Obama's liberal critics: Carrying hope too far

The Seattle visit to help Sen. Patty Murray is a reminder that it's time for progressives and the "professional left" to get more realistic about Obama and stop whining.
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President Barack Obama signed health-care legislation in 2010 with 11-year-old Marcelas Owens of Seattle, left, looking on.

The Seattle visit to help Sen. Patty Murray is a reminder that it's time for progressives and the "professional left" to get more realistic about Obama and stop whining.

When Barack Obama came into town this week, escorted by sonic booms, he wasn't here to make magic in Key Arena like he did in 2008 where people like me were ready to don a dress and proclaim themselves to be "Obama Girls." He was here to do the dirty work of being president, a political president, to be redundant. His job was to put a lift in Democratic Sen. Patty Murray's tennis shoes and raise some much-needed cash for Democrats.

The difference in missions, from uplift to heavy lifting, is typical. As a candidate Obama ran on hope and aspiration; as president he was handed a post-Apocalyptic landscape of Great Recession, multiple ugly wars, and a broken government, all his to sort out. The great expectations that got him elected turned quickly to disillusionment for some of those who voted for hope.

A couple of weeks after the November election in 2008, I was in a welfare office in Seattle's Central District and a loud angry woman walked in, noted the long wait ahead of her, and bellowed in outrage, "We just elected Obama and he was supposed to fix all this!" Yes, the disappointment began before he was even inaugurated. The outburst, of course, was insane, but it's not that different from what you hear from many progressives who find Obama lacking on the perfection scale.

Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, stirred the hornet's nest recently by slamming the "professional left" and its chronic complainers. You can catch a daily dose of it on websites like the Huffington Post which are almost as down on Obama as Matt Drudge is: He's caved to Wall Street, he failed to get single payer passed, he's gotten us deeper into Afghanistan, and he's dropping the ball on jobs. It's a mix of lefty populism and socialism designed to stir the masses by convincing us all that the most liberal president in a generation is a failure after less than two years of trying to undo the Great Unraveling. Oh, yes, and there are still lines at the welfare office!

Each week I am on KUOW's News Roundtable with Steve Scher and company, I find myself seething at the week's news. Not Obama's latest flubs or faux flubs, but because of seeing how a man whose job it is to face real problems is so beset by fake ones. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, if you remember, made shit up to get us into war with Iraq. Obama's Republican opponents are making stuff up (like the controversy over a "mosque at Ground Zero" or that the BP spill "was his Katrina") to spread what the ugly side of populism always feeds on, which is hate.

And then there are the should-know-better liberals who are piling on by manufacturing the Obama-has-failed meme. First, he's no Ralph Nader and never promised to get us single-payer health care.

Second, it might be imperfect, but he helped get passed financial reform. People, no one else electable in 2008 would have done better.

Third, Obama was always more hawkish on Afghanistan than either Bush or Hillary Clinton. Indeed, Clinton ran slightly to the left of Obama on that war.

Fourth, yes, the economy is still a mess, but there is progress. It takes a long time, even in this day and age, to dig yourself out of the big old hole that we dug with deregulation and greed.

Who did these people think they were electing? Obama is about as mainstream as you get. He's classic liberal, not a radical, despite the caricatures of the far right.

Some have criticized Obama for being a "corporate capitulator." Well, a fair criticism if we'd elected, say, Vladimir Lenin to the White House. Who did these people think they were electing? Obama is about as mainstream as you get. He's classic liberal, not a radical, despite the caricatures of the far right. It's almost as if some on the left believe those caricatures and expected a dedicated commie in the Oval office.

Democrats are always up for a circular firing squad; many other progressives, who think Democrats are too far right, take pot shots from the periphery. Many of them listen to KUOW, where the caller critiques of Obama frequently come from the left. It isn't new. Liberals (as well as Wall Street) reviled FDR at times; Henry Wallace broke ranks with Harry Truman and almost helped Tom Dewey become president. Teddy Kennedy virtually knee-capped Jimmy Carter during Carter's re-election bid in 1980. And we all remember how Nader helped Al Gore in Florida. Bill Clinton set the stage by pissing off the left over welfare reform and Bosnia.

The far left in this country is always hungry when it comes to eating their own, because electoral success is a betrayal of ideals, an acceptance of the "good enough" instead of perfection. What a crime.

Obama is not perfect in my eyes by any means, and a fair target for criticism. I disagreed with his announced plan to expand off-shore drilling, his slashing of historic preservation budgets, his confusing and botched process to get a healthcare reform package, his being too willing to plow money into "shovel ready" projects that are better left buried. But I don't expect perfection or total agreement with him or any president. What I do think is that in the current environment, progressives ought to be really worried about bringing him down or clipping his wings, or staying home on election day because Mr. Hope didn't deliver on their personal time schedule.

Everyone suffers from some kind of arrested development. Republicans often seem stuck at age two when the powerful word "mine" is first learned and tantrums are thrown when toddlers don't get to eat candy three times a day. Democrats, in contrast, often seem stuck in an extended adolescence, angry because Mom and Dad can give them everything they want, much of which is contradictory (total freedom and an allowance). Republicans act out, Democrats pout.

It would be best for everyone if they both just grew up. For his part, agree or disagree with him, I simply hope that Obama will keep acting like an adult.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.