Obama's "Six Degrees of Separation" from "Change We Can Believe In"

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sat Mar 06, 2010 at 08:30

I sometimes think in terms of mathematical metaphors, even if I'm just being suggestive when I do so.  Some measures--particularly economic ones--really can be measured and found to be an "order of magnitude" too small for the problem they're meant to address.  (Or, in the case of the current $15 bllion "Jobs Bill", two orders of magnitude too small.) But more often when I think that, it's not literally true, it simply suggests how vastly inadequate a policy or an idea is. Likewise, when I think of ideas along a spectrum being a standard deviation or two away from reality.  I'll leave it up to you to judge how well the following fits the social network model of human interconnectedness--"Six Degrees of Separation made famous in the experiments and Psychology Today article by Stanley Milgram, the play by John Guare, the movie starring Stockard Channing, Donald Southerland and Will Smith, the parlor game starring Kevin Bacon and three earlier links you'll have to read the Wikipedia article to discover.

Anyway, here goes:

(1) Excluding Discussion of Solutions that Could Work

This is where the Obama Administration lives 24/7.  Which is not to say it never goes out for ice cream--or a smoke.  But, from excluding any talk about single-payer health care to ruling out investigations of Bush/Cheney war crimes and "mere" violations of domestic law in the interest of "looking forward, not back", to refusing to consider nationalizing bankrupt megabanks/brokerage firms, to refusing to even talk about reinstating Glass-Steagall, or getting rid of mercenary firms like Blackwater,  it often seems like the Obama Administration does little else except for putting the kibosh on solutions that could actually solve some of the most important problems that we face.

Paul Rosenberg :: Obama's "Six Degrees of Separation" from "Change We Can Believe In"
(2) Allowing Discussion of Solutions that Could Work

Still, the Obama Administration does have to appease the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party every once in a blue moon. And so there are times when we are at least allowed to discuss these sorts of ideas.

But ever since they said they wanted to hear what people think, and up popped war crimes investigations and decriminalization of marijuana... not so much.

The thing about discussing solutions that could work, is that once they get going, you begin to get the sense that all the other "solutions" you keep hearing about are actually making things worse-often spectacularly so.  And we can't have that!

(3) Promoting Discussion of Solutions that Could Work

This is where I think that the average enthusiastic Obama supporter outside of Versailles expected Obama to operate at a bare minimum.

Of course Obama would have to compromise, and the vast majority of his fanatic legions seemed to forever dismiss the idea of actually doing really big things, but at least everyone seemed to think that he was a really smart guy, and would at least get us started on the path of talking about things that could work, as opposed to hunting for non-existent WMDs belonging to the arch-enemy of the guy who attacked us on 9/11.

So sensible.

So wrong.

(4) Actively Endorsing Solutions that Could Work

This is where candidate Obama occasionally showed up during the primary campaign.  Adding to his credibility, it's where he'd camped out for some time earlier in his political career.  Opposing "dumb wars", and not being afraid to call them that, supporting single-payer health care and Palestinian rights. These were not the cutting edge solutions to tomorrow's problems so much as simply playing catch-up with reality after 30 years of recess, but they certainly represented an encouraging place to start, if you didn't notice the other signs that this was as good as it would ever get.

(5) Fighting Tooth and Nail for Solutions that Could Work

"Fierce advocate for gay rights", anyone?

You don't have to win the right battle.  You have to fight the right battle.  If you fight the right battle, that in itself ensures victory. Sometimes, even without having to fight.  Re-read Sun Tzu enough times, and you'll realize that he and Martin Luther King agree 100% on this.

(6) Passing Legislation and Implementing Solutions that Could Work

This is not utopia.  This is what governing is supposed to be all about.  Filling potholes, from the mundane to the cosmic.  Conservatives argue that government doesn't work, and everything they do is meant to prove their point. "Potholes R Us" is the conservative motto. Hell, it's their fricken battlecry.

On the progressive side, doing anything less than this helps them prove their point.

Any questions?

Any questions at all?

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Yes, One Question (4.00 / 2)
#5 and #6 are where real Democrats, progressives, should work, IMHO. My question is what causes Obama to behave this way when his rhetoric in the campaign, and even today, suggests different policy outcomes?

