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.