Friday, January 20, 2012

Obama's progressive defenders (one of them anyway) and nails-on-the-blackboard history

Like Big Thinker Francis Fukuyama, writers such as Huffington Post columnist Bob Cesca who defend the Obama Administration from a position supposedly sympathetic to a progressive viewpoint need some leftist to bash. In Progressives, Obamabots and a Realistic Evaluation of the President 01/19/2012. It bothers him to be called an Obamabot. He tries out an argument that I don't recall having encountered before, which says, well, at least Obama isn't as bad as Franklin Roosevelt:

Historically speaking, no president in American history boasts a flawless record of achievement without dark stains on his record. The chief executive lauded as being the liberal hero of the previous century, Franklin Roosevelt, committed some of the most egregious crimes against humanity in the name of prosecuting World War II, not to mention other, lesser shortcomings. He authorized total war against the Axis powers, giving the military complete latitude to annihilate civilian populations in Europe and Japan using the most deadly weapons of that era. In a modern sense, the firebombing of Tokyo alone would earn Roosevelt an hourly shaming from the progressive blogosphere, if not an outright call for impeachment. Add to it the indefinite detention of the entire Japanese-American civilian population and the authorization/funding of the Manhattan Project ushering in the Cold War nuclear era and progressive heads would be exploding all over the Roosevelt administration's record. But historians, both liberal and unaffiliated, regard Roosevelt in a very different light. The New Deal achievements, Social Security and his posthumous victory in World War II outweigh the questionable deeds along the way.
I'm all for taking a critical viewpoint of all Administrations. The internment of Japanese-Americans never suspected or accused of a crime was and is indefensible.

But Cesca makes a surprisingly sloppy argument. For one thing, the "entire Japanese-American civilian population" was not detained. The internment order did not apply to Hawaii, where actual cases of Japanese-Americans committing acts of espionage had occurred. It's one of the historical facts that illustrates how bad and unnecessary and wrong the detentions were in California, where not a single known case if espionage by a Japanese-American had occurred.

There is also plenty to criticize about the "strategic bombing" of the Second World War. The Army's own postwar studies of their results in Germany and Japan were an early source of some of the most important of them. But it is simply not the case that the US military was given "complete latitude to annihilate civilian populations in Europe and Japan." It's the kind of thing revisionist apologists for the German or Japanese regimes of that time would say.

Cesca summarizes the progressive side of Obama's achievements this way:

By my accounting, and conservatively speaking (small "c" conservative), there are more than 100 achievements of varying importance ranging from the rescue of the economy from the brink of another Great Depression to the rescue of the American auto industry to the largest middle class tax cut in American history to the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. At the very least, and not insignificantly, President Obama's ideas and political savvy paved the way for African-Americans to finally reach the highest political office in the world. The last segregated office is now multi-racial. This can't be understated or ignored. Furthermore, the president just wrapped his third year in office and, much to the chagrin of the far-right, he has at least another year in which to tackle more items on the to-do list.

These items and dozens more are legitimate and undeniable successes, some of them are historically important and many of them are distinctly liberal. Some of them are compromised successes for the sake of passage through a deeply divided Congress and some of them are exacting and untouched. (Various critics note the president had a filibuster-proof 60 Democratic vote supermajority in the Senate for his first two years. This is a fallacy as the Democrats have never been a lockstep caucus. There were at least 10 conservative Democrats like Evan Bayh, Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson who vigorously opposed legislation like cap-and-trade and the public option and who often voted or threatened to vote with the Republicans to filibuster such items.)
Cesca is in part responding to a Newsweek article by Andrew Sullivan, How Obama's Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics 01/16/2012.

Obama is not playing any long game to enact progressive accomplishments.

The game he's playing as President is clearly better than the game the Republicans would like to play.

But Obama has shown himself to be essentially a cautious, conservative Democrat who has been willing to take some progressive steps like those Cesca mentioned because he needs to do something to please his base. His first three years in office provide little reason to even hope that he will transform himself into an eager progressive leader in a second term.

One of the clearest signs to me that he has never had any progressive long game is the fact that he didn't make the Employee Free Choice Act to reinvigorate union organizing one of his top priorities from the moment he was elected. The Republicans know the labor movement is still a critical element in mobilizing votes for Democrats. If Obama had a long game, he would be doing everything he could to facilitate building the labor movement and getting more workers organized into unions.

Those who are playing the long game are progressives who are working on an inside-outside approach. People like Blue America, who are promoting and raising funds for real progressive candidates like Elizabeth Warren, running for the Senate in Massachusetts. People like Occupy Wall Street protesters, who have already forced the maldistribution of wealth and the need to restrain financial bandits onto the agenda of the two major parties and into mainstream political discussion. People like The Young Turks Cenk Uygur, whose Wolf PAC is challenging the power of organized money in politics and fighting to overturn the reaction Citizen's United decision's notion of corporations as people with the right to spend unlimited money to corrupt the electoral process.

Until there is a powerful enough popular progressive movement that influences the Democratic Party but is not subordinate to it, the 1% will continue to dominate both parties.

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"It is the logic of our times
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