Obama: A Legacy of Ashes

Obama: A Legacy of Ashes

James Corbett (2017)

Film Review

In his excellent documentary about Obama’s presidency, James Corbett highlights important ways in which Obama systematically reduced civil liberties and democratic oversight of government.

  • After promising to end George W Bush’s de facto lawmaking via unconstitutional signing statements, Obama far signing statements than his predecessor.
  • He repeatedly inserted text into bills without informing lawmakers before they voted on them.
  • After promising to end the role of lobbyists in running government, he allowed Citibank to select his cabinet and the insurance lobby to write The Affordable Care Act.
  • While claiming to run the most transparent administration in history, he set a record for denying Freedom of Information Act requests and prosecuting whistleblowers.
  • Despite promising to end illegal wiretapping and spying on activists, he greatly increased routine NSA surveillance of ordinary citizens. He also introduced legislation repealing Posse Comitatus* and authorizing indefinite detention of American citizens without trial. And issued an executive order granting himself the power (which he exercised liberally) to arbitrarily assassinate his enemies, including US citizens.

Obama was also the only president in history who was continuously at war during his entire eight years in office.** All but two (which he inherited from Bush) were illegal and unconstitutional wars he launched without government approval.

I was intrigued to learn the Patriot Act (enacted by the Bush administration after 9-11) was originally written by Obama’s vice president Joe Biden in 1995.


*The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act prohibited the US government using federal troops in domestic law enforcement, except in circumstances expressly authorized by the US Constitution.

**In addition to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (which candidate Obama promised to end), he launched illegal wars of aggression in Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

Exposing the Myth of Capitalist Democracy

Lifting the Veil: Barack Obama and the Failure of Capitalist Democracy

Scott Noble (2013)

Film Review

Lifting the Veil is a well-crafted expose of the myth of so-called capitalist democracy Based on interviews and archival footage of Senator Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, George Carlin, Glen Ford, Harold Pinkley, John Pilger, Richard Wolfe, William I. Robinson, Bill Moyers and other prominent dissidents, it makes an ironclad case that democracy is impossible under a capitalist economic system.

Using Obama’s extensive list of broken campaign promises as a starting point, Noble convincingly demonstrates how Wall Street corporations have seized absolute control over all America’s so-called democratic institutions. In addition to highlighting the essential role team Obama played in crippling a large, highly vocal antiwar movement, he presents historical examples to reveal how this has been the traditional role of the Democratic Party in the US – to co-opt social movements that threaten the status quo.

The first half of the film focuses on Obama’s 2008 campaign and his long list of promises to reverse specific abuses of George W Bush’s government. In a series of archival clips, we see Obama promising to

• Restore habeas corpus
• Close Guantanamo
• End government secrecy
• End wireless surveillance
• Stop foreclosures instead of enriching bank CEOS
• Expose corporate backers of tax and corporate welfare legislation
• End torture
• End extraordinary rendition*
• Withdraw from Iraq in 2009 and Afghanistan in 2011
• Pass banking regulation to prevent a new Wall Street collapse

Besides breaking every single one of these promises, Obama enacted new policies that were even more oppressive and pro-corporate than Bush’s. Among them were an indefinite detention provision in the NDAA, an executive order giving himself power to assassinate American citizens, the new war in Pakistan and Libya and $7 billion in loans guarantees for the moribund nuclear industry.

The film makes the point that the 2008 election was merely a PR exercise in marketing Brand Obama and had absolutely nothing to do with the candidate’s political agenda.

My favorite segments were those in which comedian George Carlin explains to audiences how powerful corporations sucker them into believing they live in a democracy.

The film ends on an optimistic note with a sampling of opinion polls indicating that more than 60% of Americans oppose the pro-corporate agenda Obama has foisted on them: 63% of Americans would pay higher taxes to guarantee health care for everyone, 70% oppose nuclear power, 81% want to reduce the deficit by taxing the rich and cutting the military budget and only 3% support cutting Social Security.

The only criticism I would have of Lifting the Veil is that it fails to offer specific solutions for Americans seeking to get their democracy back. The dissidents featured are pretty much unanimous that Americans need to stop looking to electoral politics as a way to reform either government or the economic system. However they are a little vague on what activists should do other than protesting and engaging in civil disobedience. Neither is likely to accomplish significant change without serious organizing and movement building to develop alternatives to the current system of government.

Given a lot of this movement building is already occurring in Spain, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Iceland, Mexico and South America and it would have been great to see examples of what this looks like.


*Extraordinary rendition is the kidnapping and transfer of a detainee to the custody of a foreign government for purposes of detention, interrogation and torture.