On the divided left

Sir Charles says he’s glad he didn’t come to Netroots Nation this year. Reading about a panel on LGBT rights and immigration, he sees too many people claiming the President failed, rather than realism about the political system’s current state:

It seems pretty clear to me that Obama is moving toward a pro-marriage equality stance. In the meantime, though, he has done more than enough to earn the spirited support of the gay rights community. However, even if you don’t agree, a quick look at where the Republicans are on these issues and it seems to me that this should generate a sense of compelling urgency. Instead, you have someone like Aravosis pretending that there is some realistic tactical alternative to going all in for Obama and the Democrats. It’s as if in 1964, the leaders of the civil rights movement were disappointed because LBJ had delivered only the Civil Rights Act and not the Voting Rights Act, and so, even in the face of Goldwater, decided to grudgingly and half-heartedly back Johnson, all the while diminishing the enthusiasm to vote of their followers

This is right and important. Watching the Netroots Nation interview with White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, I was glad to see him pressed to give straight answers to challenging questions, but a few too many questions framed as if the failure to accomplish progressive goals was the White House’s fault. “Why are you still firing gay servicemembers?” is a fair question. The answer is that the repeal of DADT was conditioned on a process, and that process isn’t done yet. They’re trying to finish that process, but until then, there’s not much to be done. The interviewer’s “Oooookay” wasn’t a followup or a rebuttal, but dismissed the answer as if it were spin, rather than political reality.

That doesn’t serve the progressive movement well. We’re the ones who are all about being reality-based. We’re the policy wonks. We’re the bloggers who try to shed light on the process, and to fix it. We can’t abandon our reality-based assessments just because polls turn against us.

Fortunately, by the end of the conference, I think the tide started to turn. Partly, this is a reflection of the fact that those loud voices of opposition to the President are not representative of Netroots Nation attendees. Eight in ten NN attendees approve of the job the president’s doing, and nationally, 82% of Democrats approve. As Matt Yglesias notes: “the proximate problem faced by would-be left-wing critics of President Obama is that they generally have much less credibility with the progressive constituency than the president does himself.”

The progressive movement is in a different place today than they were in 2008, when I first attended Netroots Nation. That was a time of optimism, after the nomination fight and as candidate Obama was surging towards victory. We had the House and the Senate back, and once we took back the White House, we were sure we’d be able to fix everything. In 2009, we met as the healthcare fight bogged down in town hall meetings and teabag protests; we could laugh about the teabaggers, but it was clear that change wasn’t going to be easy. Last year, it was clear that we’d lose seats in the House (and probably lose control), and that we might even lose control of the Senate. Legislating had ground to a halt, the healthcare reform which had passed was less than we hoped for, climate legislation was dead, immigration, civil rights for gays and lesbians, and a host of other issues were stalled.

Now, we have a Republican House, a narrow Senate majority undercut by conservative Senators and abuses of the filibuster blocking any action at all. There’s reason to be frustrated, and there are steps the administration could be taking – but isn’t – to force a contrast with Republicans and to advance the agenda it was elected for. But many of the biggest ticket items have to go through Congress, and we may have to wait until 2014 to elect Democratic majorities capable of doing the nation’s work. Until then, the President needs us to clear the way for him to take the actions the nation needs. It’s time for the people to lead, not for the left to eat itself.

Comments

  1. #1 Surgoshan
    June 19, 2011

    I’m as liberal and progressive as they come. I’m so liberal I shake a stick at Obama and wish he’d get off his accomodationist heiney and get some fucking liberal presidenting done. In fact, I’m irritated as all get out that the left can’t seem to get *anything* done.

    Anyway, that said, I think Obama couldn’t get anything done because he wasn’t elected to be liberal, he wasn’t elected to be progressive. He was elected to be not Bush. McCain was too Republican to be not Bush, and the only way he could have won the election was if Muslim fucktards had bombed America. Instead, Wall Street fucktards bombed America and Obama won.

    But he didn’t deserve his mandate. He won not on the strength of his liberalism, but on the weakness of his notBushism. And in the three years since, people have forgotten that the mess we’re in is due to Republitardness and not because Obama hasn’t done enough.

    Also. He hasn’t done enough. For some reason he starts out at the goal he should end up at. He starts out with the compromise position when he should *be liberal* and start out at the liberal position and end up at the compromise position after having worked with partisan asshats and reached the compromise.

    Obama’s not liberal enough. His starting position is “I want re-election”, not “I want what’s best for America”.

  2. #2 julian
    June 19, 2011

    So glad to hear 82% of democrats approve of President Obama’s term. Frees me up to not vote for him.

