Change Watch: In 2008, the Left sized up Barack Obama with all the critical acumen of prepubescent girls at a Justin Bieber concert

Is this the end of the affair?

During the late presidential campaign, if you asked progressive promoters of Barack Obama's ambitions did they favor maintaining the occupation of Iraq or expanding the war in Afghanistan or tossing missiles at Iran, the invariable answer was no. When it was pointed out that these positions were those of their candidate, the reply was always the same: some variation of, he's just saying that to get elected.

Do you support the death penalty? No. Your candidate does. He's just saying that to get elected. Do you think the wording of the second amendment invites everyone to pack a gun? No. Your candidate does. He's just saying that to get elected. Do you believe that affordable, universal health care -- single payer, Medicare For All, whatever you want to call it -- should be "off the table?" No. Your candidate does. Nah. He's just saying that to get elected.

The Obama campaign was remarkably light on specifics; instead empty slogans about "hope" and "change" offered thin soup to a populace that was starving for real change after enduring four decades of national decline. But Obama needed to keep things vague if he had a prayer of getting elected. Or so said progressive converts to the Church of Hope.

Having made an act of faith in Obama, the Left demanded nothing of Him in return, no firm plans to demilitarize, no programs advancing social and economic justice, no specifics about affordable universal health care, no loaves, no fishes. Missing was even a shred of the agnosticism that in 1964 prevented the New Left from going more than "Part of the Way with LBJ." In 2008, disorganized, demoralized, powerless, progressives fell on their knees before what they hoped was the messiah, really only a political televangelist with a promise we would all ride to Washington in a gold Cadillac if we'd just send him our money and take communion on election day.

Though some on the left are still ready to drink the KoolAid, a growing number of liberals have come to understand that the Obama administration is not the Second Coming of the New Deal. Shock and disappointment over Obama's performance as president has begun to give way to a realization that Obama is no more nor less than a professional politician, a breed that will dance to the playlist of whoever hires the dj. It's our job to turn the hoses on Obama just as we would on any errant politician (imagine the hoo-ha if it were President McCain destroying Afghanistan or giving away the store to Wall Street). "People," Ian Welsh wrote heatedly the other day (so heatedly, I felt obliged to clean up a few typos),
Obama is not and never has been a left winger. Nor is he a Nixonian or Eisenhower Republican; that would put him massively to the left of where he is and to the left of the majority of the Democratic party. Instead he is a Reaganite, something he told people repeatedly.

Until folks get it through their skulls that Obama is not and never was a liberal, a progressive or left wing in any way, shape or form they are going to continue misdiagnosing the problem. That isn’t to say Obama may or may not be a wimp, but he always compromises right, never left, and his compromises are minor. He always wanted tax cuts. He gave away the public option in private negotiations near the beginning of the HCR fight, not the end. He never even proposed an adequate stimulus bill. He bent arms, hard, to get TARP through.

He’s a Reaganite. It’s what he believes in, genuinely. Moreover, he despises left wingers, likes kicking gays and women whenever he gets a chance, and believes deeply and truly in the security state (you did notice that Obama administration told everyone to take their objections to backscatter scanners and groping and shove them where the sun don’t shine, then told you they’re thinking of extending TSA police state activities to other public transit?).

Let me put it even more baldly. Obama is, actually, a bad man. He didn’t do the right thing when he had a majority, and now that he has the excuse of a Republican House, he’s going to let them do bad thing after bad thing. This isn’t about “compromise," this is about doing what he wants to do anyway, like slashing social security. The Senate, you remember, voted down the catfood commission. Obama reinstituted it by executive fiat.

If the left doesn’t stand against Obama and doesn’t primary him, it stands for nothing and for nobody (Obama isn’t about compromise by Ian Welsh 2010-12-03).
It hardly matters, though, whether Obama is a good man or not. In politics, results are the bottom line; actions matter more than professed intentions. The president can get away with pursuing policies that are good for the oligarchs and bad for the majority, that hurt average Americans, that jeopardize the future of the country, because there are no effective counterweights to the power of the militarists and the corporations. The end of Don't Ask Don't Tell showed that organized action still can be effective, especially if the monetary stakes aren't high, but taking on the security state and the corporations is going to require a revolutionary change in our politics. Where possible, this will involve taking control of state and local Democratic Party structures. It will require adding muscle to existing organizations, like unions and progressive research and action groups, and building new ones, including a progressive political party unbeholden to corporate power. Coalition-building on a grand scale will be needed to maximize the strength of a very fragmented opposition. Small-scale, local political reforms -- publicly financed campaigns, instant runoffs, weekend voting, proportional representation -- will be essential to making political institutions more responsive.