As has been discussed here and elsewhere ad nauseum, Obama's policies and behavior suggest several motivations:

A. He's a conservative Democrat which is to say a moderate Republican. As Paul Krugman noted in his column yesterday, the current "Democratic" health plan really is a classic moderate GOP health plan with its focus on and support primarily for the insurance industry, not working people and small businesses priced out of the healthcare market. In this model, real Republicans help the wealthy and large corporations; real Democrats help working people and small businesses.

B. He's being duped by secret and not so secret forces like Goldman Sachs and Big Pharma. He wants to be liked by the rich, to play golf with them, and they take advantage of him.

C. He just wanted to be President and used pretty words to get there. Now he has to juggle the status quo for eight years.

Perhaps there are other possible motivations. I vote for A, so far.

While your six points make for good discussion, the real risk for progressives is that the media portrays Obama as a progressive and his policies as progressive when, in fact, they're not. They're GOP policies for the most part. If there is a train wreck on any policy, therefore, progressives will be tarred as failures even though the failure (no surprise) is in pushing policies that have been pushed for three decades since Reagan was elected.

How progressives avoid this fate is important to discuss, especially in light of the Congressional elections this fall. How do you convince voters they should not vote out progressives who are fighting to change the playing field to make it fair to working people?

I Believe In Overdetermination & Multiple Causation (4.00 / 8)
So I'm not going to go with any one explanation for why he acts the way he does.  But I would have to underscore the role of 40 years of unanswered hegemonic warfare, which Obama is utterly oblivious to, but simply goes along with.

George Lakoff was right that Obama was uniquely gifted to be able to help reverse that.  He was wrong, however, in thinking that Obama had any interest at all in doing so.

Who knew that Obama's great civil rights hero would turn out to be Rodney, not Martin Luther, King?

I'll be writing more about understanding what Obama's up to using various different frameworks--with this post as just one example.  I believe that getting clear about this ourselves is a necessary foundation for educating others.  But of course, it's only one piece of the puzzle.  And you're absolutely right about the need for us to mount an organized response that differentiates us.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Any progress on a given issue is, by definition, "progressive" (4.00 / 4)
And recall that is wasn't THAT long ago that there were genuine GOP progressives in the Lincoln and TR mold. The issue is that, being a Democrat who sort of ran as a liberal progressive, his pushing for policies that are at best only moderately progressive is bound to disappoint us on the left, who are looking for a bolder form of progressivism from him.

A bigger concern, though, is that, because he's the president, and because he sort of ran as a liberal progressive, he's making it easy for the GOP and media to portray anything more progressive than what he's pushing for as too extremist and radical for the US, the left-wing equivalent of nutty teabaggery. Intentionally and knowingly or not, through his policy preferences he's helping to define the limits of acceptable progressivism today, and he's doing it in ways that fall far short of the sort of progressivism that we need.

And he appears to be doing this less due to political realities let alone ideological beliefs than to what I believe to be personal and psychological bugaboos--i.e. the fear of being disliked by rich and powerful people, his surrogate father figures to replace the one he never had, in a way. He desperately seeks and needs their approval and has yet to genuinely rebel against them and become his own man.

He still can, though. Even at 48. Peter Pan needs to grow up.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
Absolutely. He's enabling a shift of the discussion to (4.00 / 2)
the right, not only now but for the long term. By virtue of having presented himself as more liberal than he is, he has become a progressive strawman. Real progressives will be left holding the bag for his inevitable failures.

[ Parent ]
Don't forget who is enabling Obama to do this (4.00 / 4)
The so-called lefty blogosphere. Chris Hedges had an pointed article called "Liberals are useless", recently. That's a pretty fair assessment of the effects of the liberal intelligentsia, IMO.

Tauzin spilled the beans about his back-stabbing deal with Obama, it even makes the NY Times, but where's the demand, from progressives, that Obama apologize for his betrayal? I must have missed it. While Hedges thinks liberals should have walked out of the Democratic Party with the passage of NAFTA, I'm not so sure about that. What I am sure about is that the liberal intelligentsia is generally quite mousey when it comes to opening their mouths and voicing their condemnation of Democrats and/or Democratic leadership. The only thing close to an organized effort to "make him do it" by using Obama's own words and deeds against him, is the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Unfortunately, while a step in the right direction, they're not aggressive enough. I have urged "Frank" from theFrankFactor.com to start a new, more aggressive version of the PCCC with more bite (though without his frequent, gratuitous cursing).

