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Reparations? | The Nation

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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

Reparations?

Even without George W. Bush's debut in Fort Worth as a motivational speaker (see Stephen Colbert swoon over the speech here), this past week has been full of reminders of 43. On Wednesday, President Obama walked out onto the North Lawn of the White House to plant a tree where, one year earlier, Bush had tried to plant a Scarlet Oak. Bush's tree "didn't take," so Obama shoveled a few symbolic spadefuls of dirt over the roots of a Linden tree, asked assembled reporters whether it looked nice, and walked back into the Oval Office.

Sometime after midnight, 44 caught a quick helicopter ride out to the Dover Air Base to stand, wind-whipped and slender, as the bodies of 18 Americans killed in Afghanistan were off-loaded from a C-17 in their flag-draped coffins. It was the first time in eight years of war that a President has greeted our returning dead. Obama flashed a neat, palm-down right-hand salute, which cameras recorded matter-of-factly, as if images of respect for the returning dead were an everyday affair.

When Glenn Beck says the Obama presidency is all about "reparations," he's insinuating that the President wants to lavish government goodies on blacks while stealing from whites. But this is how the Obama camp perceives reparations: Obama is indeed going about repairing things his predecessor bungled, it is truly an appalling mess to clean up, and they don't want to hear criticism of how he "holds the mop." Obama is doing his level best, they say, to restore the national honor, and if we give him enough time he will bring the bloom back to American policy.

But Thursday morning was not the first time flag-draped coffins have returned from Afghanistan since Obama took over. How the deaths of these Americans, killed over two days earlier this week, affects his upcoming decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan is what makes his emotional midnight run so significant.

Most speculation in the media suggests that Obama will agree to an increase, though perhaps not as large as the generals want. Obama's appearance on the tarmac--something his predecessor avoided, apparently for fear of damaging domestic "morale"--may well be a way of underlining that he does not take this decision lightly. Still, it would seem to suggest that he is going to escalate one of Bush's wars by sending even more troops (Obama has already committed 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, approving that increase last February).

Lord yes, Obama is better at just about every act of presidenting than Bush was, more graceful, more self-aware. But progressives don't want him to just make Bush policies succeed--we want new policies. Some things Bush did, like drain the Treasury for two ridiculous occupations halfway around the globe, are now completely unsalvageable. Polls show that most Americans already get this truth. It's time to plant new seeds in different ground.

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