Has anyone else been gifted with the arrival of "25 Mistakes of Obama's First 100 Days" in their Inbox? I received a variant of it a few days ago, and--as is typical of these right-wing lists--there's much more fallacy than fact among its assertions. The version I'm fisking here points to this Facebook user are the originator of the list; there are other versions in circulation, but--as you'll see from this example--answering each claim in every version would require far more time than I'm willing to devote.
The original claims are indented and bolded; my responses (true or false, with an explanation) follow each point. I labeled some claims "false" if I was unable to find any supporting evidence after making a reasonable effort. (I am, as always, open to correction from anyone who can provide proof from either better sources or a more diligent search.)
25 Mistakes of Obama's First 100 Days
I'd be interested in hearing a liberal's side of the argument why these choices are not mistakes but are actually smart moves on Obama's part. Help me understand.
1. Offended the Queen of England
False. Far from being offended, the Queen was "delighted" after her meeting with Obama.
2. Bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia
True. I'd agree that this was a mistake--although Obama's slight bow is rather less bothersome than Bush's kissing and hand-holding.
3. Praised the Marxist Daniel Ortega
False. When asked what he thought about Daniel Ortega's speech at the Summit of the Americas, Obama responded, "It was 50 minutes long. That's what I thought." If that's "praise," someone needs to consult a better dictionary.
4. Kissed Hugo Chavez on the cheek
False. There are photos of Obama and Chavez shaking hands, but I didn't see a kiss. (If one had actually occurred, I would consider it a mistake, but that doesn't seem to be the case.)
5. Endorsed the Socialist Evo Morales of Bolivia
False. The closest thing I could find to an "endorsement" was a report that Obama congratulated Morales on Bolivia's new constitution. Enacted by 61% of the vote, the constitution represents "the most significant advancement of economic, social and cultural rights the country has seen in many decades" according to Amnesty International. That sounds like cause for congratulations to me.
6. Announced we would meet with Iranians with no pre-conditions
True, but not a mistake. As President-Elect, Obama issued this statement:
"Barack Obama supports tough and direct diplomacy with Iran without preconditions. Now is the time to use the power of American diplomacy to pressure Iran to stop their illicit nuclear program, support for terrorism, and threats toward Israel."
Republicans may not like this change in policy from the previous administration, but ignoring Iran hasn't exactly been a successful strategy. Negotiation may prove to be a mistake, but it isn't yet.
7. Gave away billions to AIG, also without pre-conditions
False. The bailout happened last September, while Bush was in office. Obama spoke out forcefully against AIG bonuses when they came to light this year:
"This is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed. Under these circumstances, it's hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay. I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?"
(By the way, this "mistake" contradicts #21; the attachment of conditions to government bailout money must be either acceptable or unacceptable--not both.)
8. Expanded the bailouts
True, but not necessarily a mistake. As the global economy continued its catastrophic collapse earlier this year, the Obama administration recognized that more needed to be done to shore up our economy. Arguments can be made about specifics of the various stimulus and bankruptcy packages, but the necessity of doing something is hardly in doubt--except, perhaps, for die-hard market fundamentalists.
9. Insulted everyone who has ever loved a Special Olympian
True, but overstated. Obama did make a gaffe, and called Special Olympics chair Tim Shriver to apologize before it even aired: "He expressed his disappointment and he apologized, in a way that was very moving," said Shriver.
After eight years of Bush's made-up words, malapropisms, and general mangling of the English language, now conservatives are going to complain about a President's poor choice of words? Talk about selective outrage...
10. Doubled our national debt
False. According to the Treasury Department, the total national debt was $10,626,877,048,913.08 when Obama was inaugurated, and stood at $11,152,922,414,388.28 on 29 April (the end of his first 100 days). This makes the "doubled" claim off by a mere 95%. (Bear in mind that the federal government's fiscal year won't begin until 1 October, meaning that most of the federal spending to date continues to be from Bush's final budget.)
