Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Optimism and Obama

Recently, I happened onto a blog called Liberal Rapture, which as far as I can tell, is populated mainly by fierce Obama critics. I posted a comment--in response to a post about how President Obama's broken campaign promises were the same as George W. Bush's lies about so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction--in which I suggested that the tone of what I read was often similar to what I might read on an extreme right-wing blog: the same degree of sarcasm, the same style of derision, the same kind of sweeping generalities and black-and-white descriptions of "truth" and "fact," all squeezed through, from where I sat, a filter that was a bit cynical.

Mere moments later, I was accused of being a paid political operative, or at the very least of being an "Obot," (a moniker I think is damn funny) -- i.e. displaying reflexive loyalty to Obama, supporting Obama for the wrong reasons, espousing misplaced observations and proffering disingenuous arguments. One can also extrapolate an accusation of brain-washing, or programming--a robot does not make decisions for itself, rather merely carries out its programming in a cold, nonhuman automatic fashion.

The host of the blog, a fella named John, was actually one of the exceptions, and he welcomed me and my voice, which I appreciated, and asked me to lay down what motivates me as an Obama supporter, and why, and so I'll begin that. As far as debunking the idea that I'm some kind of automaton, I'll let my writing here, and elsewhere, stand on its own merits.

My off-the-cuff reaction was that I thought President Obama would do--and indeed already had done--a lot for our standing around the world. I think most people on the Left would find this to be self-evident, but I've done some digging, and here's a sliver of what I came up with:

A Pew Research Center poll released this past July (Pew is a nonpartisan organization) showed that attitudes toward the U.S., in the 24 nations polled, had rocketed to levels not seen since before 2001. Additionally, over 70% of 21 of those nations' responders had some degree of confidence in President Obama (George W. Bush pulled in 17% from those same nations in 2008). The poll targeted Europeans, Canadians, Mexicans, Argentines and city dwellers in Brazil, India and China, as well as people in the Palestinian territories. Perceptions of America improved in comparable moderate Middle Eastern states of Egypt and Jordan. Unsurprisingly, our standing is still not fantastic in much of the Middle East, particularly states with Muslim majorities. Also, we took a hit in Israel, where attitudes toward the U.S. were higher when George W. Bush was in office. The most extreme change of opinion? Germany and France, where President Obama's numbers were better than those of either Angela Merkel or Nicolas Sarkozy, respectively.

Some relevant quotes regarding the poll: "His personal popularity and new respect for the U.S. having elected him translates positively for the U.S. image." -- former Secretary of State Albright.

"The image of the United States has improved markedly in most parts of the world, reflecting global confidence in Barack Obama." -- the Pew Global Attitudes Report.

So. One little piece of fact regarding how the world perceives us with President Obama. Having said that, I'm not blind to the plunging numbers here at home in the aftermath of various bailouts and the healthcare morass. I am embarrassed that we're still wading through all this crap, when socialized health care in a civilized, modern nation in 2009 seems like a no-brainer to me, but I am not yet prepared to say I'm "embarrassed" that President Obama is my president--as the denizens of Liberal Rapture would like--like I was when George W. Bush was in office. Today, on Labor Day, he spoke to my union brothers and sisters in the AFL-CIO. I'm pissed that he's having such a hard time getting heathcare reform done, but I take his actions today, for example, at face value. I take the Pew Poll at face value. I take, for the most part, The New York Times at face value, and trust that they will toe the line of journalistic ethics.

Here's David Brooks,in a recent piece for the Times. athough this is obviously an opinion piece, and not a reporting piece. It's good to know the difference.

"Amazingly, some liberals are now lashing out at Obama because the entire country doesn’t agree with The Huffington Post. Some now argue that the administration should just ignore the ignorant masses and ram health care through using reconciliation, the legislative maneuver that would reduce the need for moderate votes.

This would be suicidal. You can’t pass the most important domestic reform in a generation when the majority of voters think you are on the wrong path. To do so would be a sign of unmitigated arrogance. If Obama agrees to use reconciliation, he will permanently affix himself to the liberal wing of his party and permanently alienate independents. He will be president of 35 percent of the country — and good luck getting anything done after that."

