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/ September 27, 2012
As Bad As Bush? Obama’s Five Biggest ’08 Campaign Reversals

Broken campaign promises are nothing new. Candidates run on the list of things they would like to do — but it’s anyone’s guess what they’ll actually be able to accomplish when they reach office. Obama took that game to a whole new level. On top of his failures to accomplish most of his 2008 campaign goals, here’s a list of issues on which Obama did the exact opposite of what he promised.

This (incomplete) list paints the picture of a president pursuing policies as conservative or even more conservative than his predecessor — inspired by the comprehensive

The War On Weed

Obama, himself an admitted pot-smoker, said in 2008 that he would allow states to set their own policies on marijuana use, which remains illegal at the federal level. In 2008 the candidate said, “I’m not going to use Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.”

After Obama took office, Attorney General Eric Holder emphasized that his department would only target marijuana providers “who violate both federal and state law.” Effectively, this meant that medical marijuana dispensaries allowed in 16 states would be left alone under Obama.

Cue utter reversal: Since those statements in 2009, Obama’s Justice Department has executed over 200 raids on dispensaries in states with medical marijuana laws, more than during Bush’s two terms. Additionally, the IRS under Obama has used tax statutes to target dispensaries, and his Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms developed a policy which prevents medical marijuana users from purchasing firearms.

Further, there are 850,000 marijuana arrests annually, and 45,000 prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent marijuana charges.

Don’t forget — the last three presidents have all smoked pot (and there’s a good chance you have too).

Ending the War in Afghanistan

During his 2008 campaign, Obama vowed to “finish the fight” in Afghanistan and bring the troops home.

Instead, he sent more.

When Obama took office, there were 34,400 troops in Afghanistan. Over the course of two troop surges, that number grew to 100,000. Today, 68,000 soldiers remain in the nation.

By the way, 575 Americans died in Afghanistan during the entire Bush administration.

Under Obama’s one term: 1,459 (one soldier died during the course of writing this article, making for the most grim edit I’ve ever made).


Six weeks after 9/11, a terrified Congress passed the U.S. PATRIOT Act, which widely expanded the government’s surveillance powers. The law allows the government to view your medical, library, academic, or other records without warrant; monitor your phone and email conversations without warrant; and serve “national security records” which demand information without judicial oversight and prevent recipients from even disclosing the request.

In 2005, then-Senator Obama spoke out against the PATRIOT Act on the Senate floor. He said, “This is legislation that puts our own Justice Department above the law. When national security letters are issued, they allow federal agents to conduct any search on any American, no matter how extensive, how wide ranging, without ever going before a judge to prove the search is necessary. … No judge will hear your plea; no jury will hear your case. This is plain wrong.”

Fast-forward six years. On May 26, 2011, Obama signed a two-year extension of the PATRIOT Act. This updated version tossed some of the civil liberty protections contained in the earlier version and in other drafts considered by Congress.

Guantanamo Bay

Guantanamo Bay, a high-security detention facility in Cuba, was developed based on the legal theory that the U.S. is not required to uphold international agreements on detention and torture — or obey our own constitution, for that matter — when those acts don’t take place on our soil. Gitmo inmates are tried in military tribunals, not American courts, where higher judicial standards apply. The base quickly became a PR disaster for the Bush administration, which Obama was quick to take advantage of in his 2008 campaign.

The candidate’s campaign website stated, “Guantanamo has become a recruiting tool for our enemies. The legal framework behind Guantanamo has failed completely, resulting in only one conviction. … The first step to reclaiming America’s standing in the world has to be closing this facility. As president, Barack Obama will close the detention facility at Guantanamo.”

On this count, Obama appears to at least have tried before he flipped. During his first week, the newly-inaugurated president issued an executive order to close the facility. However, this gave way to a strategy of relocating inmates while preserving the indefinite detention legal strategy under which they were held. Then, Congress denied funds to close the base, and bullying/bribing/bargaining with other nations to take the inmates was less than successful.

What started as a failure soon became a full frontal flip-flop. In March of 2011, Obama signed another executive order formalizing the indefinite detention system and establishing new military commission trials — those same trials which candidate Obama said had “failed completely.”

Those military tribunals have only produced seven trials out of 779 men who passed through Guantanamo.

A case study in Obama’s moral failure: earlier this month, another detainee died at Guantanamo, where he had been held since 2001 without having any charges filed against him. In 2010, a U.S. District Court in Washington had ruled that he should be released — but he wasn’t, thanks to an Obama administration moratorium on transfers.

Corporate Influence

In an address to Congress in 2009, President Obama said, “We will stop letting American companies that create jobs overseas take deductions on their expenses when they do not pay any American taxes on their profits.”

Need an example of the type of job-outsourcing, tax-dodging megacorporation that Obama was referring to? Take General Electric, the nation’s largest corporation and owner of General Motors, NBC Universal, Universal Studios, and dozens more companies. In 2010, GE earned $5.4 billion in profits from U.S. activity. That year, they paid no taxes — zilch, zero, nada. Even more astoundingly, they claimed $3.2 billion in tax credits from the IRS. In the preceding decade, GE cut its US manufacturing workforce by more than half.

So when it came time to staff his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, who did Obama tap to lead? Naturally, GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt. To be fair, Immelt does seem to know a thing or two about keeping companies competitive — too bad it comes at our expense.


Romney’s a well-documented liar who appears to have even more ideological reversals under his belt than Obama. On social issues like gay military service and contraception access, there are wide differences between the candidates. But on large issues like economic and foreign policy, Obama and Romney’s differences, when they exist, are more stylistic than substantive.

There’s a growing frustration with “Coke and Pepsi” candidates whose superficial differences keep Democrats and Republicans fighting while, behind the curtain, national policy is set with little discussion. Obama may well be the lesser of two evils — but isn’t that still evil?

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