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July 15, 2010

Is It Time to Give Obama A Break?
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over the past couple of weeks there has been a great deal of sturm and drang from the left about President Obama for failing to fulfill the promise of his 2008 campaign. Bob Kuttner's claim in the Huffington Post that Obama isn't really a progressive was perhaps the most prominent recent example; but there was also Eric Alterman's cri de couer in the pages of Nation and Glenn Greenwald's regular fulminations at Salon. Today, Politico weighs in. Yet, so many of these criticisms seem deeply misplaced and divorced from the very real constraints on Obama's ability to follow through on his agenda.

What so many of these criticisms ignore is the unprecedented level of GOP obstructionism and collusion from centrist Democrats. What stopped a bigger stimulus from being enacted in 2009? Filibustering Republicans and centrist Democrats. What stopped the public option? Joe Lieberman, centrist Dems and the GOP. What is stopping an extension of unemployment benefits from being passed? The GOP and Ben Nelson. What is stopping climate change legislation from becoming law? Republicans who don't believe in the science of global warming and Democratic Senators from coal and gas producing states. I could go on. 

Those who argue that Obama should have "fought harder" for these unattainable goals are making arguments that lack a very basic understanding of presidential power, particularly in an era when political parties are nowhere near as powerful as they once were.  This is the very nature of domestic legislating. It's not pretty, but it's the system we've got. 

And in fact, what is most aggravating about these assertions is that they tend to ignore the President's shining progressive success - health care reform. Indeed, in an entire op-ed criticizing Obama's progressive credentials, Kuttner mentions health care reform once but offers the back-handed compliment that Obama showed "rare hands-on leadership." You'd think that passing the most important piece of social policy legislation in more than 40 years - and guaranteeing health care coverage for 30 million Americans - would rate a bit higher. Think again.

And the constraints on domestic policy also exist in foreign policy even though on these issues the president has far more latitude. For example, on Afghanistan I think the President made a huge mistake in supporting escalation last December. I continue to believe that he could have resisted the generals, but it would have taken almost all of his political capital to do so . . . at the same time that he was trying to pass health care reform. It's one of the reasons I don't necessarily begrudge his decision to escalate vs. the far worse decision to not demand his generals come up with a better, more realistic strategy for achieving US goals in Afghanistan.

And it wasn't as if liberals gave him a lot of ammunition back in the spring of 2009 or even the summer and fall in resisting the military's COIN fetish. To a large extent, on Afghanistan, the president's hands were tied - tied by his own rhetoric, tied by his own supporters who cheered lustily when he said he would devote more attention to the war in Afghanistan (myself included), tied by a military that organized a crackerjack PR campaign to force his hand, tied by his liberal supporters for failing to push back on the military and tied by an opposition party that cares more about the politics of national security than they do national security policy.

And while it's much harder to defend Obama on his civil liberties and rule of law positions, I hark back to something I wrote in March when word was leaked that KSM would not get a civilian trial after all:

The depressing conclusion to all this is that a good part of our political class isn't really that interested in promoting the rule of law when it comes to dealing with the threat of terrorism.  That so many Americans are willing to go along with this; and that so many politicians are either willing to use the fear of terrorism to abrogate the rule of law (or are unwilling to stand up for it) is not all on Barack Obama. It's on America.

Of course, Obama is not blameless here. He has at times needlessly upset the left; he's failed to make critical appointments to the judiciary and other federal positions; his rhetoric on terrorism has dangerously aped the Bush-era "war on terrorism" narrative; he has failed to take bolder steps on dealing with torture and rule of law issues and in some cases has taken a step back; he perhaps took too long to jettison the post-partisan rhetoric and take on the GOP's know-nothingness and mindless, naked obstructionism. But these critiques only tell a small part of the story.

Instead when you consider how often depraved that opposition is, for example, in opposing economic stimulus for political gain or lying about the impact of proposed legislation or branding any effort to moderate US foreign policy as "weakness" or "surrender" . . . well Obama looks pretty good by comparison.After all American politics is not a zero sum game; it's a competition between two competing forces in which sometimes the lesser of two evils is the better choice.

There is with every president and every leader both good and bad - but in the face of unprecedented political opposition Obama's track record is one that is far more glass full, than glass empty. Indeed I would argue it's about three-quarters full.

Maybe it's about time that the left (myself included) gave Obama a break . . . and aim their broadsides at the real enemy of progressivism and good governance in this country. Or perhaps we can continue to dump all over Obama and then sit around and wonder in 2013 how Mitt Romney got elected President.

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Barack Obama was dealt one of the worst hands any incoming president has ever gotten. Two ill-conceived and poorly-executed wars. A financial crisis and severe recession that owe as much to the Republicans'zeal for unregulated markets as to anything else. A huge deficit and national debt. Unsustainable health care spending by the government. I could go on. Obama is in no way responsible for any of these things. He has done the best he could with the cards he was dealt, and so far hasn't had much success, economy-wise. Do Alterman, Kuttner, et al, have a formula for how long it should take to recover from a deep recession? Do they think we'd be better off today if McCain and Palin had been elected in 2008?