I don't think we'll get demands for an apology here at OpenLeft. E.g., 5 diaries prior to the one, Mike Lux tells us

The Obama White House made way too many tactical mistakes, compromised too early and too often, gratuitously insulted their base multiple times, and failed to show the leadership they should have on some of the biggest issues.

Gee whiz, you'd never be able to tell from that just how bad faith an actor Obama has been. Or am I missing something?

I think Obama is a national disgrace, though not quite as bad as Bush. The idea of him "fighting tooth and nail" for anything  that serves the public, but which is strongly opposed by either Wall Street or Big Pharma, is a thought I just can't seriously entertain. Obama seems every bit as useless in serving the public as the liberal intelligentsia, overall.  

435 Dem Primaries 2012
Coffee Party Usa

[ Parent ]
Almost as bad as Bush, (0.00 / 0)
in fact, it's difficult to tell the difference.  But, It's much worse for us, because we never had any faith in Bush. We never worked for Bush, or contributed to Bush, or HOPED for Bush.  I think, actually, it's worse for Obama because he let us down so hard, after we had put SO MUCH into him!

[ Parent ]
I feel for you, but it's time to move on (0.00 / 0)
Obama showed us who he was, even as a candidate. Not a pretty picture, is it?

I have a hard time understanding why there's not more sharp criticism of Obama by progressives. His betrayals have been so significant that, IMO, they could be very effectively used to "make him do it".

In the case of Obama's healthcare perfidy, exposing Obama to your Republican and conservative friends and family (not just complaining on blogs frequented by like-minded individuals) has the dual benefit of a) showing that you're not a Democratic party lemming  and b) provides a teaching opportunity about pervasive government corruption, which encompasses both parties.

I get it that many movement heads are in the 'veal pen', and they would lose access, jobs, etc., if they were truly outspoken. That's a shame, but what excuse is there for progressives who know about the 'veal pen', to not organize outside of it?

Thank goodness, there's a coffee party movement underway which is growing explosively. I kept asking why there is not a progressive Tea Party, but it looks like there finally is one.  While the leader is putting an emphasis on civility (which may preclude the sort of outspokeness that a healthy democratic ecosystem demands, at least as a component), there is still much to recommend to it. Indeed, yours truly has already joined the online group, and I am thinking of starting a local, face-to-face Coffee Party chapter.

435 Dem Primaries 2012
Coffee Party Usa

[ Parent ]
But, but... (0.00 / 0)
I don't like coffee.  I like tea.

Can I still have tea if I join the Coffee Party movement?  And if I do, does that make me a tea-sipping, latte drinking liberal?

Health insurance is not health care.
If you don't fight, you can't win.
Never give up. Never Surrender.
Watch out for flying kabuki.

[ Parent ]
Kool Aid, Dude! (0.00 / 0)
The Coffee Party is exactly the same as Obama.  The only thing they're for is getting along and getting rid of "obstructionism."

There's not one single progressive policy they're committed to.

Heck, there's not one single policy, period that they're committed to.

It's a purity process party, dude!  The only question is "raspberry, cherry, strawberry, or lime?"

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Ah-h-h-h, no, not really (0.00 / 0)
The coffee party may be amorphous, policy-wise, in much the same way that Obama was, policy-wise, a somewhat amorphous candidate. I grant you that. But the correlation ceases at about that level.

Obama was an individual who was aiming for holding a single political position, of immense power. At some point, he would have to take specific actions which worked for or against specific policy options. Being a politician, and not a very honest one at that, whose heart was not with the people who put their trust in him, he was careful to hide his true agenda.

The Coffee Party, because it does not have a top-down control structure, can only have whatever agendaS that local groups give it. Sure, local chapters can embrace specific policies, but there is no structure (currently, anyway) that will try and enforce conformity from chapter to chapter.

IMO, if Annabel Park is foolish enough to try and veal-pen-ize the Coffee Party, the independents will immediately revolt (not to mention the Republican members). So far, as far as I can tell, she is playing it straight. E.g.:

A Coffee Party Independent (Part 2)

Sat, 2010-03-06 09:29 - Indy Coffee Par...
A common criticism being thrown around of the Coffee Party is that it is just a left-leaning, Democratic partisan group. The argument is that anyone who isn't left-leaning or a partisan Democrat isn't really welcome in the Coffee Party.

