The fierce urgency of defending Obama — against the left

August 26, 2010 by · 14 Comments 

As a lifelong Democrat and progressive activist, I’ve spent years going after Republicans and conservatives. I worked for John Kerry and went head to head with my counterparts on the Bush team. I marched in countless anti-war protests and incurred the wrath of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders. I’ve canvassed door to door for environmental groups and had doors slammed in my treehugging face. I’ve engaged in flame wars in conservative forums. I’ve blogged since the beginning of blogs, attacking Hannity, Coulter, Limbaugh, Savage, O’Reilly.

But never have I seen a more fierce reaction than from fellow Democrats when I criticize President Obama. It is a visceral anger, deeply personal, and sadly, it is directed at progressives who set party aside and critique the White House on principle.

I’ve finally realized the crux of the problem: it’s that many of Obama’s defenders are ignoring the difference between campaign mode and governance mode. In campaign mode, my job as a Democrat is to cheer my candidate on, to work overtime to get them elected. That’s exactly what I did when my former employer, Hillary Clinton, dropped out of the race and endorsed Obama. I was in constant contact with my friends on Obama’s campaign, helping (informally) with blog outreach and strategy. I did everything I could to help elect him and when all was said and done, here’s what I wrote:

As a Democrat who left one career behind in 2001 and made politics my new one after Bush was elected, who vowed to fight every wrong-headed policy foisted on America by the Bush administration, I feel a profound debt of gratitude to Sen. Obama and his family, his campaign, his tireless and devoted staff, and his volunteers and supporters across the country. As well to Hillary Clinton – who was true to those who respect and love her, proving the detractors wrong and crisscrossing the country on behalf of the Obama-Biden ticket – and to her supporters, volunteers and staffers who joined hands with their primary opponents and worked around the clock to arrive at this amazing day.

…What I didn’t yet know was how centered, thoughtful and disciplined Sen. Obama would prove to be in the fierce storm of a presidential election, competing with two formidable opponents. As others have noted, it augurs well for his presidency (should tonight’s results turn out as anticipated). Most importantly, I couldn’t possibly know the stamina and dedication of his strategists, staff, volunteers, donors and supporters, who are poised to finally slay the dragons that defeated Gore and Kerry.

So today, as I vote for President Obama, with history at my fingertips, I want to say THANK YOU to everyone who worked so damn hard to elect him and Democrats across the nation.

On the day he took office, I switched from campaign cheering mode to fulfilling Obama’s request that we “hold him accountable.” I take those words and that duty seriously. It’s my job as a citizen. Since 2008, I’ve used the written word to tug at the administration from the left.

I truly respect and admire Obama. I’ve worked in past campaigns with a number of his staffers. I know they are good and decent people trying to improve their country and working tirelessly under extreme stress. There’s no denying that they’ve racked up an impressive list of accomplishments and they deserve credit for it. But that doesn’t mean I should set aside the things I’ve fought for my entire adult life. It doesn’t mean I should stay silent if I think the White House could do a better job promoting a progressive vision. And it doesn’t mean I should stand aside if I think mistakes are being made. Sure, I’m just one individual with an opinion, but why the fierce urgency of defending Obama whenever I express it?

About Peter


14 Responses to “The fierce urgency of defending Obama — against the left”
  1. rootless_e says:

    It’s not that we can’t accept criticism of the President, it’s that confused and often Republican influenced criticism really pisses us off because it helps make the return of the insane right more possible. Note that administration critics like Barbara Lee – who has been absolutely uncompromising on Afghanistan, for example, do not come in for the criticism that people like you and Grover Norquist’s friends at FDL and all the doomsayer on all the other “liberal” blogs come in for. Of course, it is impossible for the faux-progressives to admit that there is a difference between the kinds of criticisms they make and the kind that Congresswoman Lee makes. So it’s always “we’re being repressed”.