The folks at Liberal Rapture, however, seem to hate the Huff Post, too. And so I did some more research, because I wanted to know what the hell I was critiquing, and it seems that many of Liberal Rapture's posters, and citizens of other blogs that interest them, are essentially bitter and angry and highly motivated Hillary Clinton supporters who appear to wish President Obama ill at every opportunity. I think this is cynical--hoping that one's own president fails. Yes, President Obama is your president. If you're on the Left and he's not your president, then you are an extremist, Sir, or Madam....

I heard a few traces of "Secretary Clinton was done wrong" during the primary process. I don't know the ins and outs of that, I'll be honest. What I do believe, however, is that national politics can get nasty. I doubt that either Clinton, Bill or Hillary, have any illusions about this. In a perfect world, this would not be the case, but sadly, with as much money and power being thrown around, and with a Congress that doesn't seem to have a backbone when it comes to campaign finance reform, there are endless loopholes that politcal operatives can exploit. In a (semi) perfect world, we walk away with President Al Gore in 2000. That didn't happen. I've heard endlessly bitter Liberals blame my man Ralph Nader for that travesty, but I have a different narrative. Mine is that breaking a two-party system is important, and in a democracy that purports to be an actual demorcracy of the people, it is not encumbent on any candidate to step aside. Al Gore ultimately lost that battle in the Supreme Court, but where Al Gore really lost that election, in my opinion, is when he showed a collossal lack of leadership during the campaign. It was his election to lose, and he did. Time to move on.

And so... In 2008 I thought I'd be an early Hillary supporter, but there was this overall sense of entitlement that I sensed from her dispatches and from what I read about her campaign (the Times--which endorsed her--The New Yorker, occasionally my hometown Jersey papers.). I wasn't in love with how she handled herself as the presumptive nominee, and I didn't like how her most vociferous supporters comported themselves--again, this idea that everyone ought to get out of the way, like Ralph in 2000. I heard a similar argument from my rural Social Studies teacher in 10th grade re: Ronald Regan, who thought the Gipper plainly deserved "his due in Warshington...".

But in 2008, I knew the Right was salivating at the prospect of a Clinton-bashing campaign unlike all others before it. Shock and Awe wouldn't have done justice to what they would have rolled out against Hillary in 2008. Might have cost us the White House.

However, I'm an optimist. I considered the nomination a mostly win-win situation. Elect Ms. Clinton, and we win--first woman president; Bill travels abroad and repairs our reputation; intellectualism is saved--she's obviously the smartest person in most rooms she enters, obviously dedicated, obviously a tireless worker.

But with Obama, I had fewer reservations. His stance on the Iraq war was unmarred by voting for it in the first place, and he did not carry any Clintonian baggage. That played a significant role. Change was necessary, and more radical change than a Clinton administration could have offered, in fact or in perception.

President Obama fired off a video message to Iran. I really liked that, and I took it at face value. Here's where I run afoul of the Liberal Rapturians, and their particular sliver of the Left: I believe. I believe in my own critical thinking process. I believe that President Obama is smart. Dude was elected the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review and graduated from Harvard magna cum laude.

