Melissa Harris-Perry wrote a fantastic column in The Nation this week in which she makes a perfectly rational argument for the existence of “white progressive racism.” Here’s the quote of the week:
President Obama has experienced a swift and steep decline in support among white Americans—from 61 percent in 2009 to 33 percent now. I believe much of that decline can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation.
(I encourage you to bookmark HumanityCritic’s TwitLonger link as index for the debate that ensued.)
There’s so much to say about this topic, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Personally, I’ve been baffled by the disconnect between the president’s record and the obstructions in his path including conservadems and the generally slow legislative process, and how a certain faction of progressives fail to recognize these realities along with the obvious liberalism of many of the goals he’s sought and achieved.
The only explanations I can come up with are: 1) racism, 2) careerism and 3) delusion.
The irrationality and intellectual dishonesty of this faction is what’s leading me to draw these conclusions.
Why have they revised recent history? In his response to Harris-Perry’s article, John Aravosis wrote that the president watered down the stimulus in order to appease the Republicans. Not entirely true. Same goes for healthcare. The president had to overcome conservadem opposition as well as Republican opposition. Kent Conrad, Evan Bayh, Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Max Baucus, Blanche Lincoln and the rest were just as obstructionist as the Republicans. Yes, the stimulus wasn’t big enough, but it was still historically gigantic, and it contained the largest middle class tax cut in history. This is hardly a betrayal. It’s an achievement in a difficult landscape. Aravosis also writes that progressives supported the Obama campaign. Oh really? I recall progressives supporting the Edwards campaign (smart!) and then becoming deeply divided between Clinton and Obama, then landing on ambivalence towards the Obama campaign once he became the presumptive nominee. Read Eric Boehlert’s book “Bloggers on the Bus” for some actual history, John. David Sirota, meanwhile, responding to Harris-Perry, accused the president of military “adverturism” in Libya — conflating Libya with Iraq and Afghanistan — even though we simply participated in a NATO mission and never invaded or occupied Libya. This is purely dishonest of Sirota (shocker) for the sake of rousing progressive anger and continuing the thoroughly disproved “just like Bush” meme.
Why have they diminished the president’s record? Sirota wrote about “the president’s failure to pursue his campaign promises.” According to Politifact, the president has kept 147 of his promises in just under three years, and broken 47. In other words, he’s batting around .750. In baseball, a .300 average is Hall of Fame worthy. Additionally, and I repeat for the umpteenth time, try to name a single president in American history who kept all of his promises and with whom you agree on every policy. I can’t think of a single one. To impose a different standard on this president seems dubiously motivated — a key point in Harris-Perry’s column.
Why do they ignore (or damn-by-faint-praise) the liberalism of the president’s achievements? Aravosis compared Clinton’s record to President Obama’s record on LGBT issues and seems to have decided that because Clinton appointed a handful of gay people to various departments, this is somehow comparable to President Obama overturning an anti-gay law that Clinton supported. Aravosis also brushes off Clinton’s passage of DOMA. All of this was prefaced by the all-too-familiar criticism that the president didn’t move fast enough on gay issues. This is not unlike criticizing Jonas Salk for not ending Polio fast enough. Beyond the overturning of a major anti-gay law, the president’s record shows a strong tendency toward liberalism/progressivism. Do I need to run through the list? Stem cell research; the ending of the Iraq war; the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; credit card reform; huge tax credits that will reduce middle class health insurance premiums by around $10,000/year; expanded SCHIP; extended federal benefits to partners of same-sex workers; appointed the first Latina Supreme Court Justice; multiple pitches in support of liberalism and the role of government — most recently in his American Jobs address… Should I go on? Sirota? Aravosis?
Yes, the president has done some things that are frustrating. But should those items negate the preponderance of evidence in favor of his record? The problem with progressive discontentment is that the usual suspects are all-too-eager to throw the president (and with him the continuation of liberal-leaning policies) overboard because of those several mistakes.
I understand the importance of accountability. But in the process of holding a similarly-minded leader accountable, we shouldn’t be counterproductive to the broader movement. President Obama, regardless of what you think, is moving the window leftward. Period. There’s a way to coax him in this direction and there’s a way to convince him that it’s not worth it and to consequently force him to fall back to politically safer high ground. Smart accountability is the solution. Promote the good things and criticize the bad by constructing rational counter-arguments. Rachel Maddow is a solid illustration of the “smart accountability” ideal. Conversely, non-stop shouting only tends to disintegrate into white-noise and gibberish.
Instead, progressives like Sirota, Aravosis, Greenwald and Hamsher, while purporting to hold the president accountable, are simply breeding disillusionment and anger among a crowd that’s already predisposed to emo behavior. Instead of making a killer pitch for continued liberal policies, these progressives simply shout at the administration while injecting dishonesty into the discourse. For better or worse, these people have large audiences and their words have an impact — especially in an increasingly connected online world. Their dishonesty rubs off and their anger is contagious.
But what’s truly motivating them? I think in some cases it’s racism, yes. See Harris-Perry’s “salvific” remarks above. In her negative response to Harris-Perry, Joan Walsh even goes off in the first couple of paragraphs about her “black friend.” Odd. But I’ll let Harris-Perry make this argument — she’s better at it.
Racism aside, many of these progressives have made a conscious decision to tap into a certain angry demographic for the sake of traffic and readership-building. When the president was elected, traffic on liberal blogs dropped off, partly because there wasn’t anything tangible for liberals to complain about — no more Bush to push around anymore. So these writers tapped into the divisions that arose during the 2008 Democratic primary. Those divisions ran very, very deep. And finally, there’s a giant heap of delusion in the mix. Many of these progressives clearly haven’t read the president’s books. His positions and the degree of his liberalism, along with the backstory of his pragmatism, are outlined in easy-to-read type, and neither of his blockbuster best-sellers are difficult to find. (Readers of his books will also learn that nothing in this president’s past indicates that he responds well to inchoate shouting and anger. Nothing.) Nevertheless, many progressives have unfairly superimposed their own politics onto the president. I’m not sure why, but then, when the president doesn’t follow through with your agenda, he’s suddenly a disappointment.
So I encourage you to try to see the president’s record in a realistic way. Decide for yourself if 147 promises kept is solid enough for you. Decide for yourself whether his accomplishments are “liberal enough,” given the precedent of the Bush years, the right-leaning position of the Overton window and the 30 year dominance of Reaganomics. And finally, think about the impact of unfair, dishonest and ultimately self-defeating behavior.