The argument is based on the premise that the Coffee Party agenda will be determined by the composition of the membership. If the membership is comprised primarily of liberals and partisan Democrats then the agenda will be liberal and partisan Democrat. Hence, it doesn't matter if Republicans, conservatives, moderates, independents and nonpartisan people decide to join. Despite all this talk of inclusiveness and listening to all sides of an issue in rational, civil debate, at the end of the day, the partisan Democratic or liberal agenda will be the agenda of the Coffee Party.

How do I, as an independent, respond to that?

1) I am an independent and have been offered this excellent platform as a Coffee Party USA blogger. I am not being asked by the Coffee Party to water down or in any way compromise my beliefs. In fact, I was very open with the Coffee Party leadership from the very beginning that I am an independent. I intend to use this as a platform to challenge the Coffee Party to live up to its ideals of inclusiveness of differing viewpoints. I also intend to use it as a platform to persuade my fellow independents to join and participate in the movement. The more of us there are in the movement, engaging and challenging the movement, the better the chances of independent viewpoints being represented in the Coffee Party.

2) The Coffee Party is committed to small "d" democratic processes and building consensus among its members. Just because we may disagree on certain political or philosophical issues doesn't mean we cannot arrive at a consensus in decision-making as fellow Americans. Consensus, agreement and compromise happens all the time in life between people who hold differing viewpoints and who may have competing interests. Muslims, Christians and Jews; Religious and secular people; labor and management, etc. Politically there are examples of transpartisan experiments where people with differing viewpoints come together and try to seek common ground with one another. An example is the Transpartisan Alliance. The key is having a process in place to make cooperation possible. So my viewpoint is that just because we are starting from differing ideologies, belief systems and political views, compromise and consensus is not impossible. At the end of the day, we are all Americans and human beings interested in doing what is right for the country.

3) I joined the Coffee Party with eyes wide open that many in the membership are progressives and Democrats. I am taking a leap of faith that if they are members of the Coffee Party, that the ideals of inclusiveness of differing viewpoints, intellectual diversity and rational, calm, substantive conversations about politics are as important to them as they are to me. Hence, I am relying on people to be open-minded to the idea that no ideology or political party has the monopoly on truth and good ideas and that they would be open to accepting valid points coming from political perspectives other than theirs. And that this spirit will be reflected in the process of developing and agreeing on a Coffee Party platform.

Any other questions you'd like to ask the Indy Coffee Party Dude about how an independent can fit into this movement? Feel free to engage me in the Coffee Party blog.

435 Dem Primaries 2012
Coffee Party Usa

[ Parent ]
You Haven't Answered My Question: (0.00 / 0)
"raspberry, cherry, strawberry, or lime?"

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Raspberry for some chapters (0.00 / 0)
cherry for others. It's up to the chapter. Indeed, if it's truly grass roots and democratic, a more accurate answer is "raspberry for some members of a given chapter, cherry for other members of the same chapter".

Do you have a problem with that? If so, what and why?

The main potential problem I forsee is that of vote splitting, when it comes time to put the coffee party voting blocs to the real world test of....voting. There has to be a rational way for reasonably overlapping vote blocs to settle on compromise positions and candidates before the real world primary and general election votes.

This is a nice problem to have, provided that it is solved within a reasonable period of time. With a vigorous democratic infrastructure, though, it will be solved, at least in terms of process and 'plumbing'. The only remaining problem is participation - which is a human factors issue.

If the raspberry coffee party'ers lose (or never acquire) their civil interaction with the cherry coffee party'ers, or if not enough people join the coffee party, then it will fail. Having different flavors of coffee party'ers is a feature, not a bug. Those flavors need to cooperate (realizing that they will never get everything they want, anyway) if they want to avoid failure.  

435 Dem Primaries 2012
Coffee Party Usa

[ Parent ]
Judging by metamars' response to you, (0.00 / 0)
I'd have to agree with you.

And sorry, but I gotta rant, cause this is just indicative of what I'm tired of seeing.

Here we have a movement that is supposedly a reaction to the Tea Party movement.  In other words, it's supposed to be a reactionary movement.  (Kinda tautalogical, right?)  So they should be angry and unreasonable and demanding and in your face and all the other things that go along with being reactionary.  Not a perfect response to the teabaggers, but better than being a punching bag, and I can certainly get behind it as a first step to liberals/progressives getting a fucking spine.

