Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Progressives vs. the President"

I'm turning onto Huffington Post less and less as the days wear on. Bob Cesca is a lonely voice out there...

Stating the obvious by way of a preface, the goal of the progressive movement is to, of course, move government further to the left and thereby achieve progressive policies. The argument right now is about how best to achieve this goal in the context of the current political landscape. I've always thought that a successful progressive movement involved three things: an ongoing marginalizing of the far-right; arguing for progressive policies; and promoting and encouraging the careers of politicians and organizations that are best equipped to help pass progressive legislation.

With that in mind, one of the many reasons why I endorsed, voted for and still support President Obama is because I strongly believe that he's perhaps the only American politician equipped to move the nation in a distinctly leftward direction from within the context of the Oval Office. But at no time have I ever held any delusions that he was some kind of progressive superhero -- a Kucinich or Sanders or Dean with a better jump shot and Jon Favreau on the payroll.

While Barack Obama is, in fact, a liberal, he's not necessarily a progressive who fits squarely into the progressive movement's wheelhouse.

But he's close.

I've always believed that he would be, and currently is, the most liberal president in a generation -- if not since FDR. Furthermore, he's uniquely equipped with the talents to sell it. Who else, off the top of your head, has the presidential right stuff while also being as relatively left-leaning as Barack Obama? I'm talking about the complete package here. Loyal family man, well-above-average intelligence, sense of humor, dynamic personality, legendary oratory skills, political instincts, the knack for managing chaos and possessing a fundamentally liberal world view. (Say nothing of the historical nature of his presidency.)

All that said, he's not perfect. I don't know anyone who's suggesting he is. He's made a variety of miscalculations in his first year, and he'll surely make more mistakes as his first term continues to roll out. Some of the mistakes are only mistakes in that they don't entirely line up with progressive priorities; some of the mistakes are political errors regardless of policy.

Here's where everything begins to fall apart in terms of the anti-Obama left. How do we best call out these mistakes? What does accountability look like?

Some very prominent members of the progressive movement have taken a punitive approach, not only towards the president but even towards allegedly disloyal progressive members of Congress. You've read all of the various descriptions of this movement. The kill-billers. Activists and writers who have a penchant for suggesting that the president is too similar to George W. Bush. Some have promoted the idea of pressuring Bernie Sanders with a primary opponent, while others have suggested that maybe progressive Democrats in the House should return their donations as punishment for (eventually) voting for health care reform without a public option. Some have attempted to team up with wingnuts like Grover Norquist and Dick Armey's tea party movement to attack the administration, as if this will somehow help progressivism.