Yes, the left must stand against Obama and "primary him" (there's a coinage for you). Someone with stature and credibility will have to make a career sacrifice in the primaries if the president is to be forced into issuing firm promises in exchange for votes (Howard Dean probably won't do it, though he has to be outraged by the administration's conservatism; Russ Feingold's idealism seems highly selective; but Dennis Kucinich might be willing to take on the apostate's role, especially if he is redistricted out of his seat in Congress -- it's not as though there'll be a job waiting for him in this administration's apolitical and corporatist cabinet).

But a primary challenge, though politically vital, is a loser (think Ted Kennedy vs  Jimmy Carter). The really difficult and really crucial challenge will come in the general election. The progressive majority in this country has to stop looking to the Democratic Party to get the country back on the track -- stretching from the Bill of Rights to the Great Society -- to expanding freedom, equality and economic justice. This is not your grandfather's Democratic Party, or your father's; it is fatally compromised, in the thrall of  a moneyed class that cares only to increase its dominion. To succeed, a progressive party would require sacrifice, dedication and long-term thinking. It might not win tomorrow (think John Fremont, although he did come in second*), but it is not hard to imagine that in crisis, and we are in crisis, it could transform our political landscape (think Abraham Lincoln). Even in the short run, as is demonstrated by the history of political organizations as diverse as the Socialist Party and New York's Liberals, the existence of a progressive alternative to business-as-usual would have a positive effect on our politics.  Barring a third party run by moneybags Michael Bloomberg, a candidate fronting a new progressive party would be a loser, too; but in the longer term, if our politics don't get more ideological (as distinct from partisan), our slow decline as a nation will not be reversed.

* And picture this: During the 1856 presidential campaign, Republican Fremont refused to answer charges that he was a Roman Catholic -- he wasn't -- because he did not wish to advance the cause of prejudice.

See, also:
Where Do Obama and Progressives Go From Here: Year-End Report by Mike Lux (Open Left 2010-12-22)
Barack Obama is NOT your boyfriend. Ergo, he didn't dump you. by Paul Rosenberg (Open Left 2010-12-06)
The Great Success of Partisan “Overreach” by Jon Walker (Fire Dog Lake 2010-12-24)
Real Family Values: Nine Progressive Policies to Support Our Families by Sarah van Gelder (YES! Magazine 2010-11-25)
Action, Hope, 2011 by Katrina vanden Heuvel (The Nation 2010-12-23)


Anonymous said...

Barack Obama is our greatest president -- EVER!

Anonymous said...

This is totally stupid. Obama may not be perfect, but hes sure better than anybody else were gonna get.

Anonymous said...

John, I agree with what you postulate.It would be excellent to have a progressive run against Obama. He certainly is not one, and certainly will not become one!

Bonnie said...

I think the comments at 9:17 and 9:40 say it all; the majority of Americans are sheep and nothing will deter them from believing what they are fed by the media powers that be, even tangible evidence to the contrary. So this blog while beautifually written does seem to be a bit of blogging into the wind... but I "hope" I am wrong and we can "change" the things before it's too late. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts, but you're wrong about who should run. Kucinich's politics are great, but Obama would kick his ass in debates. Robert Reich is the one who should be persuaded to run. He's a match for Obama rhetorically and deeply knowledgeable about policy, is a committed liberal, believes in electoral politics, and is probably bitter about the way he has been treated by the Democratic establishment, especially when he ran for governor of Massachusetts. And he's likable.

John Gabree said...

"I Like Reich." The slogan writes itself.

Anonymous said...

Plus everyone else should be kept out of the race: if Gruening, Kucinich, Sharpton, etc are there it will cloud the issues.

CB said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly on your take on Obama and what is needed to counter the conservative tidal wave. And, as usual, I commend you both for your optimism (that there is a solution), and your ability to outline what the solution might look like.

Joe Bodolai said...

This is an outstanding article. Obama supporters had rose-colored glasses, perhaps wishing the candidate would be more than a less objectionable choice than McCain and Palin. Unfortunately, he has proven to be a great disappointment to even some of his early supporters. I wrote a similar article a year ago, entitled "What if Obama Had Won the Election". You can read it on my blog here:

Anonymous said...

The emporor has no clothes (but that doesn't make him a bad man). Just as being black doesn't make anyone a liberal. But okay: The new civil war: The Partisans against the Ideologues! And Obama plays the Digital Lincoln in the War Between the Factions! I like Riech. Great. Let's see if Obama can take the heat.

John Gabree said...

The correct link for Joe Bodolai's essay is actually

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