I have been a very staunch defender of President Obama, both on this blog and in person. It has been only on the rare monumental screw-ups where I have upbraided his poor decision making (see Shirley Sherrod). But lately, I have faced a really big struggle within myself because this Administration has undertaken some actions that I have not agreed with at all. It has made me question where my allegiance truly lies.
Does it lie with my principles (leftist), my party (Democratic Party) or a single person (President Barack Obama)?
Before we go any further, an explanation of my unwavering full-throated defenses of President Obama is necessary:
- The alternative is much, much worse. Understand that we have Republican Presidential candidates that signed pledges stating your average Black child was better off under slavery. Just about all Republican Presidential candidates have given an unyielding defense of states’ rights, which is a principle that I find to be antithetical to the pursuit of A More Perfect Union. And two of the Republican Presidential candidates do not believe that we should have a simple minimum wage. Any progressive who repeats tripe such as, “If we have to choose between Republican and Republican-lite, we might as well have the real thing”, has NO understanding of what we would be in for if one of the current Republican frontrunners were to be elected.
- His first term was full of accomplishments that no one seems to give him credit for. If you would have told people in 2007 that a Democratic President would have health care reform, over $1 trillion in stimuli to the economy, a bill mandating equal pay for equal work, and that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would be repealed, most people would have called you crazy. Yet, these were but a few of the accomplishments that President Obama managed in his first two years. To hear people talk now, you would think that he had done everything he could to destroy progressivism from the inside out. Not to mention the fact that he has done more in foreign policy in two and a half years than President Bush did in eight. This blog post at The People’s View sums up the accomplishments on the domestic front very nicely.
- The American people have been…..well…uncooperative. What we have right now is precisely what we voted for: gridlock, acrimony, animosity. This has been one of the most unproductive Congresses in American history, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Chiefly, I lay the blame on…well…Congress. By extension, I blame people for electing candidates who pledged to come to Washington and have nothing to do with this President. I also fault those liberals who stayed at home last year. While I was working on the 2009 Virginia gubernatorial election, I had a lady come out and tell me that she would not be voting for Democrats until they did things to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (even though the plans for a full U.S. withdrawal had already been approved months before). When I informed her that there was no real way for the Governor of Virginia to have an effect on such things, she brushed my suggestions aside. The American people have chosen gridlock; now they must live with it.
That being said, I have been pretty disappointed with some of the actions that President Obama has taken lately:
- The debt ceiling debate. I thought that I would never hear a Democratic President willingly put Social Security and Medicare on the table as things that could be discussed in a deficit reduction package. This seemed particularly galling in the wake of extending the Bush-era tax cuts, which I believe has done more to reduce revenue and contribute to this budgetary crisis than any other monetary policy undertaken in the last decade. Also, as a graduate student, the elimination of certain subsidized loan programs was a shot to the gut for me. It had the effect of sending the message to many students that somehow college students are more responsible for this financial mess than the billionaires who are constantly sending jobs to be worked in horrific workplaces overseas.
- Labor law. Richard Trumka’s recent news that the AFL-CIO will be scaling back its political organizing for the 2012 election was news to my ears. There is not really any objective standard where people could say that the past two and a half years have been good for labor, and “it could have been worse under President McCain” will not really cut it on the doors. The Employee Free Choice Act was something that we had to have, and for the labor movement to continue giving politically while not having much in the way of significant legislation to speak of would be a credibility-killer.
- The jobs speech kerfuffle. Look, normally I would say that this is not a big deal. But after U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) apparently became the first Speaker in modern history to refuse the President’s request to address a joint session of Congress, I wanted President Obama to double-down on it. Let’s face it, he scheduled the event with the knowledge that the Republicans were debating that night, and to assume otherwise betrays an appalling lack of honesty with oneself. If you are going to undertake such an action, you have to follow through with it. Mobilize the army of supporters, and harangue the Republican leadership everyday until they relent. And if they do not, and you have to speak to only the Democratic-controlled Senate, what better contrast to head into the 2012 elections than to show that Democrats are the ones proposing solutions for a stagnating economy, and the Republicans are more interested in intra-party debating?
Unfortunately, there are opinion pieces like this one floating around. Criticism like that is not constructive. Subjecting a sitting Democratic President to a contentious primary will only serve to fracture the Party at a time when we need to be the most united. However, that does not mean that we should not offer criticism at all; it is just that we have to do in a way that does not make it seem like we are actively campaigning for the end of the Obama Administration. In the same vein, the attacks on President Obama by Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley have also been beyond the pale. To make the assertion that President Obama has somehow failed Black people and fallen short of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s legacy seems to ignore the fact that the Democratic caucus has always been a big tent caucus, and that the American people replaced that with one of the most conservative legislative majorities in the history of federal politics. It also seems to forget that it has only been very recently (like earlier last decade) that the idea of a Black President of the United States was a laughable thought. My grandmother, who fought for civil rights and integration in southeastern Virginia throughout her life, would certainly see things differently.
And that has been my struggle. It has been very difficult for me to really criticize this President because I want him to succeed like I have wanted no other elected official to succeed. But these criticisms are necessary, even if he is constrained by the legislative branch that the American people has given him. I want him to pound the table. I want him to show the flashes of frustration and anger that he showed at the press conference after the debt ceiling “grand deal” talks collapsed. I want him to drop the classic coolness that has been his trademark since the beginning of the Presidential campaign in 2007, and show the sort of emotion that people struggling to find work all over this country have at their kitchen tables every night.
This week could mark a turning point in the course of this Presidency. We have a jobs speech coming up in a few days. He should come to this speech with a plan already drafted and ready for the hopper; he could perhaps even wave a page of this plan in the air as he speaks. This plan has to be a big, farsighted plan that will consist of shovel-ready projects and accompanying jobs, infrastructure rebuilding, and the promotion of a 21st Century green economy. This plan must be proposed regardless of whether it will actually pass this Congress or not. After the speech, he has to hit the road immediately and campaign for this jobs bill. Mobilize OFA and other liberal groups for this wide-ranging plan, and have them flood Congress with calls and emails. Get after their local member of Congress to support this plan. This is a golden opportunity for President Obama to galvanize the support of working-class and middle-class people, and harness their discontent to a lasting change in the way that we discuss employment politics. He would do well to use it.
At the beginning of this post, I stated that the struggle to determine where my true political allegiances lie has shaped my viewing of the news recently. Well here it is: I am a progressive. Through my progressivism, I am a member of the Democratic Party. Because I am a Democrat, I support President Obama. For me, it cannot be the other way around. My criticisms come out of a love for progressive principles, and the party (and President) that I feel embodies the best chance of them being enacted. But I know that I cannot simply criticize without action.
So to President Obama, the Democratic leadership, and other progressives: let’s get to work.