22 December 2009

What Evidence is There That Obama is a "Progressive"?

There are two offerings over at Huff Post today that are worth reading. The first and shorter is by Robert Kuttner who suggests a way forward for progressives in the Congress - play hardball. It is a message I have endorsed here repeatedly. The second and longer (but very much worth reading) is by Drew Westen and basically eviscerates the Obama administration for ... well, just about everything.

Mostly, Kuttner is concerned that if the health care legislation fails the right will be emboldened. He is probably correct about that. But Kuttner also tacitly suggests why the right wins here no matter what. Given the nature of the bills under consideration think about what happens if something passes! What we will get is not a form of social insurance but a government mandate, one that compels individuals to purchase increasingly expensive and inadequate from private companies. The right will ignore the corporate interests and paint the government mandate as inefficient and authoritarian. And beleaguered individual consumers will likely find that diagnosis persuasive. They'll have good reason to do so, because the diagnosis will be more than half accurate.

By contrast, Westen is concerned with the impact Obama's fecklessness will have on the center and the left. He starts like this:
"Somehow the president has managed to turn a base of new and progressive voters he himself energized like no one else could in 2008 into the likely stay-at-home voters of 2010, souring an entire generation of young people to the political process. It isn't hard for them to see that the winners seem to be the same no matter who the voters select (Wall Street, big oil, big Pharma, the insurance industry). In fact, the president's leadership style, combined with the Democratic Congress's penchant for making its sausage in public and producing new and usually more tasteless recipes every day, has had a very high toll far from the left: smack in the center of the political spectrum.

What's costing the president and courting danger for Democrats in 2010 isn't a question of left or right, because the president has accomplished the remarkable feat of both demoralizing the base and completely turning off voters in the center. If this were an ideological issue, that would not be the case. He would be holding either the middle or the left, not losing both.

What's costing the president are three things: a laissez faire style of leadership that appears weak and removed to everyday Americans, a failure to articulate and defend any coherent ideological position on virtually anything, and a widespread perception that he cares more about special interests like bank, credit card, oil and coal, and health and pharmaceutical companies than he does about the people they are shafting."

And he proceeds from there to note instance after instance in which these self-defeating political qualities are having devastating consequences.

The problem with both pieces is that Kuttner and Western presume that Obama is now or ever has been a progressive. I have always been suspicious of that notion. It seems to me that what Westen sees as Obama's failures actually are accurate manifestations of the man's political beliefs and propensities. He (like Clinton before him) is no progressive. Nor is he a pragmatist. Barack Obama is a centrist and an opportunist. He does care more about the corporate interests Westen identifies than "the people they are shafting." And he will do what it takes to pursue those political preferences. That is the source of the political problems we see before us. To think otherwise is delusional.



Blogger bastinptc said...


22 December, 2009 12:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama is more dangerous than Bush. At least with Bush you know you're getting raped. Obama, on the other hand, is like the charming subprime mortgage originator who seduces you into signing a contract. You don't realize what an epic mistake you made until the new interest rate kicks in!

22 December, 2009 16:04  
Blogger pietro said...

i think the other side to that question is one we have to keep coming back to: what evidence is there that "progressives" are progressives? And what are the plans going forward? 'Cuz you know come spring there's gonna be all this pressure for "party unity." I can see Jonathan Alter and Katrina alongside Cokie Roberts telling everyone to let bygones be bygones. Either you're with us or against us! Ugh!

23 December, 2009 01:16  
Blogger ♥ ♥ ♥ said...

Westin writes: "It isn't hard for them to see that the winners seem to be the same no matter who the voters select (Wall Street, big oil, big Pharma, the insurance industry)."

Obama is only the most recent example, and an entire generation of voters should be soured on the political process. But maybe this is a good thing, because maybe the political process is, itself, to blame for producing warmongering corporatist after warmongering corporatist. If so, then the last thing that's needed is more idealistic activists focusing their attention on electoral campaigns. Perhaps there are more productive things they could be doing.

23 December, 2009 11:16  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nor is he a pragmatist. Barack Obama is a centrist and an opportunist.

The sad reality is that all politicians are opportunists. I don't consider my take on them as a class to be cynical or inspired. The real issue, in my opinion, is whether they have any talent or not. Obama has clearly decided to use his political talent not to further the interests and concerns of the folks who actually brought him to the dance but, rather, the interests of those who, by and large, see the rest of us as a fertile field for exploitation.

Given his performance to date, I do wonder at times what sort of community organizer he was when he was a community organizer. Or, rather, whether the work he did actually had any real affect on him at all.

23 December, 2009 20:11  
Blogger br said...

economic reality?...the US economy is a bubble and a "slight of hand" illusion. 100,000 mini-mart clerks is hardly a solid economic base. where are production, manufacturing, the real-time, real-life industry of food and other essential services? "progressive" is a mindless luxury...a delusional state that ignores the underlying dependence on cheap labor and resources. the progressives feed their dogs and vote "their conscious" and the tough work day is done. sad.

25 December, 2009 17:00  

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