For months, formerly enthusiastic supporters of Barack Obama have sought to assuage their disappointment by means of deft explanation. The truth is that no compelling explanation or description for Obama’s numerous successes and failures in office has yet been proposed and adopted wholesale. The narrative and trajectory of the Obama administration remains a mystery. Evident with both critics and apologetics alike, those who seek to make sense of it all have consistently tried and failed.
Salon columnist David Sirota has recently set forth an interesting rationale to explain this apparent executive branch inertia or timidity. In short, to Sirota, Obama is far more powerful than we even imagine, but he’s miles away from a liberal. The basic premise I agree with in general sentiment. During the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, Obama was often castigated by the left for being too much of a moderate. It is probably worthwhile to remind those of us who voted for him that we saw in him exclusively what we wanted to see. Whether it is a movie star, a musician, or an actor, we routinely project our hopes and aspirations upon those who inspire us deeply. And it is, in part, the residual aspects of those views that would have us look for explanations based exclusively on our own terms.
Sirota is not especially kind to disappointed progressives, even calling them “narcissistic” for believing that the presidency is theirs and theirs alone. As one such frustrated progressive, I take no small liberty with this perspective. The last liberal president was arguably Lyndon Johnson, but his legacy is forever tainted by the guns aspect of Vietnam than the butter of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Great Society reforms. In other words, it’s been a long time for us. Democratic presidents since then have been centrists and more inclined to posture to the left than to advance a truly progressive agenda. Many of us thought that this was finally our turn and we should be forgiven for making an incorrect assumption.
The article’s main idea is that Obama has been a thoroughly powerful shill for the status quo and the special interests. These disgruntled rumblings have been frequently detected within the Democratic base. However, I should note that they are yet another bit of unproven folk wisdom put forward as truth when real, substantive answers are few and far between. I must admit that Obama’s been willing to form alliances with money and big business when it suited him politically, but I sense the president has believed that these actions are necessary evils.
Is it even possible in the United States to be both a successful politician and an ideological purist? We see evidence of the latter in the Tea Party, but I will be shocked if any Tea Party darling wins the Republican nomination in a year’s time. I will be even more shocked if one of these candidates defeats a candidate who will almost certainly be an incumbent president.
The author makes a series of odd arguments and criticisms, culminating in Obama’s willingness to speak favorably of some of the policies of Ronald Reagan. Despite being a popular two-term president in the eyes of most Americans, Reagan is still persona non grata in progressive circles, for many justified reasons. The attitude also stems from simple resentment. Reagan’s policies sought to invalidate many liberal sacred cows and the invocation of that very name alone is enough to invoke consternation.
The truth of the matter is that President Obama may very well prove impossible to pigeonhole. Weak or strong, sufficient characterization ultimately doesn’t matter, though it would guide our comprehension and understanding. But I do find it interesting to contemplate how nearly one whole term has passed, and our president still remains a mystery to his supporters and his detractors all. The race to build the perfect Obama analogy continues.