Friday, June 22, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #62 - Part 7

Should Obama be defeated?

Roberto Unger, one of Barack Obama's former professors at Harvard Law School, has caused something of a stir by posting a YouTube video saying Obama "must be defeated in the coming election." Defeated, however, not for the reasons you might immediately think. Rather, it's because, quoting Unger, "He has failed to advance the progressive cause in the United States" and must lose so that "the voice of democratic prophecy [can] speak once again in American life."

In other words, Obama should be ousted from office because while he presented the promise of progressivism, he has governed as a center-rightist who has, among other things, quoting Unger, "spent trillions of dollars to rescue the moneyed interests and left workers and homeowners to their own devices," "delivered the politics of democracy to the rule of money," and "disguised his surrender with an empty appeal to tax justice." He has, Unger said in what I think is one of his strongest lines, "instituted their" - that is, the right wing's - "program with a humanizing discount." Obama's program is, in short, "less a project than it is an abdication."

Not surprisingly, the reaction among the Obamabots, which unfortunately includes many of those who pass for "progressives" these days, was a combination of ridicule and shock that anyone could even propose such a thing. He was called everything from naive to an idiot, with most leaning toward the latter, along with an occasional foray into sneering about "purity." "Oh sure, vote for Romney, that'll make it all better" was a common supposedly witty rejoinder - even though Unger, who is to the left of Obama, of course said nothing about supporting Romney.

The thing is, put another short way, Unger is saying that Obama needs to lose because he is too conservative. And as long as we accept what Barack Obama represents, as long as we accept his platform, as the outer reaches of the possible, then those of us who hope for better will get nowhere. In his video, Unger acknowledged that if a Republican wins the presidency, "there will be a cost in judicial and administrative appointments." And that is surely true and we have to acknowledge that. Still, his point is that our choice is not between good and bad but between bad and worse. And while it's true that worse is worse, it's also true that bad is bad, and if you accept "bad" as your standard, you will never get "better."

At some point you have to make a decision, you have to make up your mind: Are you willing to settle for, is the best you hope for, is for things to get worse more slowly than they otherwise might? For income inequality to get worse a little more slowly than it otherwise might? For the power of the banks to grow a bit more slowly than it otherwise might? For your hope for your children's future to shrivel a bit more slowly than it otherwise might? For the power of arbitrary authority to grow a bit more slowly than it otherwise might?

I can't even include the prospect civil liberties and privacy disappearing more slowly than they otherwise might because they've actually been disappearing at least as fast if not faster under Obama than they had previously.

But is that the best you can hope for, is that what you're willing to settle for? At some point you have to decide.

Even Josh Marshall, who runs the blog Talking Points Memo, knows this. He surely is no radical and no fan of third parties: When Ralph Nader announced he was running for president back in 2004, Marshall called him a "latter-day political narcissist," "an enemy of progressive change," "a cat's paw of the Republican party," and a "pied piper of political oblivion" running on "a platform of vacuous moral posturing and self-aggrandizement." All in eight sentences.

But even he said he had come to "the realization that the key condition of political success is almost always a genuine willingness to lose well." You have to say "on this ground we’re willing to lose." When has Obama done that? When has he as president ever stood on behalf of a progressive program or principle and said "This is where I make my stand and win or lose, I will not back down?"

And, as Marshall noted and this is really important, "A genuine willingness to lose means just that: you might lose. You might lose big."

Every victory worth gaining carries some risk of loss. At some point you have to say "This is just not good enough." And then at some point you have to decide if you are willing to take that risk or are you going to just settle for at most the vain hope that it might not get much worse. If you're not prepared to risk losing, even losing big, you will never do better.

On the particular issue of Barack Obama, here in Massachusetts we have an advantage: Everyone knows O. is going to carry the state. Witless might give him a decent run, but even he can't imagine it will change the outcome here. So don't vote for Barack Obama. Find someone you can positively vote for, not against, and vote for them. For me, that will likely be Jill Stein. But don't vote for Obama. Give them at least some reason to realize that you are at least thinking about taking the risks you do need to take to get beyond "the right wing's program with a humanizing discount."


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