11. Announced a termination of the space defense system the day after the North Koreans launched an ICBM.
False. Missile defense expenditures will be $9.3 billion in FY 2010 (see page 3-34 of this DOD budget document).
12. Despite the urgings of his own CIA director and the prior 42 CIA directors, released information on intelligence gathering. Announced major restrictions on interrogation techniques used on enemy combatant prisoners.
False. Prior to Leon Panetta's tenure, there were 20 (not 42) people who served as either Director of Central Intelligence or Director of the CIA. Judging by his "Message from the Director: Interrogation Policy and Contracts," Panetta seems to feel that he can do his job with the "major restrictions" of obeying the law and not torturing detainees--although some of his immediate predecessors may feel differently due to their own compromised positions with respect to various crimes committed on their watch.
13. Accepted without public comment the fact that five of his cabinet members cheated on their taxes and two others withdrew after they couldn't take the heat.
False. Among other examples of his public comments, Obama went on NBC Nightly News and told host Brian Williams, "did I screw up in this situation? Absolutely and I'm willing to take my lumps."
14. Appointed a Homeland Security Chief who quickly identified as "dangers to the nation", groups including veterans of the military, and opponents to abortion on demand, and who ordered that the word terrorism" no longer be used but instead referred to such acts as "man made disasters.
False. The DHS report on 'Rightwing Extremism" that I discussed here has proven to be all too accurate given the number of right-wing extremists who have become domestic terrorists. The report notes the "willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups," but does not single out veterans' groups or abortion opponents as violent extremists.
Far from ordering that the word "terrorism" be avoided, DHS's Janet Napolitano said "I presume there is always a threat from terrorism" in this interview with Der Spiegel. In testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security, she said:
"At its core, I believe DHS has a straightforward mission: to protect the American people from threats both foreign and domestic, both natural and manmade - to do all that we can to prevent threats from materializing, respond to them if they do, and recover with resiliency."
15. Circled the globe so he could openly apologize for America's greatness.
False. Assertions repeated ad nauseum on talk radio and Faux News are not the same thing as facts. See "Conservative media smear Obama for purported overseas 'apology tour'" and "Fox hosts revive Fox-manufactured Obama 'apology tour'" for details.
16. Told Mexicans the violence in their country was because of us.......
False. Obama complimented Mexican efforts to combat the drug cartels during a joint press conference in Mexico City:
"I commend Mexico for the successes that have already been achieved. But I will not pretend that this is Mexico's responsibility alone. A demand for these drugs in the United States is what is helping to keep these cartels in business. This war is being waged with guns purchased not here, but in the United States. More than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States, many from gun shops that line our shared border.
So we have responsibilities, as well. We have to do our part. We have to crack down on drug use in our cities and towns. We have to stem the southbound flow of guns and cash."
17. Politicized the census by moving it into the White House from its Department of Commerce origins and announced ACORN [the organization under massive scrutiny amid allegations of election fraud] would manage the process.
False. I love the smell of an ACORN conspiracy theory in the morning; it smells like...bullshit! The Census Department has not been moved (see "Myths and Falsehoods About the 2010 Census and the Obama Administration" for details), and ACORN is not "managing" it. ACORN is merely a "2010 Census Partner" (along with 30,000 other groups) helping to recruit some of the 1.4 million temporary workers needed for the job.
18. Appointed as Attorney General the man who orchestrated the forced removal and expulsion from America to Cuba of a nine-year old whose mother died trying to bring him to a life of freedom in the United States.
False. Then-Deputy AG Eric Holder appears to have had little to do with returning Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba, outside of making statements supporting the Justice Department's actions in the case. (It's nice to see that conservatives have found at least one illegal immigrant who they didn't want to be "forcibly removed and expelled.")
19. Salutes as heroes three Navy SEALS who took down three terrorists who threatened one American life and the next day announces members of the Bush administration will likely stand trial for torturing a terrorist who had played a part in killing 3000 Americans by pouring water up their nose.
