Thursday, December 03, 2009

Joan Walsh on adjusting to Obama's disastrous Afghanistan policy

There has been some amount of grumping among antiwar Democrats about whether Obama's escalation in Afghanistan is a betrayal of his campaign and of the trust his supporters put in him.

(I can't help but think in this connection about the phony hissy fit the Republicans threw about MoveOn.org's "General Betray-us" ad. Although that ad was a clumsy conception, no one actually has any trouble distinguishing between the concept of "betraying" the trust of supporters - in fact American politicians routinely accuse their opponents of betraying their supporters' trust - and accusing someone of betraying the country or of being a traitor to the nation.)

Other Democrats who also oppose the Afghanistan War are saying, weren't you people listening to what Obama was actually saying in his campaign of 2008? He said as clear as day that he intended to put more emphasis on the Afghanistan War and to send in more troops. I always expected to disagree with his Afghanistan policy because I disagreed with it during the campaign last year. I had hoped he would reassess his intent to escalate. But this is a campaign position that Obama is keeping and following through with. I hope in 2010 he's as eager to follow through on his 2008 support for the Employee Free Choice Act to protect workers' rights to organize unions.


Phyllis Bennis in her well-argued analysis of President Obama's Afghanistan Escalation Speech 12/02/09 at the Institute for Policy Studies site puts the case fairly, if a bit disingeniously, when she writes that his escalation speech Tuesday did not reflect "accountability ... to President Obama’s base, the extraordinary mobilization of people who swept this anti-war and anti-racist candidate into office."

But Joan Walsh has the better part of this particular little argument in The poster boy for progressive self-delusion Salon 12/02/09 when she scolds Tom Hayden for over-rating Obama's lbieralism in his primary endorsement of Obama over Clinton. Joan's main point is this. Even though she voted for Obama over Clinton in the primaries by her own account, she makes a realistic and important point:

I want to be clear here. I am not saying, and I never said, that Clinton was more progressive than Obama on any of these issues. But Hayden, Michael Moore and too many progressives claimed, with zero evidence, that Obama would be more progressive than Clinton. He wasn't, and he isn't. There were many reasons to choose Obama over Clinton, but that he was the better progressive was never one of them.
Still, as entertaining as it may be to read her poking fun at the leaden quality of Tom's endorsement of Obama - "I felt like I was in some kind of Maoist reeducation camp, being urged to struggle mightily and cheerfully for Chairman Obama" - I also think she isn't giving enough credit to the point that he was making in his 2008 endorsement. Just as Joan was struck at the time by the tone of it, I was struck by the fact that he was carefully qualifying that what he was really endorsing was the movement that coalesced around Obama's campaign. But she does quote this part:

We intend to join and engage with our brothers and sisters in the vast rainbow of social movements to come together in support of Obama's unprecedented campaign and candidacy. Even though it is candidate-centered, there is no doubt that the campaign is a social movement, one greater than the candidate himself ever imagined....
That's an important factor that we shouldn't lose sight of. The hopes that not just Obama activists but a large portion of the majority that voted for him placed in the potential Obama represented were bigger than the cautious candidate's stated positions. And if as President he can't show that he can and will deliver on major elements of those hopes, the Democrats could wind up blowing one of the most promising opportunities for progressive reforms that any American Presidential administration has ever had.

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