But no.  Instead it's another kumbaya, let's all get along, big tent, let's everybody talk and be quiet and sit down and think things over coffee klatch.  And that's a better name for this movement.  The Coffee Klatch movement.  Why the fuck do we need a movement to represent a bunch of people who don't have a fucking agenda?

Look.  I know people around here think litmus tests are bad, but just think about it for a second.  Why didn't you vote for Bush?  Because he didn't pass your litmus test of policies and principles you consider important.  Why would you not want him in your political party?  Because he can't pass your party's litmus test of policies and principles around which they're organized.  Same with Cheney, right?  DUH!

"Litmus test" is just another term for being judgmental, and we're supposed to be judgmental when it comes to politics and politicians.  That's the fucking point of democracy.  I mean, why else are we voting and throwing our support behind one candidate or cause or another if not to be judgemental?  Forming political parties and movements is about codifying our judgmentalism so that others know where we stand and can choose to join us or not; so that the party or movement has direction; and so that the members of that party or movement can hold each other accountable to their stated code.

That's the point.  That's the fucking point.

When a party or movement refuses to do any of these things, then all you've really got is a big social networking tool (and God knows we need more of those).

The Coffee Klatch movement has no direction.  It's open to everyone, which means it's open to Cheney, too.  There's no litmus test, so there's nothing to keep the movement on track.  It's just another social networking tool.

In my sig, I say "if you don't fight, you can't win."  The continuation of that is, if you're going to fight, you have to pick a side, and picking a side means fighting for a cause.  Needless to say, if you pick a cause and pick a side, not everyone is going to join with you.  The Coffee Klatchers don't have a cause.  They just want everyone to join them.  They stand for nothing, which means they fight for nothing.

Which is great for social networking but makes for a terrible political movement.

And I've run out of steam, so I'll stop here.

Health insurance is not health care.
If you don't fight, you can't win.
Never give up. Never Surrender.
Watch out for flying kabuki.

[ Parent ]
A newborn baby doesn't have any direction. (0.00 / 0)
But if the parents love their baby, they will want to give it the best direction they can, during their child's formative years.

What specific direction the Coffee Party chapters take remains to be seen. I remain hopeful, because unlike Obama and his DLC-type buddies, the chapters are not owned by Goldman Sachs and Big Pharma.

Besides which, the Coffee Party represents a movement in developing democratic infrastructure. A democratic infrastructure has to be friendly to democratic groups of diverse persuasions (and even, I started arguing, friendly to groups which made up civil society but had, historically, little political aspects). I recently sent off a half-completed draft describing principles and subsystems of a democracy infrastructure. Although I didn't get to articulate it, I had already thought about the issue and planned to propose local, face-to-face meetings in restaurants on Mondays (typically the slowest day). But hey - coffee shops are a fine place to start, until they're outgrown.

If you build a public road connecting two cities, that road can be traveled by lobbyists, corrupt Democratic Senators, and corrupt Republican Senators. It can also be traveled by disempowered voters who lean both left, and disempowered voters who lean right. The lobbyists, corrupt Democrats, and corrupt Republicans already have all the infrastructure they need to screw the public. That's what K-Street is about, right?

It's your neighbors in what's left of your middle class neighborhood who don't have the same networking venues already established to try and forge consensus political action that suits their needs.

Good on Annabel Park.

Oh, and for those who can only respect an explicitly lefty grassroots response to the Tea Party movement, what is taking you so long?

435 Dem Primaries 2012
Coffee Party Usa

[ Parent ]
My Yardstick (4.00 / 1)
I judge politicians by who benefits from the policies they push. If working people and small businesses mostly benefit, then the politician is a progressive and/or a Democrat. If it's giant corporations and the super-rich, then the politician is a Republican, even if they call themselves a Democrat.

If we say we're left of corporate Democrats then we put ourselves needlessly into a very tiny box and we cede the moral force that comes from being Democrats. I think that's also your point. While we're here on this earth we are better off individually and as a community if we work to take care of each other. While I've known many very moral and caring Republicans over the years, I can't say any of them really got the need to take care of other people. Something clicks in their head that says someone less fortunate somehow caused their own problems, that they can pick themselves up. Caring for the poor is a leap of faith for them.

