Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quote of the Day: Kevin Drum on Obama, Massachusetts, and the frustration of the left


This is a long one, but take the time to read it:

The frustration on the left with Obama — and with healthcare reform specifically — was almost inevitable. During the campaign, a lot of people chose to see in him what they wanted to see, pushing to the back of their minds not just the obvious signs that Obama has always been a cautious, practical politician, but also the obvious compromises and pressures that are forced onto any president. It was a recipe for disappointment. The striking thing to me, though, is how fast the left has turned on him. Conservatives gave Bush five or six years before they really turned on him, and even then they revolted more against the Republican establishment than against Bush himself. But the left? It took about ten months. And the depth of the revolt against Obama has been striking too. As near as I can tell, there's a small but significant minority who are so enraged that they'd be perfectly happy to see his presidency destroyed as a kind of warning to future Democrats. It's extraordinarily self-destructive behavior — and typically liberal, unfortunately. Just ask LBJ, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. And then ask them whether liberal revolt, in the end, strengthened liberalism or conservatism.

I've got all sorts of complaints about Obama. He's been weaker on civil liberties than I'd like. His approach to bank regulation has been far too friendly to financial interests. I'm not thrilled with his escalation in Afghanistan. He hasn't moved as quickly on gay rights as I hoped. And he hasn't used the bully pulpit nearly as effectively as I think he's capable of. He could afford to attack obstructionism and conservative retrenchment far more directly than he has.

Still, none of that comes within light years of providing a reason to turn on him.

I've got all sorts of complaints, too, and I respect some of Obama's more trenchant "left" critics (e.g., Glenn Greenwald) immensely, but I agree with Kevin. What's more, I think Obama actually had a really good first year in office, all things considered.

Should Obama not be criticized at all? No, of course not. But there's a big difference between criticizing and repudiating, and, unfortunately, some on the left don't quite seem to get it.

Either that, or they do and don't care. But, if so, do they really not understand, or care, that the alternative is far worse and that all they're doing is helping the other side?

Obama may not be the ideal some thought he was, but he's all we've got, in the White House at least, and his failure would mean a Republican president sooner rather than later, or at least stronger Republican opposition in Congress, and perhaps even Republican majorities.

I think Kevin slightly overstates his case -- have so many on the left really turned on Obama? -- but he's right that the frustration and opposition on the left is misguided and, I think, ultimately self-defeating.

(For more, see Matthew Yglesias.)

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