  3. #3 Ender
    June 20, 2011

    @Surgoshan – you’re not liberal you’re just living in la-la land; unfortunately becoming President does not make you magical king of the world. Sometimes you have to accomplish things one at a time, slowly, you can’t just write your own laws and instantly change things – and anyone who thinks that getting Americans some sort of healthcare, and ending DADT counts as not being able to get “anything” done is not so much a liberal who’s disappointed in his performance but an idiot.

  4. #4 Boo
    June 20, 2011

    Obama has already demonstrated his willingness to violate the constitution in his capacity as commander in chief by his illegal wars in Libya and Yemen. Compared to those, ordering a temporary halt to DADT discharges until the review process is complete is very small potatoes.

    In 1996 he signed a questionnairre avowing support for same sex marriage. No he denies it, even though it appears to be his signature on the document.

    He could have closed Gitmo any time he chose. He chose not to.

    He has ordered the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, who, scary foreign sounding name notwithstanding, is an American citizen who has not even been charged with a crime, even though as a candidate he took the position that the President didn’t have the authority to even imprison American citizens without charges.

    He could have dismantled the largely unconstitutional national security state apparatus put in place by Bush. Instead, he’s doubled down on it. And no, it’s not because a Republican dominated House forced him into it.

  5. #5 Christopher Wing
    June 20, 2011

    I wish everyone who backed and is currently backing Obama would take a moment, and simply compare his current policies to Bush’s. “Ender” claims that Obama is not a magical king, but only a magical king can order American citizens assassinated on site. Only a magical king could shake hands with dictators who torture their own citizens, and still have boneheads enamored by his charm. Only a magical king could get a bunch of supposed liberals to vote for him again after he has kicked them to the curb by starting new wars and continuing the ones he promised to end. There is always another choice, but if you keep pretending there are only 2, you will get shat upon, same as Clinton, same as Obama. The “left” of American politics used to storm buildings, change opinions, pass legislation, and stop evil fat-cat corporations from raping the earth and destroying unions. Now they are impotent and foolish, and incapable of demanding equal rights for everyone. The leaders of the “left” are just the same as leaders on the right, bar none.

    I’m currently an ex-pat. I pay $30 each month for health insurance for me and my wife. I used to be a lead organizer for ACORN, and I watched the left let that organization be torn apart through incompetence and the inability to protect their own. Net Roots Nation is a bunch of people talking and raising money, and doing nothing at all except blogging and selling books about how maybe someday they’ll start a revolution, when they’re mad enough. Obama will get re-elected, most “liberals” will vote for him, and the US will simply decline slowly.

    How sad.

  6. #6 Gurdur
    June 20, 2011

    Glad to see this post. For one thing, I was very glad to see you take part in the NN, because that kind of thing is exactly what science activists need to do. But also glad to see this post, because I’ve noticed a worrisome rise in self-righteous suicidal ideation among some of the American left and centre-left — to wit, their wish to primary Obama, to give Obama a really hard time without any real justification. They’re barking mad if they think they’re really helping the causes of liberalism or the left’s.

    More, as commented by quite a few, there seems to be a nasty ethnic split developing in that too. The vocal black Democrats seem on the whole more or less satisfied with Obama and how Obama’s doing, even while they revile the Republicans (who do seem to be doing their own best to really deserve revilement at the moment).

    The liberals and lefties wanting to primary Obama seem to be almost all white Democrats, and their claiming to be the “base” naturally annoys black Democrats, who rtaher naturally think they also constitute part of the base, and don’t like being shut out by angry whites wanting to dump Obama.

    “… Obama will get re-elected, most “liberals” will vote for him, and the US will simply decline slowly ….

    Dear god. The one glaring failure there is the lack of any consideration of the alternatives. Face reality:

    - if Obama is pilloried and dumped in favour of some other candidate, there is simply no way that candidate will win the 2012 POTUS election, owing to a split Democratic party and a Republican opposition who will only too gleefully use all the mud thrown by Democrats and liberals during the Democrat primaries, and use it against whoever becomes the candidate.

    - the 2012 election is the Democrats’ to lose, owing to the sheer scale of self-righteous ineptitude shown by the Republicans at the moment. So naturally, some Democrats and liberals want to lose the 2012 election, to commit electoral suicide.

    I guess because it’s so much better to have Bachmann in power. You know, they can then write satires of Bachmann, or have anti-govt bumper stickers! Oh the satisfaction! [please pardon me while I barf].