While it is true some poor people scam the system (as do wealthy people), being a Democrat should be about caring for people, ourselves and others. I'd hate to cede that important point by saying we're left of corporate Democrats. I'd rather fight to correct that misperception by pointing out, early and often, that corporate Democrats are moderate Republicans at best, asking people to label politicians based on their policies. Otherwise, Republicans can hide and do a lot of damage simply by calling themselves corporate Democrats.

All that said, it is possible for someone to truly care about working people and also have conservative views about how to run the government, for example, pushing for transparency and accountability. But I have not seen many of those kinds of politicians. And perhaps they've never truly existed. Perhaps even TR and Lincoln had their moments of sucking up to noxious interests.

[ Parent ]
But we ARE to the left of centrist/corporate Dems like Obama (4.00 / 3)
I understand how, because the "left" has been so demonized by the media and the establishment for so long, there are political perils to being seen as "too left", and I can understand how a shrewd lefty pol like Bernie Sanders, fully aware of this political reality, makes sure to SEEM more moderate and centrist in tone while continuing to push for genuinely left-wing policies in practice. But the policies are substantively progressive, and thus left of center (there being nor right of center progressives these days), however the optics play out.

And the key is to make the policies (progressive and thus left of center in our case) the priority, and adapt the politics to fit them. Whereas Obama has done the opposite, making the politics the priority, and adapting the policies to fit them, which is neither progressive, nor likely to result in genuinely (as opposed to mildly) progressive reforms. And in doing this he's going against genuine historical progressives, both left of center ones like FDR and LBJ, and center or right of center ones like Lincoln and TR. And that, put simply, is quite sad.

Basically, optics, labels and politics obviously matter, as does core ideology and outlook/approach (i.e. conservative, moderate, liberal). But so does one's "humanistic" values (i.e. progressive and communitarian vs. regressive and selfish). And the latter dimension spans the political and ideological spectrum (or used to, at least, until the regressive and selfish wing of the GOP took it over). And Obama has yet to decisively prove himself to be on the morally correct side of that dimension. It's quite an accomplishment for a Democratic president to govern less progressively than GOP icons like Lincoln and TR.

A dubious one, of course.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
Here's my question then... (0.00 / 0)
Fifty years ago or so, in the 1940s through 1970s, was the Democratic party mostly controlled by progressives or by conservative corporatist Democrats? As a zygote in the late 1950s, I was more than little oblivious to the answer. But reading history has made me believe that, as a practical matter, the name and practice of the Democratic party has since then been taken over by corporatist Democrats. Especially after Mondale and Dukakis and in response to Reagan in the 1980s. If true, then progressives should take their party back by shaming the carpetbaggers, calling themselves Democrats, and pushing for Democratic policies. Not a witch hunt. Simply clarifying who is who through positive and constructive actions (Paul's #5 and #6 above).

And I do wonder if Obama has made the policies fit the politics. Is that true if, indeed, his political instincts are essentially (or in fact) moderate Republican? Then he would not be responding to the political climate but simply exercising his personal political beliefs. Or perhaps I misunderstand.

Your statement about humanist values and dimension is very well said, thank you. Regardless of our politics, ultimately we are human and have a choice how we act with respect to ourselves and others. Greed is not always good.

[ Parent ]
I'm guessing that prior to their takeover of it (4.00 / 1)
in the late 80's, corporate Dems still had a fairly large influence in the party, especially with respect to the huge war profiteering that took place during the Vietnam war. But JFK also, I understand, liked to surround himself with corporate Dems. And back then Dixiecrats had a large influence in the party as well, which they do not now (but they still do have some influence, in the form of conservative southern house Dems. Progressives might have had more power then, certainly much more than they do now, but they were never completely hegemonic.

They will always have some influence in the party, as will ConservaDems. But their current influence is vastly out of proportion to the makeup of the party's rank and file and the country's overall interests. More balance is needed, in a leftward direction. More and better Dems means more and better progressives.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
He is not going to grow up (4.00 / 5)
because he is already a fully-fledged moderate Republican. The real problem is the so-called Democratic Party that now contains both the legitimate Republican Party (the few conservatives actually committed to the democratic process-including Obama) and the legitimate Democratic Party (non-corporatist, progressive and liberal). Right now moderate corporatist-Republicans have nowhere to go so they camouflage themselves as Democrats.

The current Democratic Party construct does indeed shift political discourse to the right legitimizing the extremists in the GOP and marginalizing Progressives.  Isn't this largely responsible for the current political malaise?  I think it is also relevant to Paul's concept of hegemonic struggle.

