Re: Is It Time to Give Obama a Break?
Posted by Shadi Hamid
Michael Cohen is asking liberals to "give Obama a break." I don't find his case very convincing. And I'm starting to think that "pro-Obama" liberals don't really understand why their colleagues are so disappointed. I've already written about this in a recent Huffington Post piece. So let me reiterate and expand on a couple of the points I made.
First of all, this isn't really about policy. Most people - even people who follow policy - don't particularly care about policy. That's not what gets them angry. That's not even really why/how they vote. Much of it, rather, has to do with the emotional component of politics, something which, I think, some liberals are quick to dismiss. This is very much in keeping with that most annoying post-Bush fetish - "pragmatism" - perhaps the most hollow, misleading, and misunderstood word ever to be bandied about in Washington.
What many liberals believed Obama would do was redefine how partisan and ideological debates were conducted and shift the American electorate leftward. He wouldn't accept Republican framing as a given and insist on presenting liberal policies in those terms. For once, as I wrote then, "we'd have Democrats who were proud of being liberals and didn't feel compelled to apologize for what they actually thought." Note that none of these things actually have to do with legislation or what extent congress blocks the president's agenda. They have to do with perceptions of strength, ideology, and conviction, three things not often considered the strong suit of American liberalism.
In other words, the Left wants to feel that Obama is on their side, fighting for what they believe in, independent of whether or not it leads to tangible policy/legislative successes. If he can't deliver, fine, but at least put in some effort and say it like you mean it (see public option). How many instances are we aware of where the Obama administration arm-twisted centrist Democrats, making clear the repercussions if they failed to support liberal objectives (again, see public option)?
Do I have a strong, informed opinion on the public option, as a policy? No. Do I know anyone who has a strong, informed opinion on the public option, as policy? Maybe, but only a few. Do I know anyone who has a strong opinion on the public option, as a signal and as an idea? Yes.