    - You see, it’s so glorious to have and to lose at a Battle of Cannae, than to win with someone like Fabius Maximus and the consequent Fabianism! Oh, the iconography of the self-righteous, self-imposed “Glorious” Defeat!

    “… Obama will get re-elected, most “liberals” will vote for him, and the US will simply decline slowly ….

    The unconscious fusion between American “left”, ultra-liberal and far Republican right iconography is fascinating, to me as an external, foreign observer. But it also makes me really, really, really effing glad to be an external, foreign observer too, so I don’t need to suffer from the consequences of that fusion.

  7. #7 Laurent Weppe
    June 20, 2011

    You see, it’s so glorious to have and to lose at a Battle of Cannae, than to win with someone like Fabius Maximus and the consequent Fabianism! Oh, the iconography of the self-righteous, self-imposed “Glorious” Defeat!

    There is no need to go back so far in time: this family tradition has survived to this century.

    The unconscious fusion between American “left”, ultra-liberal and far Republican right iconography is fascinating, to me as an external, foreign observer

    It’s not much different than the proximity between the far-left and the far-right in Europe: I’d say that in both case it comes from a sense of ontological superiority: “We’re the only one worthy of ruling this country, and if we’re not in charge, then the country is evidently going to collapse”

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    June 20, 2011

    Yeah, so let’s just get rid of the pseudo-liberal Obama and put in someone who will be true to their own political philosophy and not let their supporters down. Michele Bachmann would be good for that.

  9. #9 Matthew Platte
    June 20, 2011

    Answer: One of the strongest supporters of your undeclared wars (Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, etc.) policy is Sen. Lindsey Graham.

    What is the question?

  10. #10 Ender
    June 20, 2011

    @JoshRosenau – I have a post stuck in moderation on the other thread, could you retrieve it please! Thanks.

    @Boo : Yes he has not done everything we wanted him to. Did you expect him to?

    @Christopher Wing : Nothing of what you describe is because Obama is a “magical king”. There is no other choice currently, and frankly the war in Libya is a good thing. Realism people! I’m as much of an idealist as anyone – but you have to understand what is possible, and what is not. Politics is a dirty game of realpolitik and power – being President does not give Obama the ability to ride roughshod over the opposition – and there is insane opposition to him in your country. To have forced through healthcare and the repeal of DADT is practically more than could have been expected.
    That doesn’t mean that he is perfect, or that he’s even doing the best job he could be doing – but it does mean that now is NOT the time to be childishly throwing our toys out of the pram and handing power to the wingnuts on the right! That’s just the perfect world fallacy writ large. Obama has done some good things. He has failed to do others. He has done bad things. All things considered he’s better than the only other party that is an option and we should praise him for his achievements, and attack him for his failures, not just say “Fuck it he hasn’t achieved everything so he hasn’t achieved anything

    p.s. this doesn’t mean that if the only viable candidates keep selling us down the river to corporate interests that we will not have to have a bloody revolution, but we are not there yet.

  11. #11 Ender
    June 20, 2011

    @Gurdur

    “But also glad to see this post, because I’ve noticed a worrisome rise in self-righteous suicidal ideation among some of the American left and centre-left — to wit, their wish to primary Obama, to give Obama a really hard time without any real justification. They’re barking mad if they think they’re really helping the causes of liberalism or the left’s.”

    This!. Times about a thousand! It’s self-destructive and counterproductive.

  12. #12 Gabby
    June 20, 2011

    Some of these commentors are right. When Libyan rebels were begging for our help and we had a chance to help turn the tide, encouraging a step away from theocratic dictatorships and toward democracy in the middle east, we should have just thrown them our favorite finger. Why take a chance changing the history of the world for the better when we can sit on our asses and watch the opportunity pass. And the very idea that Obama would increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, I mean that’s what he said he’d do while he was running, but can you believe the nerve?
    Obama’s got my vote, although I have issues with several of his policy decisions. I agree with one of the comments above (for real this time) that he has started with the compromise and been pushed too far right on some of these things but I also recognize the fact that he has made great strides in several areas. Go back a few years to when you knew nothing of Obama. When Bush was in office and we were being marginalized by a political right in lockstep. If you had to take a guess, even being optimistic, would you have thought we’d have ANY sort of healthcare reform now? Where would you have thought we’d be on DADT?

  13. #13 julian
    June 20, 2011

    This is ridiculous. We are critical of a politician so we must be no different than the far right that feels they and they alone have the right to rule.

