U.S. Liberals analyze their Obama 'despair'
For many liberals, this is the summer of their discontent. Already disappointed with President Barack Obama’s ability to deliver on campaign promises, they now contemplate a slowing economic recovery and a good chance of Republican gains in November — two developments that could make enacting Obama’s agenda even more difficult.
Two recent essays framed the debate raging within the progressive community over why the promise of Obama’s candidacy has not lived up to their expectations — and how liberals should proceed in what they fear will be difficult months ahead.
In a 17,000-plus-word piece published in The Nation on Thursday, journalist Eric Alterman calls the Obama presidency “a big disappointment” for progressives and blames a broken system in Washington that he says allows the minority party to rule with impunity — and special interests and big money to dictate legislative policy.
“Face it,” he concludes, “the system is rigged, and it’s rigged against us.” His essay is subtitled: “Why a progressive presidency is impossible for now.”
But writing in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, editor Michael Tomasky counsels patience, arguing that American history has shown that change always takes time and continued effort against entrenched conservative opposition.
“The changes we want to see won’t happen in 18 months, or in two years, or four, or probably even eight,” he concludes in his article, “Against Despair.”
The essays suggest it is a time of reckoning for a liberal community whose relationship with Obama has had a series of ups and downs since the moment of hope and expectation when he claimed the presidency in Chicago’s Grant Park on Nov. 4, 2008.
“It’s not just really about Obama; it’s about the state of our country. Every day, you have a sense that people are wondering where this country is headed,” says Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation.
The elation of that night in 2008 quickly gave way to the realization that the No. 1 issue, the economy, and the ensuing fight over an $800 billion stimulus bill, would make Obama's agenda different from the one he had described in his campaign.
From the beginning, the stimulus bill was viewed as containing too many compromises in a futile attempt to garner Republican support. Economist and columnist Paul Krugman led the charge, arguing that the bill was not ambitious enough, containing too many tax cuts and not enough funding for infrastructure projects.
But the bill’s $800 billion price tag created a toxic environment for congressional Democrats when they began the long debate over health care, and many liberals viewed Obama’s compromises on the legislation as a betrayal. The low point may have been after the special election victory of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in January, when the possibility of any health care legislation seemed lost.
“It’s open season on Obama, whom so many hoped would lead us out of the neoliberal wilderness,” Firedoglake blogger Les Leopold declared not long afterward. “He once was a community organizer and ought to know how working people have suffered through a generation of tax breaks for the rich, Wall Street deregulation and unfair competition. When the economy crashed, he was in the perfect position to limit the unjustified pay levels on Wall Street.
“Instead, we got a multitrillion-dollar bailout for Wall Street, no health care reform, no serious financial reforms whatsoever, record unemployment and political gridlock that will be with us for years to come.”
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).