  2. rootless_e says:

    For example, consider health care reform. Barbara Lee, who supports much more radical reform calls it a huge victory like the civil rights laws victories. Bernie Sanders points out that it produces a massive Federal investment in public clinics – this way better than single payer. The American College of Physicians calls it an amazing advance. And David Sirota calls it a scam – essentially helping Boehner build his case. That’s not principled criticism, it’s pulling planks out of the middle of the lifeboat.

  3. Monkey of Darkness says:

    The $3.87 Trillion Dollar Suit Being Hidden from American People – #ireport  worst than Bernie Madoff

  4. Tom Betz says:

    The conflict here between cheerleading and poking with a pointed stick is the modern reality of American politics — we are always in campaign mode, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, every year. It gets in the way of true progressive Democrats promoting better policy choices (better politically and better policy-wise) than the middleoftheroadcentristDLC-types who surround Democratic presidents these days are willing to accept as achievable.

    Until and unless we can find a private pipeline to promote better policy so we can maintain the public posture of cheerleading all the time, we’re going to continue to stumble over this conflict.


  5. Meander says:

    rootless, you’ve been wrong for years on this, and you are just as wrong as ever when you call criticism of the Administration “Republican-influenced”. That’s a dishonest argument.

    The Administration has chosen to heed the criticism of the right and to abandon their base time and again, and they are abetted by bitter attacks from centrists like yourself who choose to support their slide to the right instead of defending and advancing necessary progressive and quite frankly, liberal policies.

    Yes there were advances in health care reform, but only at the cost of women’s health and the public option, and nearly at the cost of the entire reform plan itself. These may have been necessary compromises [I do not agree], but they will not go without comment.

    The Administration currently has the “deficit commission” , fourteen members of eighteen are avowed haters of Social Security – is this going to be another “acceptable compromise”?

  6. JeffCO says:

    Saying the tribalists who savage Administration critics are stuck in campaign mode is being awfully polite. It’s fun to blame the critics and issue endless appeals to authority to justify one’s own authoritarian leanings. Plus, in their view Obama is a weak and helpless figure, unable to fend off so much as a “Hey, how about pushing for something you campaigned on” from the Left, and equally unable to stand up to the right-leaning members of his own party in the Congress. To them, there simply *is* no valid way to criticize the Leader; you are for us or against us. You agree with them or you are confused, naive, and at best a Republican dupe. They have been singing the same song since the beginning: “Sit down, you’re rocking the boat!”

    As one of those undermining critics of the Administration who wants them to pursue something resembling a Democratic agenda, what I think makes the return of the insane right more possible is… pursuing warmed over Reaganism and voodoo economic policies. Embracing the banksters and shunning the out of work middle classes. Painting a smiley face on the economy and telling critics to expect more of the same from their team when ordinary Americans know full well that things are not fine and that even if they are still in their homes and have a job, all that might change tomorrow. We critics have been saying for some time that Bad Policy = Bad Politics, but this Administration seems doggedly determined to Stay The Course, dismissing those of us on the Professional Left as little more than annoyances. Or, more likely, setting us up to be the scapegoats when their pursuit of failed policies and failure to pursue what they were elected to do results in Democratic losses in the Congress to the radical nihilists who have captured the GOP.

  7. Calvin says:

    You might be interested in this article on paid bloggers from the Boston Globe, in 2007

    And then this more recent article:

    Obama’s online team falls under the umbrella of Message Discipline. It’s no accident that Obama defenders are the fiercest we’ve seen–they’re paid to derail thoughtful discussion, turn us off to online political discussion, and in some cases get people banned from participation in their online communities.

  8. joel e. petty says:

    I too had vowed to fight every wrong-headed policy foisted on America by the Bush Administration, coincidentally which was almost every policy of that administration, and am astounded that even one of these wrong-headed policies has been ratified/continued. Sadly all too many major Bush policy initatives have been ratified/continued and, astoundingly, this administration seems to be governing more to the right of center with each passing day and hell-bent on gutting social security, an act for which the backlash of anger against Democrats might be being gravely misunderestimated.