    No politician deserves loyalty. Their job is to pretend to be in favor of this or that ideaology in order to appeal to the most voters. (Something everyone here seems to feel is just dandy) why the hell should they be treated with anything but suspicion?

  14. #14 Gurdur
    June 20, 2011

    Julian, you’re not making much sense at all. Try again? Love the simplisticness about politicians, love the bit about where it’s pretended that somehow (magically) criticising a politician is what’s under discussion – it isn’t. But hey. Most of the rest of us live on reality-based paradigma.

    Now, want to discuss the real issues? They’ve been detailed. If you could just deal with those and not something made up out of thin air, then maybe we can have a real-honest-to-goodness discussion.

  15. #15 Gurdur
    June 20, 2011

    “There is no need to go back so far in time: this family tradition has survived to this century.”

    Love it! Good one.

    “It’s not much different than the proximity between the far-left and the far-right in Europe: ..”

    Correct. Or in Australia, or Asia. Correct. On the other hand, I very often look at the USA and wonder just how come both the center and the left get themselves so badly out-manouvered by the far right so very often, and why so many liberals and self-declared left are so fucking stupidly suicidal.

    Not even the French left approach this level of demented addiction to self-harm.

    Although maybe the Greek left, could be.

  16. #16 Boo
    June 20, 2011

    When Libyan rebels were begging for our help and we had a chance to help turn the tide, encouraging a step away from theocratic dictatorships and toward democracy in the middle east, we should have just thrown them our favorite finger. Why take a chance changing the history of the world for the better when we can sit on our asses and watch the opportunity pass.

    Or Obama could have gone to Congress and made the case for intervening for them to authorize it.

    You know, like it says in the Constitution.

    Yes he has not done everything we wanted him to. Did you expect him to?

    He hasn’t done anything beyond passing an extraordinarily lukewarm healthcare bill that mainly benefits insurance companies. Aside from that, he is essentially the 3rd Bush term. That is not what I voted for.

  17. #17 Laurent Weppe
    June 21, 2011

    Obama could have gone to Congress and made the case for intervening for them to authorize it.

    Except that Congress was oh so happy to abdicate its responsability that in the end Obama did exactly what Congress wanted.

    He hasn’t done anything beyond passing an extraordinarily lukewarm healthcare bill that mainly benefits insurance companies

    Remind me: was the democratic caucus a strong, solid, coherent block willing to use its super-majority to force a complete overhaul of the healthcare system regardless of the reccord dishonesty and obstructionnism coming from the Republicans?

    Every time something bad happens, fingers point toward the executive branch, even when the faillings come clearly from the legislative one. Its very telling about the american political culture, in fact.

  18. #18 Boo
    June 21, 2011

    It’s both branches that are at fault. The executive is being tyrannical, the legislature is anemic. The Republicans are crazy, the Democrats are sellout wusses.

    If all we get are the same awful policies, then what actual difference does it make whether the people pushing them have an (R) or a (D) attached to their names?

    As far as I can see the only hope for the country is for one or both parties to implode and then reconstitute itself as something at least semi-rational.

  19. #19 TTT
    June 21, 2011

    Obama passed healthcare reform, repealed DADT, withdrew most troops from Iraq, saved the auto industry, cut taxes on working families, stood up for educated minorities when they get hassled by cops for no reason, and killed Osama bin Laden.

    I’d like him better if he wasn’t a reflexive corporatist and from-the-start compromiser. But I can put aside fantasies easily enough to appreciate what I actually have. I am more pleased with him, and more proud, than I have been of any American president in my lifetime, and any I’ve read about since Harry Truman.

    And beyond that, the GOP has stopped being a political organization and now much more resembles a nationwide synchronized self-cutting disorder. I would unhesitatingly support Eliza the Commodore Psychiatrist Program over any GOP candidate alive today, and I have only bafflement and moral horror as responses to the alleged liberals / progressives who claim to feel otherwise. Florida 2000 isn’t ancient history, folks…

  20. #20 julian
    June 21, 2011

    Obama repealed DADT.

    What a joke. I regret to inform you all that while gays will no longer be kicked out of the military for being gay, they will continue to enjoy second class status as will their families. So yeah, let’s all get back to celebrating the awesomness of the man who gave us that half step.

    But of course I’m the one that’s bad for America, right?

  21. #21 TTT
    June 22, 2011

    Yeah, let’s all get back to celebrating the awesomness of the man who gave us that half step.

    Yeah. Let’s.

    You can get movement towards what you want, or movement away from it. Those are your choices. And you really are responsible for what your vote represents. If you truly want *all* your political wishes granted, become a billionaire and then vote Republican.