Magna. Cum. Laude. is. not. a. fraud. It's a pretty good rallying cry. My parents were both English professors, and while I'm a parttime student of politics, I was raised as a fulltime student of critical thinking, and have been all my life. I read a lot. I've taught in two different departments at two four-year institutions. And I'm a stagehand. We solve problems. It's confusing, I know--one member of Liberal Rapture needed significant persuasion that my résumé was legit. This is a cynical attitude.
My particular background is complex, and the question of whether someone is a fraud is complex and subjective, and the political whining from Clinton supporters that I unearthed sounds like a broken record, and I'm arguing it's time to reset the needle. The Left needs to unify for the greater good of the country. The election is over. Senator Clinton lost. She is now Secretary Clinton, and I am thrilled that she's holds that crucial post. I do not view it as a cynical move of President Obama to keep his enemies close, although clearly that played some role. On that topic, I believe her to be an Obama rival, and not an enemy. I believe (again, that word) that she's one of the best qualified Americans for her current job. To the victors go the spoils. It's not perfect, but it's the system we have. And it's not like Ms. Clinton has been consigned to politcal irrelevance after losing the Democratic presidential nomination of 2008. Far from it.
I think a more productive way to channel all the energy that's directed at tearing down the Obama presidency would be to start one's own damn party. That is--if you feel let down by Democrats, and your "grandparents are rolling in their graves", as has been written on Liberal Rapture--and you "heard the spine of the party snap" at some point at which your candidate got the short end of the stick, then run with it. And this is not a "love it or leave it" perspective---I'm a huge supporter of breaking the two-party system.
But that doesn't mean I hope President Obama does poorly. Or that I'll insist he supports all my agendas, chapter and verse, before I support him, as has been intimated by some on Liberal Rapture. That view is not only unrealistic, it's also overtly dogmatic.
I heard on the radio the other day a quote from former NYC mayor David Dinkins: "Campaign with poetry and govern with prose." I think that's apt. I don't love that President Obama has tacked to the center, but I understand it. For me, I think a Liberal Line In The Sand might look like inclusion of a single-payer system or a public option in healthcare reform. I think that the administration was naive in their courting of the Right, although again, I understand why they might have tried. It's called optimism, and I take it at face value.
Sidebar: For that matter, Dinkins wasn't my favorite New York City mayor (I lived there for 13 years), but his connection is relevant: Initially, some etablishment black democrats (scion of the Civil Rights movement John Lewis, Rep. Charlie Rangel, David Dinkins, and others) backed Hillary, and a newer wave (Mayor Corey Booker from Newark, former everything Colin Powell, author Toni Morrison, celeb Oprah, etc.) supported Obama, and what this said to me was that a significant part of the Liberal establishment was threatened by Obama the candidates. That very notion helped me to settle on Barack Obama, who represented the kind of change I believed the country needed.
My point is that Hillary lost, and it's time to move on. I am not a fan of conpiracy theories--that, for instance, man didn't land on the moon, the U.S. government somehow orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, or that Secretary Clinton was screwed out of the nomination--although again, I'm open to analyzing claims of individual electoral grievances on a case-by-case scenario. Unfortunately, It's national politics. It's not fair to begin with. I think Hillary would agree with that, but I also think she would agree that unreasonable criticism of the Obama presidency is counter-productive with what's good for most Americans.
So be positive and start your own party. Endorse change and not divisiveness, for many analysts will tell you that Hillary's perceived divisiveness was outflanked by Obama's perceived message of change. That's perception. Sometimes perception is truth, to the voting public. Nothing's perfect. I'm looking forward to President Obama's speech on Wednesday, and I'll be rather crushed if the public option in healthcare goes the way of the dodo, but we're all going to soldier on. In the end, on our deathbeds, I doubt we'll be saying things like "Gee... I wish I had been a more vociferous jerk to my fellow Liberals." or "Wow. I wish I worked harder." Rather, I think we'll be saying things like what the late, great Kurt Vonnegut wrote in his posthumously pubished "A Man Without a Country"--and I'll paraphrase here--What I've learned is that, for the love of Mike, we've got to be kind to each other!
So please. Go forth and be kind. Sarcasm and derision and comparing Obama's deal-cutting on healthcare to Bush's lies on WMD may make you feel "better," but ultimately, isn't a false goodness? On the scale of reason, it tips out at "extreme." It makes me feel like we're not on the same side at all--the Liberal side. Never mind that we're not all Democrats, I mean the same side in a global, human fashion.
Find another way to work out the anger. Hillary lost. Sorry about that. She still rocks as Secretary of State. I watched John Kerry go down in flames when his war credentials were destroyed by Swift Boaters and their supporters, vs. a guy who essentially skipped out of his militay duty. Kerry VOLUNTEERED for Christ's sake.... still. That election is over, and I can't live in the past. Rather, I can enjoy the irony of meeting one of those Swift Boat guys, who happens to be the neighbor of a radical feminist Lesbian member of my family. He's a fantastic neighbor, and helps out my relative, and her spouse all the time. He's a nice guy. Who knew? And yet... he was instrumental in bringing down Senator Kerry. Do I hate him for that? No. Meeting him renewed my feeling that we have to find common ground to make discourse better in the future.

