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By now I'm used to reading ridiculous things in defense of the Obama Presidency, but this morning I was particularly taken aback to see a rec-listed post that invoked Howard Zinn in the President's defense.

Zinn cautiously endorsed Obama in 2008.

But when The Nation hosted a forum on the first year of Barack Obama's presidency in January 2010, he made clear that, while basically unsurprised, he was not at all happy with the direction of the Obama presidency. His verdict: "Obama is going to be a mediocre president--which means, in our time, a dangerous president."

Zinn's complete 2010 assessment below the fold.

I've been searching hard for a highlight. The only thing that comes close is some of Obama's rhetoric; I don't see any kind of a highlight in his actions and policies.

As far as disappointments, I wasn't terribly disappointed because I didn't expect that much. I expected him to be a traditional Democratic president. On foreign policy, that's hardly any different from a Republican--as nationalist, expansionist, imperial and warlike. So in that sense, there's no expectation and no disappointment. On domestic policy, traditionally Democratic presidents are more reformist, closer to the labor movement, more willing to pass legislation on behalf of ordinary people--and that's been true of Obama. But Democratic reforms have also been limited, cautious. Obama's no exception. On healthcare, for example, he starts out with a compromise, and when you start out with a compromise, you end with a compromise of a compromise, which is where we are now.

I thought that in the area of constitutional rights he would be better than he has been. That's the greatest disappointment, because Obama went to Harvard Law School and is presumably dedicated to constitutional rights. But he becomes president, and he's not making any significant step away from Bush policies. Sure, he keeps talking about closing Guantánamo, but he still treats the prisoners there as "suspected terrorists." They have not been tried and have not been found guilty. So when Obama proposes taking people out of Guantánamo and putting them into other prisons, he's not advancing the cause of constitutional rights very far. And then he's gone into court arguing for preventive detention, and he's continued the policy of sending suspects to countries where they very well may be tortured.

I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president--which means, in our time, a dangerous president--unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction.

Zinn died on January 27, 2010, just days after this forum appeared in The Nation, so this will have to stand as his final words on this President.

In general I think it's a dangerous--and often distasteful--business to ventriloquize the dead in support of one's political cause.

But especially given Zinn's very clear assessment of Obama's performance before he died, yoking Zinn into a defense of this President seems particularly wrong...and particularly disrespectful of the legacy of an historian and activist who was never willing to settle for failed half measures.

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