Accountability Activism Democrats Obama Politics Progressives

Problems on the Left: a repeat of 2000 and 2008?

Monday at Drinking Liberally in Bellevue, a Democratic friend angrily confronted me and asked me to tone down my criticisms of President Obama. “Do you want a repeat of 2000 when Nader handed the election to Bush? President Obama said he’d escalate the war in Afghanistan when he was running for office. What did you expect? Obama said he’d govern from the center; that’s exactly what he did. He didn’t sell out. You voted for him. Stop expecting to have everything your way.”

Other Democrats tell the tale of early 1930s Germany, when a divided Left allowed the National Socialists to narrowly take power.

These arguments carry a lot of weight.  The Republicans ARE worse than President Obama. Probably even a lot worse.

But like millions of other progressives, I cannot pretend to like President Obama’s “centrist” policy choices.    On the wars, on the economy, on accountability, on the environment, on whistle-blowers, on ending tax cuts, on so many issues, he’s worked to aid Republican positions. Health care reform was largely a give-away to the insurance industry. The bailouts were corrupt. The stimulus was insufficient. He’s compromised early and often and given the Republicans 90% of what they want. During campaigns, Obama talks the talk. He rarely walks the walk.   Though I donated heavily to his campaign in 2008, now I feel betrayed.

About the only major issue on which I applaud President Obama’s performance is ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Yes, the Republicans were nearly united in their opposition. So why then did Obama bend over again and again and try to go half way with them? Democrats got nothing in return for his centrist giveaways except a revitalized GOP and a shellacking in 2008.

See Petition expressing extreme disappointment with President Obama’s policies
for a detailed accounting of Obama’s misdeeds.

This all goes to show you the grim situation we’re in — which is why protesters are taking to the street throughout the country. Many progressives have given up on electoral politics. It’s too corrupt and manipulated, they say.

Alas, the Tea Party protests led to Tea Party victories in the House of Representatives. Will the Wall Street and Oct 6 protests lead to progressive victories in elections? My guess is: no, they won’t, not in the short run. And that’s precisely why progressives are resorting to civil disobedience.

David Swanson, author of War is a Crime,  writes in his Activist email list, “We are not upset, Mr. President, about a system that gives you tens of millions of dollars and which you repay a thousand fold but which you are somehow helpless to control. We are outraged by you, your Wall Street cabinet, your Wall Street advisors, your corporate trade agreements, your bankster bailouts, your immunity for financial fraudsters, your assassination programs, and your overfunded war machine. We will resist the Congress, the Pentagon, the lobbyists, and the funders, and we will resist you with every last drop of our influence.”

This goes too far, even for me. Obama may be contributing to the problem, but the GOP is more responsible for the mess we’re in.

It’s difficult to be optimistic for the near term of American politics. If Obama wins in 2012 and if he continues his centrist policies, the country will continue its rightward trajectory towards Armageddon. If a Republican wins in 2012, the turn right will be faster and harder, and progressives may get the blame.

President Obama’s support of the Buffett rule is good politics. But House Republicans will never support raising taxes, even for the top 1%. Perhaps this will cost the GOP seats in 2012. If the Democrats take control of the House in 2012, at best we’ll be back to wear we were in 2008.

No wonder progressive are skeptical of electoral politics. It’s an ugly situation.



2 Replies to “Problems on the Left: a repeat of 2000 and 2008?

  1. Allow me to disagree with what may appear to be a minor aspect of this post.

    It’s hard to know what “centrist” is supposed to mean these days.

    For the sake of this discussion, however, if we assume that at one end of the current Congressional scale of political philosophy we find the great people’s advocate, the Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, and at the opposite end is Rep. Cantor [or insert the name of one of many other Republicans], there is no way that Obama is at the center but rather is considerably to the right of center, for he shares many more positions with the Rs than he does with Sanders.

    This is actually at the core of our economic-political problems, and Obama and his appointees have put us there. They have failed to promote and fight for anything resembling even a centrist position, to say nothing of a left-of-center program.

    Even Obama’s Department of Justice under Eric Holder, ostensibly the most independent Department of all, has been disappointing on many issues where it has taken non-progressive stances.

    Neither history nor any present progressive leader provides us with a clear guide to how we might best proceed in order to prevent, if possible, or at least emerge better off from, a further erosion of democracy, given current choices.

    Advice to stop criticizing Obama because that just weakens his chances of winning is absolutely counterproductive, because unless he moves leftward he cannot win.

    Obama has hurt too much of his “base” already, including the huge numbers of people who looked to him to be their cheer-leader only to have him tell them to “stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying”.

    Obama has to “explain” that what he meant was that they should “stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying” about what the Republicans are doing and start working to replace them, because the Republicans are the ones standing between them and their dreams.

    The most positive action that progressives can adopt is to keep pushing Obama to be more aggressive in defending and supporting the 98%. The more he does so, the better are his chances of success.

  2. You are correct. I should have put “centrist” in scare quotes, and that’s what I did. I edited to the article and placed the first use of the word in scare quotes. Many call him a centrist, but that’s an inaccurate characterization.

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