When I try to put this in words it seems like quicksand because the current political labels are so plastic and far removed from their historical meanings.  It seems to me the only way out of this is for Progressives to form an independent political block or party, caucusing with the "Democrats" perhaps, but certainly applying hard-nosed pressure from the left. This would expose the Republican-ness of Obama and many others and also the extremism of the current tea-bagging GOP.  One can imagine two new political parties crystallizing out of this and possibly a third insane asylum.

[ Parent ]
He's really just a full-blown SOCIOPATH! (0.00 / 0)
and that cannot change.  He's a good one, though.  He knows how to hide it well when he's in campaign mode.  We MUST primary him!!!!!!!

[ Parent ]
Obama Isn't A Sociopath (4.00 / 1)
Good lord, words have meanings, dude!

Is he enabling sociopaths?  Oh, absolutely!

But that doesn't mean he is a sociopath.

He's a shallow, ladder-climbing technocrat with speaking skills.  End. Of. Story.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Really, it's more like duplicity. (4.00 / 2)
What you call sociopathic is much more subtle, IMO. The Republicans hiding in the Democratic Party believe that they have our best interest at heart but they also think they know "how things work." In other words they need to fudge the facts a bit, condescend and obfuscate issues because liberals and progressives are naive idealists who cannot be reasoned with. This, by the way, is why Howard Dean was mocked in the media and it relates to the concept of "The Church of the Savvy" and the MSM's bizarre representation of reality.  Much of what they actually believe to be true is left unsaid.  It is also why Obama and Rahm Emanuel behave the way they do.  They are sincere in their paternalism (for what it's worth) but false in their engagement with us.

[ Parent ]
Paternalism Without Credibility (4.00 / 1)
Once upon a time, we had paternalistic leaders like LBJ, who actually delivered policies that produced a great deal of good.  This sort of on-the-ground pragmatism was the source of substantial credibility.

Now, we've got just as much paternalism--if not more--but as for the goods, not so much.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Obama is the ultimate non/anti-radical (4.00 / 7)
Even as he sometimes co-opts some of the superficial trappings of a radical when it suits him politically (e.g. all those hopey-changey let's fight The Man campaign speeches that amounted to nothing more than manna for the base).

But in his governing ideology and practice, he is neither too right nor too left, just middling enough to please or at least not upset the political, economic and media establishment so as to not be seen and treated as its enemy--while still occaisionally playing the faux radical to keep that base semi-fired up.

And this is not due to any deep ideological convictions as far as I can see, but rather due to an almost exclusive and perhaps even pathological obsession with process and style. He simply does not want to upset the powers that be in the country, and to the extent that he wants to do good by regular people--and I think that he does--it's always within the context of this other, more important goal, even when it results in weaker policy and is not even politically necessary.

Thus the rejection of the public option let alone single payer. The reason was less that these were politically very difficult to achieve than that persuing them would be very politically costly, particularly with his true base, the money, power and opinion elite of the country. He simply will not allow himself to be put in a position where he is alienated from them. It almost seems subconscious and psychological in nature, as if he needs them as a sort of surrogate collective father figure that he desperately wants to be loved and doesn't want to be abondoned by.

The one encouraging thing about this view of Obama and his MO and its motivation is that it's neither cynical nor opportunistic in source, but rather psychological, which is something that's easier to overcome than cynicism or opportunism. If Obama can somehow be released from his need to be embraced by and not upset rich and powerful people--i.e. if he can be made to finally grow the fuck up and be his own man for real--then maybe, just maybe, he can be made to find his inner progressive. I.e. the one who actually DOES progressive things, and not just make speeches about them.

And I think that continued "Tough Love" from the left is the only way to bring that about. The bots are only enabling his establishment fetish and resultant mediocrity. The tea baggers are crazy. We're the only ones truly pushing for "Obama to be Obama".

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

you left out conflict avoidant :) (4.00 / 3)
i'm not into psycho analysis of obama - i actually find it mildly disturbing that people study him like he's a creature from another planet - but "conflict avoidant" are the two words that everything in his presidency scream out to me.

by which i don't mean opposing actual real physical conflict like wars - but any sort of change that will induce conflict, provoke realigning of political forces without knowing where they will end up, etc.  there's a distinct lack of faith in a better future in what his administration does.

which is regressive in my opinion, on two counts.  1) you're wrong, because there are basic structural things like the tapping out of credit, increased joblessness, etc., that make it likely that more and more progressive policymaking wil be demanded in the future; and 2) even if you somehow miss that glaring reality, govern accordingly, and try to make structural changes like efca that increase the likelihood of social forces being in a position to demand something better next time around (and maybe this time!).