Or perhaps we can continue to dump all over Obama and then sit around and wonder in 2013 how Mitt Romney got elected President.

Poor Obama.

He's worked so hard to be "bipartisan" that it's hard to say how a Mitt Romney presidency would be any different.

And with the decline in the book publishing business, there won't any book deal in it for him.

He will have sold out the Democrats for nothing.

Those who argue that Obama should have "fought harder" for these unattainable goals are making arguments that lack a very basic understanding of presidential power, particularly in an era when political parties are nowhere near as powerful as they once were. This is the very nature of domestic legislating.

I'm sorry, but I think it is you who lack an understanding of Presidential power Michael. The Silent Obama has exercised extremely weak public leadership, and thus he has empowered his enemies, failed to move public opinion as needed and even helped build a defeated rag-tag mob of chowder-headed wingnut buffoons into an estimable political opposition movement, all while undermining progressive morale and shaving away independent support at every turn.

Obama still seems to think he is a Senator, exercising whatever influence he has through backroom maneuvering. He does not seem to understand or accept the role of the President in setting and pushing a national agenda, and in mobilizing the public support needed to do it.

As we have seen just recently, public opinion is extraordinarily fickle and malleable. A couple of weeks ago the media-absorbing public was sure that the deficit was our biggest problem, thanks to the right-wing wind machine. Now they seem sure, after being treated to some contrary media messages, but no thanks to Obama and Co., that jobs and economic under-performance are our biggest problem. Had Obama recognized the malleability of public opinion, and worked more forcefully to influence it, we could have had a much more progressive outcome over the past year and a half.

Obama had dream majorities in the House and Senate, and came in with a resounding election victory. All he needed to do was move a small number Republican and Blue Dog votes for each step. And this is something he could easily have done if he knew how to educate and move the public, and mobilize public anger for his own aganda. Obama could have struck early and often to build his own "tea party" - an Obama's Army that could have been every bit the equal of the clueless rabble who actually succeeded in stepping up and dominating the public debate in response to the feckless impotence and timidity of the White House.

I used to think Obama was just a coward. But now I think maybe he is perhaps not too bright.

Maybe it's about time that the left ... aim their broadsides at the real enemy of progressivism and good governance in this country.

And how do we do that? How do we go to war against Republican stupidity without Presidential participation? How do we call our corrupt and insipid Republican demagoguery when the White House's official position is that truth is in the mushy middle and Obama undermines progressive critiques on a daily basis with his "Can't we all get along?" message. You might as well say the left should invade North Korea and depose Kim on their own.

You know the more bickering I hear and the more people claim Obama is "just like Romney" or "Bush" or any other conservative wackjob, the more shuddering flashbacks I get from 2000. You know, when Gore was "just like Bush" so who cared who you voted for, right? Progressives in this country are dangerously naive and delusional if they think that withdrawing from the political process because their little fee-fees are hurt will help anything. You want Obama to be more liberal? Try electing some damn liberals in Congress, especially in places like Nebraska or North Dakota. Try mobilizing instead of bitching on blogs and enacting creative street theater as some form of protest. I never see these so-called progressives doing ANYTHING except bitching. Meanwhile, tea party activists have put together a sophisticated and dangerous social movement that threatens to put American politics on a very demagogic path. Where is the liberal equivalent? If progressives are so truly committed to making this country better (instead of just complaining about right wingers or "DINOs"), where is their equivalent of the Federalist Society in law school education? Their equivalent to the NRA? Their equivalent to Fox News? Their large-scale mobilizing of middle-class anxiety and working class disaffection? Until you build this infrastructure, politicians are going respond to their immediate environment - in this case, who poses the most threat to their agenda. And right now, the greatest threat is the insane right wing, with a hat tip from its apathetic "progressive" allies whose utopian naivete is absolutely astonishing. Sure Obama is part of the issue; sure he "should" have done a bunch of stuff... but he is who we voted for, and, if you remember, a great deal of his appeal was how he told US to do some of the work. You know, yes "We" can. Instead of sitting back and waiting for daddy to turn the US into freaking Sweden overnight, I'd love to see some actual work by people who actually care about this country and its future. Push him, inform him, even threaten his agenda, but do it constructively and do it powerfully. Otherwise shut up, because you are just doing more harm than good.

I like the Swatman . . .

Sevgili abilerim ablalarım bu durumun neden böyle olduğunu bende bilmiyorum eğer bilen biri varsa bana haber verirse bende çok sevineceğim başarılar.

Ne oldu anlamadım deminki yorumum yayınlanmadı sanırım bu durumda beni çok üzüyoru lütfen hemen yayınlarmısınız.

@Michael Cohen: Thank you... I love this blog btw.

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