True, but not a mistake. Torture, including waterboarding, is a violation of the military code of conduct as well as both national and international law--and has been recognized as such for decades. (In fact, we have previously prosecuted foreign nationals for waterboarding our soldiers during wartime.) To pretend that torture is "OK when we do it" is a reprehensible double standard.
20. Air Force One flew over New York City for a photo op without notifying local authorities causing widespread panic.
Partially true. Obama was "furious" when he heard about this flyover, and said "It was a mistake. It was something we found out about along with all of you. And it will not happen again." (Are conservatives now suggesting that we hold presidents accountable for everything that happens while they're in office?)
[From the comments: I called it "partially true" because, although the flyover did happen, it wasn't an error that Obama himself committed. I wouldn't question its inclusion on a list of "mistakes made by federal government employees," but on this Obama-specific list it struck me as "filler" material trying to strengthen a weak case.]
21. Took over the American Automobile industry and handed over 50% off to the unions [because he said he owed them].
False. "Taking over" an industry requires a great deal more intervention than offering loans--which went to GM and Chrysler, not to the UAW--as Bush did in December 2008 and Obama did in February 2009.
22. Continued his drive for absolute gun control activities, thumbing his nose at the 2nd Amendment.
False. There is no absoluteness or nose-thumbing in Obama's position on gun violence in cities, which reads:
Obama and Biden would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important gun trace information, and give police officers across the nation the tools they need to solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade. Obama and Biden also favor commonsense measures that respect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, while keeping guns away from children and from criminals. They support closing the gun show loophole and making guns in this country childproof. They also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent.
23. Offered travel and living subsidies in the U.S.to Hamas activists displaced from the Gaza Strip.
False Potentially true. False. The Presidential Determination in question refers to "Palestinian refugees and conflict victims in Gaza," not "Hamas activists." [As I mentioned in the comments: There is almost certain to be some overlap between the two groups. I was objecting more to the statement's Obama-supports-terrorists premise than anything else...]
[9/17/2009 @ 1:30pm. I revised this one back to false after more research.] FactCheck notes that the $20M in question "is put to use by the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. But in this case, the money would provide humanitarian aid, not migration assistance:"
PRM does bring refugees from some countries to the United States, and also provides for their basic necessities when they first arrive. But a spokesperson for PRM told us that there is no resettlement program for Palestinian refugees. "We don't resettle out of the West Bank and Gaza, full stop," the spokesperson told us.
24. Got more airtime [TV] than Oprah Winfrey and was seldom in Washington tending to the business of State.
Probably true, but not a mistake. Obama is leading the most powerful national on Earth during a period of worldwide crisis: I would expect him to be on TV more than a talk-show host with five hours of airtime per week. (Also, claiming that Obama is "seldom in Washington tending to the business of State" is designed to exclude his extensive diplomatic work overseas, which is necessary given our circumstances.)
25. Announced the closure of enemy combatants detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba but failed to address the issue of 'what' to do with the 200+ prisoners currently held there. Rumors persist that they'll be housed on U.S. soil.
True, but not a mistake. Since they are US prisoners, why shouldn't they be held on US soil until trial? Trying to create an extra-legal penumbra around their captivity has enabled many of the human-rights abuses (e.g., ghost detainees, extraordinary rendition, torture, murder) of the previous administration. Discontinuing Bush's mistakes is, I think, the minimum that should be expected from Obama.
This point leads me to another problem with this email--the implication that Obama's mistakes are being ignored by liberals--that is also demonstrably false. As noted by Glenn Greenwald (and commented upon by me), conservatives fall prey to leader-worship far more than progressives. Liberal criticism of Obama will continue to be plentiful as long as he continues perpetuating the errors (military tribunals, telecom spying immunity, DADT) of previous administrations.
After once again revealing a collection of right-wing claims to be mostly mendacious, I find myself even less inclined than usual to continue playing this game of debunk-the-bullshit. Without evidence, further lists of partisan BS such as this one will probably go directly into my trash--unless I'm feeling particularly snarky. If the people writing these things can't be bothered to do their own fact-checking, why should I do it for them? After all, it's evident that the truth is far less important to them than politics.