary agrees with them! They have each said that it is not THEIR job to determine what is or is not constitutional, even though they would each later proclaim that ANYTHING that they do is constitutional, even when told otherwise.
To each of these men that have taken the same oath that you will take and have held the same job that you will hold, the Constitution is seen as nothing more than an inconvenient speed bump. A nuisance to work around. A formality in sad need of a loophole. Your immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, is alleged to have called the Constitution “a goddammed piece of paper”. Whether or not he actually said it, he and his people certainly behaved as though it WAS just “a goddammed piece of paper”.
Mister Obama, let’s get brutally honest here… if you really want to bring CHANGE to Washington, then you must START by treating the Constitution to be more than just “a goddamned piece of paper”. You must START by treating that oath of office to be as sacred as the vows made to your wife, and as sacred as the responsibility you have as a father to your young kids.
The obligations spelled out in that Oath of Office are NOT multiple choice! It is not an “either-or” situation where you have to decide to carry out the Office of the President OR decide to protect, preserve, and/or defend the Constitution. You do not have the luxury of picking and choosing which parts of that oath you want to fulfill.
And this is where your predecessors each FAILED to fulfill their oaths. At some point in their respective tenures, each of them were given a choice of actions to take. It could be a bill put before their desks. It could be some “grumblings” in intelligence reports. It could be a regulatory office in need of change. It could be a crisis put before the American people. In each instance, they chose the “politically expedient” option, even though that option violated either the spirit or the letter of the United States Constitution. And when asked about whether or not what they did was in accordance to the Constitution, they simply said “well that’s for the COURTS to decide.”
In effect, they each VIOLATED their oaths of office! Some of them did it more frequently or more blatantly than others, but at some point they ALL did that.
And every time they did, they chipped away at the CREDIBILITY of the United States itself! We are supposedly a nation governed by LAWS, not of MEN, and the Constitution and all of its amendments are the SUPREME LAW of the land! When these men that have held the same job that you will hold take it upon themselves to VOID that supreme law in the name of political expediency, then it DESTROYS the credibility and the authority of that law.
Carrying out that oath to “protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution of the United States” means making HARD choices. It means saying “NO” to something that could be considered “popular”, even if the “politically expedient” thing to do is to go along with it. But if you truly honor that oath of office, then that is what you have to do! You have to have the courage to say “NO” and to stand up against what is “politically expedient” and to do what is RIGHT.
Any bill that comes before your desk that you know violates any portion of the Constitution must be vetoed! That is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY as President, Mister Obama! Even if it means losing some polling numbers in the process, even if it means that the Congress threatens to override you, you still have a responsibility to do what is right BY THE CONSTITUTION. That is what it means to protect, to preserve, and to defend it.
It is not an easy task, sir, but it is a part of your job.
But that is just for starters. There is still much more work to be done.
This nation has been polarized by a level of demagoguery that rivals most cults, and not just by the events of this past election. This has been going on for many years, taking full advantage of the lack of those in charge to fulfill their obligation to the Constitution. You once described this as a conflict between red states and blue states, of conservatives and liberals, but a more appropriate description of this polarization would be between the fearful and the fear-mongers.
The American people have been bullied and intimidated into giving government unchecked and unquestionable power. They have been conditioned to accept and to excuse any kind of action taken in the name of “keeping us safe”, even when such actions fly in the face of everything that our founding fathers stood for.
The end result of this polarization can be seen in a level of government abuse unheard of since the race riots of the 1950’s and 60’s. This is not hypothetical, Mister Obama! These are REAL instances that have trickled down to the LOCAL level.
Reporters are being unjustly arrested for covering peaceful protests. There are marches in Oakand because an unarmed man lying prone on the ground was shot in the back of the head by a transit cop. People are being arrested for standing in their own property and taking pictures of police officers at a neighbor’s property. Innocent people in their own homes are being invaded by police officers acting on bad information and then being allowed to get away with any damage that they incur.
Every single one of these abuses of government power can be traced back to the tones set by your predecessors. A tone that says that anything that the government does is okay because the government can NEVER be wrong!
Mister Obama, as President, you can change this!
It starts with a simple declaration that the government is NOT infallible. That the government CAN be wrong! It CAN make mistakes, and when it does, it MUST own up to them. We can no longer sit back and say that “mistakes were made” without taking any responsibility for making them.
But the next step is even harder for you, sir. What needs to happen goes against your better nature. I know that you want unilateral consensus. I know that you would rather have us all forget about the actions of your predecessor and his people and just move forward. But the truth of the matter is that we CANNOT move forward if we do not address what has happened in the past and take steps to correct those injustices that have happened under the tenure of George W. Bush.
In every instance where the law was flouted, where justice was denied, where the rule of law was replaced by the rule of the partisans, there MUST be a reckoning. And this reckoning must not come from future writers of history, or through some great theological assertion after all the participants have died. This must come NOW, and it must come from the Congress and from your Department of Justice. There MUST be charges, there MUST be arrests, there MUST be trials, and if convicted, there MUST be prison time for those involved! No pardons, no exemptions, no get-out-of-jail-free cards. There MUST be justice!
Maybe you were too busy campaigning these past two years to notice, but the American people have not been happy with your predecessor’s tenure, and part of it HAS to do with the pompous attitude that he and his people have exuded with this belief that they are above reproach, above question, and, more importantly, above the law. That is the dissatisfaction that you tapped into that helped you get to where you are right now. The people that helped you become president are looking at you to right those wrongs, and in order for them to move forward, they need that vindication. We need that declaration that what your predecessor’s people did in those instances WAS WRONG. Not mistaken, not misguided, but WRONG!
And this MUST happen, Mister Obama, because the people behind those wrongs are not only operating under the delusion that they have not done wrong, but if given the opportunity, they will eagerly take us down that same path again. That assertion not only applies to the people who perpetrated the wrongdoing, but also those who supported them, and still support them today. The pundits and ordinary citizens that were, and still are, cheering on those people that did wrong. They need to know that they ARE on the side of wrong, and that can only come through a rigorous pursuit for justice.
We need to abandon the old screed of the fanatics that say “Our country right or wrong” and instead replace it with the TRUE definition of patriotism, one made best by former Senator and Interior Secretary Carl Schurz when he said "Our country—when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right."
And there is much, Mister Obama, that needs to be put right. And it has to start with action from the top, from your office, and from you personally as President.
You have before you a tremendous opportunity to make serious changes to the way things are in Washington, to clean up the messes that led you to this historic moment. You can choose to be expedient and let the past injustices remain unchallenged, inviting future abuses from those that will follow you. Or you can use this historic opportunity to be the kind of leader that the American people not only expect, but the kind that the American people truly need. That too will set the stage for future leaders, and to demonstrate in the words of Abraham Lincoln that we truly have a government that is by the people, of the people, and, more importantly, FOR the people.
I hope, Mister President, that you will have the strength and the courage to do what is truly right, and not just what is expedient.