These are but a few of my reasons for supporting the Obama presidency--with critical caveats--and but a few of my definitions of optimism.

As always, thanks for reading. Apologies for that last paragraph never ending. I'm having formatting issues with Blogger.

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence. --- Helen Keller

Israel is no longer a people that dwells alone, and has to join the global journey toward peace, reconciliation and international cooperation. --- Yitzhak Rabin

Dr. King wants the same thing I want -- freedom! --- Malcolm X


  1. Well written. I don't agree with most of it. But it is nicely put.

  2. As a reader of LR who tried to dissuade certain commenters from lynching you straightaway, I admit being taken aback at their haste to hate whomever entered the site honestly to ask what was up with all the Obama-bashing.

    My wife wonders the same thing every time she lurks at LR. As John W Smart does manage to calm the rabble down, along with a couple of other level-headed types who did treat you with respect in their comments the day you visited (not sure if there'll be another day!), I do have faith that his spirited forum serves a necessary purpose. It started out years before as a progressive-minded site and it still is. As with many sites, I find it a bit too left for me in many places but it challenges my perspectives while showing me that others have doubts about current policy and media coverage.

    LR provided a voice for frustrated Hillary supporters (I was one by default although no fan of the Clintons or either party if you pin me down) during the course of last summer's campaign shifts. I was directed to it immediately prior to the election by another discouraged reader who shared my discomfort with the cult of personality that surrounds our President, but that's another topic.

    Thanks for being open-minded, Blaiser, and it's good to have forums where we can try to extend that courtesy across the contentious "virtual dinner table."

  3. Thank you, brother Fionnchú. I am trying. It's harder and harder these days to hear--and consider--the voice of progression with so much needless, venal jousting going on. It splits apart the dinner table and rebuilds the timbers into a Ultimate Rhetoric Debate Cage of sorts.

  4. Critical thinking is so under-rated these days. You're a breath of fresh air in a sea of halitosis :)

  5. Thanks, Charlotte! Glad to see you here.

  6. Hey - you all just popped up in my "liberal rapture" google alert again.

    come around anytime.I really believe the blog of sphere is a fine place to vent and have all out fights. (unlike a dinner party) - as for the huff post and daily kos i want to state clearly that as ruff as LR can be on pro obama posters it is child's play compared to how clinton supporters were treated last year on those sites.

    I do not think obama fans outside the battles understand how vicious obama's campaign was. and sexist. Cannonfire has catalogued the Obama Pod people's attacks. They are unreal and beyond sanity. Clinton folks were far more civilized.

    River daughter and a few other blogs like mine will not and refuse to forget this. It was vile. We have "moved on" but we shall not forget or forgive. Obama is not a nice man and he has no business being President. His recent tactics against Fox are more proof. as is his DOJs vulgar stance on gay rights.

    He's not "my president" anymore than Bush was. He will hurt the Left far more than he helps in the long run. This is because the Left refused to question him when it mattered - in 2008.

    All that said - the argument is important. I am all for it.

  7. John -- hey thanks for stopping by. (what does it mean to appear on one's Google alert? Did I trip some kind of alarm?!)

    I'll have to check out Cannonfire, but for the moment I'm having a hard time believing that nastiness on the Internet had a tide-swaying effect on who won the nomination. Or that Obama can be blamed and labelled an un-nice guy, for the actions of hard-core extremist partisans, who exist on all sides. I don't particularly blame Bush, for example, for the Swift Boat guys -- I actually blame Kerry for not showing enough leadership, like I blame Gore for not showing enough leadership in 2000. That election, for me, showed how fragile our system is with sliver-thin margins in an electoral college system.

    Fox News has lost credibility with me, so I don't mind hardball from the White House -- I don't think it should *become* the story, because that just feeds the logs that burn in the Furnace of Limbaugh.

    The LGBT lobby is right to demand more attention, and I was glad to hear about President Obama's speech a few Sundays ago. The Human Rights Campaign called it "unprecedented."

    I will swing by LR--but probably won't post--your loudest commenters seem to be the most close-minded, and that's just not interesting to me--the blind screaming at the deaf, if you will. Glad to have found you, however, and brother Fionnchú, and happy to have the discussion.