Saturday, February 12, 2011

Obama and Our Discontents

Many on the left (the eschaton commenters, for instance) despair of Obama, and seem to spend as much, if not more, time denouncing him than they do Republicans. In response:

At the risk of seeming too charitable:

1. The Cairo speech wasn't only a great speech. It was a significant break from the past. He restated one of Bush's few decent positions, that not all Muslims were terrorists and that he'd fight terror without fighting all Islam. He acknowledged prior American wrongdoing in the context of Iran; every last person in the audience knew about Mossadegh and understood what he was saying. He indeed, though far too slowly, without not entirely finishing the withdrawal, ended most of our military action in Iraq. He publicly opposed Netanyahu on settlements. These aren't trivial things. Not, to be sure, enough in a vacuum otherwise devoid of positive action. Perhaps not nearly enough. But real, nonetheless.
2. I'm going to get really charitable here: the attempt at bipartisanship, in the face of Republican obstruction and the capture of the party by its most extreme elements, will increase Democratic credibility amongst the centrist and mildly right voters the Democrats need to win.
3. Again, being charitable, but, I think more concretely: the health care bill, for all its flaws, improves on anything we've had, both substantively and as an assertion, at long last, that health care for all Americans is a properly asserted federal responsibility, asit is for every other industrialized nation in the world. That, too, is a substantive break with the past, when every such bill got dismissed out of hand or died in the duck pit.
4. Sotomayor and Kagan are substantive improvements over Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Roberts. One of the only hopes for change long term is a court majority that won't emit the egregious jurisprudential and political offal of which the Citizens United decision is perhaps the most exemplary.
5. The repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' and the confirmation of the new START treaty are also substantive achievements. And better, that's how they were seen by majorities in the country, who responded with approval rather than rejection.
6. Biden is a better human being than Cheney. And Obama remains better, far better, than any conceivable Republican candidate at this point. Anger at, disappointment with, or rejection of Obama's policies--which I understand, acept and share--doesn't alter this point. I accept that many of you disagree with me on that. But there it is.

All of that said, here's Bob Herbert from the Times today, talking mostly about economic and political concessions to the rich:

The Egyptians want to establish a viable democracy, and that’s a long, hard road. Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a real democracy slip away.

I had lunch with the historian Howard Zinn just a few weeks before he died in January 2010. He was chagrined about the state of affairs in the U.S. but not at all daunted. “If there is going to be change,” he said, “real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves.”

I thought of that as I watched the coverage of the ecstatic celebrations in the streets of Cairo.

I agree with Herbert, too.


steve simels said...

Well, needless to say -- then why am I saying it? -- I disagree almost completely. The fact is, on just about everything important to our survival as a nation, our discourse has continued to move rightward since 2010, and by any reasonable standard that's a catastrophe.

As for DADT, that was a position supported by close to 80 percent of the public, and thus a risk free stance for him to take.

Again -- when I think of the deliberately squandered opportunities, my only reaction to Obama at this point is cold fury.

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ProfWombat said...

cf: thank you; your comments are welcome and I will respond to them

steve: well, we've been this way before, and will again, not least because we actually agree mostly on what obama hasn't done, what he did wrong and what he should be doing. Perhaps my charity, even minimal and measured,reflects his enemies and the risk they pose, rather than my view of himself. So, as lefties increasingly dismiss him entirely, I feel the need to disagree on that basis...