I was talking with an online acquaintance of mine who is irritated at me for not buying into the idea that Obama has been mostly a betrayer of liberal causes. It had gotten to the point that he was surprised that we agreed on anything at all. Yet I reminded him that we agree on most things: we agree the Iraq war was a disastrous mistake. We agree that the economy is being drained by casino operators calling themselves financial services companies who are taking a rake off the top. We agree that same sex marriage ought to be legal. We agree that income disparity in the US is undermining our long-term stability. We agree, in short, on most things when it comes to goals and policy.
Where we disagree is more in terms of tactics. He seems to think Obama is almost a traitor to those of us who worked to elect him. I think he’s done far better than any president in at least the last few decades. The backlash against him reminds me of my years in college in the 80’s, when my friends on the left had so many complaints about others on the left that the left basically just tore itself apart, leading to its decline and near irrelevance.
What I believe is that to win you have to make allies. I’m not saying liberals are wrong to try to press Obama to go left, and I’m not saying that we should always try to appease the middle. Sometimes you need to take a strong stand on principle even when it isn’t moderate; as Obama did against the Iraq war long before it was fashionable to do so.
But we need allies. We need to stand together. Obama is an ally. I think he’s doing a damn good job. Not perfect but come on, what president is ever going to do everything exactly as you want him to.
The disease I see happening now among some on the left is similar to a disease I saw in college: someone does or advocates a few things you don’t agree with, and you think immediately he must be allied with the forces of darkness. He wants evil to succeed, and he’s been bought. Well, I don’t agree. I think there are legitimate reasons why people who share the same overall view of things might disagree on tactics or even strategy, and that this shouldn’t cause us to assume bad faith and turn on each other. I don’t know why liberals seem to do this more than conservatives, but it seems as though we do (though Tea Partiers are beginning to do this on the right —- yet they managed to get behind pro-choice Brown in MA so they may be learning their lesson already).
I think it’s unfortunate that many on the left are seeing Obama as a “huge disappointment” or even an enemy when a lot of this has to do with our own idea of who he was supposed to be in our minds. The moment he does anything we don’t agree with, he’s betraying us? I don’t think so. I think it’s right to pressure him politically to do what we think he should, but I think it’s a shame when we turn on each other because of disagreements about tactics.
Ultimately I think if we were objective about this, we’d have to say Obama has been far more effective in his first year than Clinton was in his first year. But we had much lower expectations of Clinton, so we judge him far less harshly. I don’t think it’s fair to judge Obama as a failure just because he didn’t live up to our unrealistic expectations, despite the fact that he’s done far better than Clinton did on most issues. Clinton tried to get health care passed — he didn’t get anywhere near as far as Obama has. Was Obama’s standoffish approach wise or not? Clinton tried “leading” on health care and was pummelled because of it, and it failed. Obama let Congress work out a bill and has gotten much closer to success than any president in the last century.
The guy isn’t perfect but give him a chance. Governing is difficult, especially when Republicans have decided to filibuster everything in sight. If we throw Obama away because he doesn’t live up to our fantasy of who we thought he ought to be, Heaven help us when a Republican wins in 2012. Then we might learn to finally appreciate this President: but perhaps too late.permalink | (comments are closed) trackback