Should Liberals Be Angry with President Obama? (If So, How Much?)
Posted by Shadi Hamid
So something's been bothering me for a while, but especially lately. You might call it, in one great philosopher's words, "the soft bigotry of low expectations." It goes something like this: Politics is difficult and messy and Obama is doing the best he can under the circumstances, not to mention an unwieldy congress. Even if this was an accurate description of reality, as Jon Chait, Matt Yglesias, and Ezra Klein have argued, that doesn't mean we should defer to that reality. Maybe I'm odd, but I don't think that actions should always be judged by their results. In other words, if you fight for something, and it doesn't happen (and couldn't have happened), that, by itself, is not an argument for not fighting for it. So, in my perturbed state, I wrote a short piece in the Huffington Post on why liberals are angry with Obama - and why they probably should be. You can give it a read here. And here's a teaser:
First of all, the reason many liberals supported Obama was because he didn't seem afraid to be liberal. He had the courage of his convictions and was willing to speak to the American people honestly and directly about the country's challenges. His charisma would allow him to articulate liberal policies and principles in clear terms. In doing so, he would build popular support for progressive policies and move the American electorate to the left. He wouldn't accept Republican framing as a given and insist on presenting liberal policies in those terms. For once, we'd have Democrats who were proud of being liberals and didn't feel compelled to apologize for what they actually thought.
Speaking for myself, I am aware we have a legislative branch and that the President can't bend it to his will and that's a good thing in a democracy. But that assumes that liberals (or, really, anyone else) judge success by legislation passed. Well, I personally don't really care about the specifics of climate legislation. Like most Americans, I don't know anything about climate change. Sorry, but I don't lose sleep at night about it (although I'm willing to be convinced that I should). To the extent that the Left is, or was, anything, it probably has to do more with a clear demarcation of principle (alternatively known as "idealism" or perhaps "romanticism") than actual policies that can be objectively described as "liberal" or "leftist." I think this is what mainstream bloggers who write a lot about policy get wrong. While most Americans may in some abstract sense care about policy, they don't care - or know about - policy specifics or specific policies. Which goes a long toward answering why, despite the fact that all our preferred policies poll extremely well (and Republican policies poll pretty badly), people have an odd preference for voting Republican more than we might otherwise expect.
Put differently, I don't feel very strongly about the particular details of the healthcare bill. What bothered me wasn't the actual legislation, but the sense that Obama and his team weren't interested in fighting for what liberals wanted (i.e. the public option). It might not have worked, but it would have been nice to see arm-twisting of conservative democrats to consider the public option rather than of liberal democrats to give it up. Again, the tangible outcome of such arm-twisting is beside the point. The point is the actual arm-twisting - and that it be visible.
As they say, read the whole thing.