It's so fashionable among self-identified progressives to be anti-Obama that I assume that position to be wrong. Just kidding about the latter part. I'm as disappointed as the next person, although I don't know who the next person is. I have been "in dialogue" with friends who are highly miffed at the President. I now blog in defense of him chiefly to play devil's advocate--with myself!
But first, we should probably review the particulars, and I'll phrase them from the p.o.v. of his detractors (on the Left)--no particular order:
1. He "caved" on single-payer healthcare.
2. He not only hasn't withdrawn from Afghanistan, but he has also sent more troops.
3. His attorney general has not investigated potential war crimes and crimes of torture.
4. He gave too much money to Wall Street and not enough to jobs-stimulus.
5. He hasn't ended "Don't Ask/Don't Tell."
6. His stance on gay marriage is at least unhelpful.
7. He "caved" on the new Israeli settlements.
8. He "caved" on the tax-cuts for the rich.
9. He's done nothing to revive manufacturing.
10. He's corporatist.
I missed plenty, but these are some highlights.
My devil's-advocate is two-fold (and remember, I agree with most and close to all of the above):
1. Obama is the same Obama we saw in the campaign; he is the Obama who likes to win--strategically, not tactically.
2. Progressives often forget that to do anything in mainstream politics, you have to win. Okay, maybe they don't forget, but they're often quick to trade winning for anger-expressed or dissent.
One of my favorite radio hosts, Norman Goldman, pleasantly attacks the President and the Democrats for squandering a majority in both Houses. Let's grant that the Dems probably could have had more victories. However:
1. Truth to tell, they didn't have a majority in both Houses because of conservative democrats. Kent Conrad: "There never were enough votes for single-payer healthcare." Conrad would know. He's essentially a Republican. Obama had no leverage with which to force the conservadems to change. He didn't have LBJ's long list of IOU's, etc. Could he have used the bully pulpit more? Yes. Would it have worked? I doubt it: because the constituents in the conservadems districts/states opposed single-payer. So Obama made a deal. It wasn't a total victory, but it got a big foot in the door of "universal" healthcare, and it essentially kept the game alive (read "Finite and Infinite Games") for another day, WHILE getting millions more insured eventually. Millions.
2. Could he have pressed Harry Reid to get rid of filibusters, etc.? Sure. But what about when the GOPers take over the Senate? Don't you want the Dems to have the filibuster option? I do. If you want to say Obama "caved" on healthcare, that's fine, but a truth is that the Senate Democrats controlled the game from the beginning--not the president.
3. Afghanistan. I think we should get out now, too. There are the obvious political points to make about Obama looking weak on "national defense" (whatever) in 2012, but I still think we should get out. Is this enough for me not to vote for him in 2012? No. I prefer any Democrat over any Republican. Why? Two words: "Supreme Court." If you want to back Kucinich in 2012, fine. The most that will do is express anger and dissent, split the Dems, and possibly elect a Republican. Kucinich is less electable than Palin. Do you prefer Palin to Obama? I don't. (Remember, I'm mostly asking myself these questions.) I think Obama has bought the argument about fighting Al Queda "over there," and I think he's afraid to look weak in 2012. That is, he wants to win.
4. He gave too much money to Wall Street and not enough to job stimulus. The Krugman thesis. Okay, agreed. But for the most part, he played the recession and Bush's catastrophe right down the middle of the fairway. He did "cash for clunkers" to flush the massive inventory of unsold cars; consequently, GM and Ford are doing well. He propped up GM: good move. Good jobs. Lots of them. He propped up banks. He had to. No choice. Basically, he had to walk into a barn full of horse-shit and shovel it out. Not glamorous and easy to criticize, but it's what Bush left him. A typical Bush II move: mess up any undertaking and let someone else clean it up.
5. I agree with Obama that Congress should end Don't Ask/Don't Tell, but if they don't by December 1, then he should end it as Commander in Chief. The parallel is to Roosevelt, who in fact chose NOT to desegregate the armed forces.
6. Gay marriage is a states' issue--it just is. That's who gives out the licenses to marry. But I think Obama should drop the claim that marriage is only between a man and a woman, he should endorse gay marriage, and then he should say, "It's up to the states: get it done." But he can't do it alone and never could.
7. He caved on tax-cuts to the rich. Believe it or not, I believe his explanation, and I almost never believe ANY politician's explanation. He traded tax cuts for the rich for extended unemployment. But as Norman Goldman points out, these u. benefits still don't cover everybody. But at least he bought a year for millions of unemployed. The alternative, at leas as I see it (and I probably see it badly) was a stalemate. I think he wanted to win something, so he won what he could.
8. His attorney general should investigate potential war crimes and torture crimes. Agreed. Still, I have to break out in a chorus of "Will a Republican president investigate same?"
9. He's a corporatist. Absolutely. So was Lincoln. So was Roosevelt.
10. He caved on Israeli settlements. Well, he gave up, and I don't blame him. Unless the U.S. wants seriously to withdraw funds from Israel, there's no leverage. Zip. And if any president suggests withdrawing funds, he or she commits political suicide. Progressives themselves are horribly divided on the issue, and everybody knows that. Me, I find it refreshing that he essentially admitted the U.S. (not him, but he U.S.) has no leverage. He's not a magician. He can't invent leverage. Concerning Palestine/Israel, what president has? And this is even assuming you're a progressive who opposes the settlements. The chances are excellent that you support them. So Obama's supposed to heal the progressive rift? Please.
So in this argument with myself, I say, "Self, would you rather have Obama or Hillary Clinton in the White House?" On some days, I'd prefer Hillary. But guess what? She couldn't even win a campaign. Her staff was horrific. Obama beat her in a fair match.
Self, would you rather have Obama in a second term or a Republican in a first term in 2012 (2013)? Obama. Two words: "Supreme Court." There are other reasons, but these two words are enough.
What's a progressive to do, then, bucko? First, do no harm. Don't work for Kucinich or anyone else in the primaries. I've seen enough of the McCarthy/Humphrey, Kennedy/Carter replays of progressive self-defeat, thanks very much. I did not, in fact, prefer Nixon to Humphrey or Reagan to Carter.
Second, DON'T WORK AGAINST OBAMA; WORK ON HIM. Pressure, pressure, pressure from below (as it were) and from within. Giant labor meetings. Well attended but smart anti-war rallies--not chaotic messes that the GOPers can use in the political spectacle (see Murray Edelman on the political spectacle, please). African Americans, poverty-advocates, homeless advocates, etc. should meet with him and his cabinet. Progressive money-bags should horse-trade with him (mixed metaphors): I'll give your campaign this much cash if you do X for cause Y. Above all, workers and professionals need to organize. Some workers need to stop taking the Republican bait(s) regarding race, taxes, "big government," and so on. What have Republicans ever done for working people? Seriously.
Take a page out of the "Tea Party's" plan. Look how they pushed their (Republican) Party. They thwarted McConnell in his own state and thwarted Rove in the Carolinas. But they did not say "off with McConnell's head" or "I'm working for Larry Craig!" To the extent they were a legitimate grassroots group (they've been taken over), they worked from below and within.
Have I convinced myself? Well, almost.