January 5, 2011

politics for losers, part II

Mike Konczal at Rortybomb writes that what has been most disappointing about Obama in his first two years as President is just how “bad at losing” he has been.

I expected Obama to be a better loser, specifically to be better at losing. There were a lot of items on the table, a lot of them weren’t going to happen, but it was important for the new future of liberalism that the Obama team lost them well. And that hasn’t happened.

By losing well, I mean losing in a way that builds a coalition, demonstrates to your allies that you are serious, takes a pound of flesh from your opponents and leaves them with the blame, and convinces those on the fence that it is an important issue for which you have the answers. Lose for the long run; lose in a way that leaves liberal institutions and infrastructure stronger, able to be deployed again at a later date.

And it’s not just making concessions without getting much in return, “conceding both pieces of flesh and the larger narrative to the other side,” that has disheartened Konczal but that Obama has in both policy and tone alienated – even infuriated – supporters who now seem too “demoralized and confused” to be politically active, and pick up the proverbial gauntlet once again come election time. Konczal asks, “where are the newer and/or stronger liberal groups that have emerged in the past two years?”       

Konczal mentions Net Neutrality, immigration, climate change, and the failure to investigate the Bush and Cheney administration for the breach of law as evidence of a misguided two years, but if a list is something you really want, then hey...what the hell, why not add fifteen more?  

1.    The continuation of Bush-Cheney era interrogation and renditions
2.    The overall unprecedented growth of executive powers to spy on and police the citizenry
3.    The expanded war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen
4.    The failure to close Guantanomo Bay
5.    No Public Option and the gift giving Reform to the private insurance industry
6.    Subservience to the wishes and delights of the financial industry
7.    High unemployment and a stinking economy
8.    An economic stimulus package not being big enough
9.    Nopenhagen
10. BP cover-ups
11. Still no word on the coming Green economy
12. Having become the all-time corporate kingpin through bailouts and giveaways
13. Extending Bush tax-cuts for the wealthy
14. For having allowed Tea Party loons to buy the populist agenda
15. And for slapping his electoral base for complaining about all of the above. 

Sure, one could add to the list – which will only grow likely in dribs in drabs during the remaining two years of Obama’s Presidency. But the dogged persistence and naivete of believing in the well-intentioned soul of poor-hands-tied-behind-his-back Barack Obama amongst liberals and “the left” will only continue to neutralize the significance of such stubborn facts, as well as the possibility for a vital progressive politics. Indeed the power of rationalization is immense these days. But do you know what is most pathetic about these insipid goobers, these losers? Sometime around the summer of 2012, some of them, (like Jonathan Alter, Ezra Klein, and Katrina van der Nation,) will dust themselves off and rise once again to cheerlead, wear buttons, and wave the flag of political “pragmatism.” More ordinary supporters will remember their shame but still go sheepishly to the voting booths nonetheless to cast their vote for Obama. Oh the horror.     

Ultimately Obama is not a fighter for progressive ideals and ends he claims to support. He not only makes backroom deals with corporate lobbyists but hardly ever takes the time to travel the country to move the needle of public opinion, like Clinton often did so successfully. (Insiders have already begun talking about more backroom deals involving a “compromise” with Republicans over Social Security.) Obama and the Democrats have thus squandered the opportunity to take charge of the political narrative handed to them in late 2008, and have failed to (re)build political coalitions they will need for years to come. And so, in just two years the GOP is back with a fucking vengeance.  

It wasn’t long ago that candidate Obama proved to be a great inspirational speaker for many Americans, and was even sold as a “community organizer!” The 2008 election brought the country not just its first African-American President but filibuster proof majorities in both Houses of Congress until, that is, the upset by Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Clearly, staying within the beltway has had pretty awful consequences for Obama and the Democrats. As Digby put it,    

You can't win them all, but you can make damned sure that when you lose your principles are out front and everybody knows where you stand. That is very helpful down the road when you try to make a case for your policies. Trying to "make the best of it" or paper over the differences or (worst of all) adopting the other side's position as your own and saying the policy is actually a good one, will come back to bite you hard. 

Indeed the long term effects of the Obama Presidency may easily translate into disaster for the “progressive” cause itself. Not only will state corporatism likely be more entrenched than ever, as it continually “Reforms” its mechanisms, and eats away at the savings and lives of the demos in the process, but the progressive legacy that has been fought for over decades as a whole, (social safe nets, simple health and safety protections, due process, public education, transparency and disclosure laws, etc.,) will likely be lost as well.  

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