As Presidents Go—My Defense of My Defense of President Obama
Or…Elections as Triage
Some people have contacted me or talked to me about my most recent posts defending President Obama and the Obama Record. The critiques are summarized as, “don’t you think you will lose your radical credentials by defending a representative of the status quo and elite power like Obama and the Democratic Party?”
Well, I’m not sure where I get my radical credentials, or who is responsible for taking them away, but the best I can say in response is, “I hope not.” My politics hasn’t changed or, in any way, moderated. I still feel obligated to speak for the powerless in the face of the powerful and to point out the mechanisms by which the elite exploit the common and despoil the commons. My humanistic and universalist vision hasn’t changed. My ideals remain the same.
However, there comes a time when practical reality must be given priority over idealism, and this election year was, in my opinion, one of those times. Don’t get me wrong. Had there been a candidate with a more progressive or radical vision, I would have focused my energies there, but there wasn’t. One can only work with the cards that are given.
Look, elections are rarely ever the venue for radical action. This is especially true of mid-term elections. If we on the left want to have an impact on elections, then we have some more work to do in networking and building the necessary grassroots power, combined with a message that we can shout over the constant conservative din that drowns out any rational discourse. We don’t have that yet. We are working on it. I’d like to think that I’m doing my small part. The truth is we are simply not there.
This last election was testament to the amount of work we must do in electoral politics. We simply have not come to terms with the fact that elections are not about policy and governing; they are about marketing and advertising. That’s a playing field on which we are, as yet, ill prepared. The Republican marketing machine has a clear and distinct advantage in that medium.
So this election was not and could not be a venue for advancing a left agenda. Yes, we did very well on some referenda and initiatives at the state level. That’s a testament to our ground work. However, advancing those who believe as we believe was not an option. This election was about triage more than it was about a left wing vision of justice.
Government continues to secure the interests of the power elite. Every president and party in American history has done the same. Obama and our current crop of Democrats are no exception to this rule. True, some presidents, like the Roosevelts and LBJ, understood that securing the interests of the power elite meant negotiating with very angry and organized mass movements. Such conditions do not exist today, as was clear by an electorate that wanted an increased minimum wage, immigration reform, legalized marijuana, but voted Republican.
Clearly, the left is hemorrhaging. As distasteful as it is, before you can stabilize your patient, you have to stop, or at least slow the bleeding.
I used to be one of those advocates who believed that we, as a nation, were no worse off with a Republican leadership than a Democratic government. The Bush debacle has disabused me of this mistaken assumption. There is no metric that I can see that can convince me that the country and the world is no better off with a President Obama than with a President McCain or a President Romney. Obamacare is not a single payer health system, but it has been a benefit to millions of people. Dodd-Frank is not Glass-Steagall, but a President McCain would not have gone even that far, and a President Romney would have gutted what few, milquetoast protections it offers. The Stimulus was not the next New Deal, but a Republican government would have abandoned the people to suffering a certain Second Great Depression with nothing to offer solace. The Obama/Democratic government has not been what we wanted, but it was better than the given alternative. We on the left are allowing dogma to blind us if we suggest any different.
The Obama/Democrats have overseen an expansion of executive powers and the growth of the Intelligence arm of the Military Industrial Complex. No doubt. The state surveillance apparatus is a growing beast devouring American rights to privacy and self-possession. The world still groans and bleeds under the blades of American militarism. The American backed transnational elite are consolidating their holdings and shaping the New World Order. The very fate of the world in the face of global climate change is shrugged off as a mere inconvenience to the Billionaire Class. Obama/Democrats are as responsible for this as are the Tea Party/Republicans. We on the left have offered some token resistance, at best, failing to build on the few openings that we have had with the Occupy Movement and the Snowden Revelations.
Still, even in the face of its shortcomings, the Obama/Democratic government, with no left wing alternative at that level, has been the best option. To prove this, let’s do a quick mental exercise I like to call “Worst Case Scenario.”
The Worst Case Scenario is Republican control of the White House, 2/3rds of Congress and 2/3rds of the states. The Republican Party has a filibuster proof Senate and the ability to push Constitutional Amendments at whim. What are the policies that will come from that government?
Affordable Care Act…gone
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families…gone
Roe v. Wade…gone
Civil Rights Act…gone
Voting Rights Act…gone
Progressive Income Tax…gone
National Parks/Forests and protected habitats…gone
EPA and Environmental Regulation…gone
FDA and Food and Drug Regulations…gone
Earned Income Tax Credit…gone
Child Labor Laws…gone
National Labor Relations Board…gone…and with it, any legal legitimacy for unions
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…gone
Let’s face it; all of the reforms of the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the Great Society would be the targets of such an atrocity as a Republican controlled government. We know this. Voting Democrat might not be a blow against the machine, but it is an effective way to protect what we have so far. And that’s something…something significant that benefits many millions of people.
Look, voting Democratic and defending Obama isn’t something to be proud of. It’s an act of self-preservation. If we want better from American elections then we on the left must offer a significant alternative that reaches millions of people who are yearning for it.
Where the left wing agenda was on the ballot, people voted for it. We have the ideas. We have the people. We even have the networks. What we don’t have is a soundboard that’s going to reach the electorate. Until we have this soundboard, we are stuck with electoral triage.
More on this as the ideas develop.