  9. rootless_e says:

    Here’s reality

    Barbara Lee – great accomplishment
    Sirota: scam

    GM/Chrysler/UAW – manufacturing saved with $60B diversion of Bush’s bank bailout
    Netroots: yawn

    CIW wins with Solis help “greatest farm worker win since Cesar Chavez”
    Netroots: Who is Solis?

    Wall Street forced to pay back TARP and buy back options at auction
    Netroots: Geithner is a bankster

    Financial reform
    Govt now, finally,has power to dissolve big non-bank firms
    Netroots: We should have used the RTC (which was Reagan’s big scam)

    Banking reform
    Student loan welfare program for banks ended
    Netroots: what?

    and on and on. There is a big difference between pushing for more progressive actions (which we don’t see at all from netroots) and sulking while cooperating in the standard Republican plan of constant hammering of any Dem President.

    Hey, y’all have a good time working with Grover against the real enemy: Rahm Emanuel and see how far that gets you.

  10. rootless_e says:

    Actually it is much more probable that the Republicans pay fake progressives to repeat Luntz’s points in progressive language.

  11. Calvin says:

    I think the DLC/New Democrat coalition is the far more likely driving force behind these bloggers. Robert Gibbs’ words about the “Professional left” who wants to “dismantle the Pentagon” and “wouldn’t be happy if Dennis Kucinich were President” sounded exactly like the ‘bots I’ve seen shouting down liberals online since ’09.

    Some easy ways to identify these ‘bots—their bizarre fixation with Dennis Kucinich, using same talking points we see the administration using, their complaint that Obama critics on the left are “whiners” who “want their pony”, etc.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Frank Luntz were working for the DLC/New Dems these days.

  12. JeffCO says:

    I see in comments here presented quite well the caricatures of the netroots and sneering condescension toward anyone who dares hold a more left-leaning view so favored by those who consider anyone to their personal left the enemy and quite possibly a comsymp, oops I mean a GOPsymp. Gibbs, is that you? I did appreciate the laugh though that the GOP is paying progressives to repeat GOP talking points – Boehner may agree with me that Geithner and his pals need to be fired, but I suspect we arrived at that perspective from quite different routes. It is telling that the “fierce critics” cannot or will not distinguish valid criticism of policies that have failed to produce the intended or needed results from the jeering and obstructionism of the “The President is a socialist, Kenyan, secret Muslim, tax-raising, take away your guns and fishing poles, radical, liberal, did we say socialist yet…” opponents of change on the right. To find fault must mean one is in bed with the GOP? Really? Instead of more caricatures and stiff necked polemic, I’d be very interested to see several examples of what is considered from that perspective to be *valid* criticism of the President.

    To the Administration I say good luck with that “We don’t need no dirty stinking hippies” attitude when the re-election campaign gets underway. See if you can convince the faux-centrists of the right to get out and knock on doors and convince people to support the Dems when what the Dems offer is… well, pretty much what the GOP offers, less crazy but every bit as corporate-friendly and anti-middle class. Though they like to attack people like me, I am not this Administration’s problem. I hold my nose and vote when I have to. But the marginally connected are going to find very little reason to get to the polls when they feel abandoned by the very people who convinced them to have Hope.

    People supported Obama because he presented himself as one who would fight for their interests, and his flagging support and seeming inability to get credit for his accomplishments perhaps isn’t the fault of his critics on the left. Sorry that they feel unappreciated around the WH, but offering people 10 feet of rope when they are dangling 20 feet down the side of a cliff just isn’t going to generate much cheering. Don’t expect people to clap when they’re too busy clinging to the few supports they have left.

  13. rootless_e says:

    I don’t consider the bitter critics of the administration as being to my left, or even on the left. They seem to have no interest in unions or unionized workers, don’t consider civil rights a priority, don’t have any respect for people like Barbara Lee and John Lewis, have really wacky right wing ideas about the economy (all a matter of villains and greed – as if greed was a new thing) and so on.

  14. Miriam says:

    I’m not condemning your principled criticism, Peter. I respect it.

    Oops – I’m a conservative.