I Agree That He's Conflict Avoidant (4.00 / 1)
But that's an issue unto itself--or perhaps more significantly a gateway to a whole other set of discussions.

In this post, I'm simply trying to focus on a single dimension of the problem.  And in this dimension, one could place conflict avoidance as a partial explanation for the difference between (1) and (2).  But again, that's only within this framework, which is simply meant to illuminate a single--if very important--dimension.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
You either have to conclude that Obama is imcompetent or... (4.00 / 1)
...he's not pursuing progressive policies for a reason. Since Reagan, the Democratic Party leadership have been moving away from the "Party of the Working Man (and woman)" and have largely become a technocratic, pro-Corporatist party and only pretend to the latter because that's where their base is.

Obama is not doing exactly what he (and his Neoliberal ideologue buddies) doesn't want to do. And when they lose power in DC they will move into nice, safe corporate sinecures until the next time.  

"Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it." - Mark Twain

I think this time (4.00 / 1)
there won't be a "next time."

[ Parent ]
'Tis no 'mystery' at all... (0.00 / 0)
why Shamwow's squandered his leverage: He's doing what he was hired to do:

The Owners' bidding....

What amazes ME is that anybody EVER thought Shamwow would do ANYTHING at all but slobber all over the hands of the people--the Owners--who curried and cosseted and carried him to this pinnacle, this historic position. Bite 'em? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

He's a man whose father left, abandoned him. All his life he's striven for acceptance, approval, admiration. Got it too, from WHITE FOLKS. Now he's got the accolade that legitimizes him forEVER: The First Black/Non-White President of the USA.

If he lives through it, he's set for life.

He's not gonna upset the apple cart, or make the target on his back any bigger..

He's too smart to be pushed (4.00 / 7)
I don't often disagree with kovie, except around the edges, and when I do, I know that I'm going to have to marshall my arguments carefully. In this case, I think I disagree fundamentally with the premise that pushing from the left can have any significant influence on President Obama's approach to governing. Even it could, he wouldn't know how to make use of it. If he looks weak now, imagine how weak he would look to the carnivores in Washington if he attempted to advocate policies which run contrary to his instincts.

He can't become a genuine leftist -- pace Glenn Beck, et al. -- because he has absolutely no idea what the left wants, or why. He doesn't see the social forces that we see, nor does he understand that the country is dysfunctional in a far more fundamental way than can be represented as a failure to get along with one another.

I don't believe that he's a cynic, not any more so, at least, than any other successful politician. No doubt he's as surprised and pleased as we are that he's the first African-American President, and has come to that office far earlier than anyone (except Martin Luther King) would have predicted such a thing might be possible. No doubt in private he takes a lot more of the credit for that than he really deserves, but who, finding himself behind the desk in the Oval Office, wouldn't do likewise?

Call it the sin of pride, but I think that having arrived where he is, and knowing what it took to get there, has confirmed him in the notion that his analysis of what's wrong with America, and how to fix it, is more reality-based than ours is. It's a variation on that old bit of American anti-intellectual folklore, If you so smart, asshole, how come you ain't rich?

It's a comfortable place to be, even if occasionally a bit of plaster falls on your head, and if, despite the velvet drapes, you can still hear sirens outside your window. Power is power, and while I've no doubt that Obama is smart enough and sensitive enough to know that his is at present something of an illusion, he's also smart enough to understand that we don't offer him a real alternative, not unless he were to do something which he clearly feels uncomfortable doing.

President Obama hasn't read enough history, and he has no idea how to calibrate either his compass or thermometer. He isn't Moses, and he isn't John the Baptist, and for goddamned sure he isn't Jesus his own self. He's Pontius Pilate -- a place-holder for the forces which are gathering inside and outside the empire. If ever they gain enough strength to put an end to the present charade, it won't be because he called for any applecarts to be upset.

Pontius Pilate (4.00 / 2)
Now that's a revealing comparison, true or not. My wife's theory is that Obama is too Hawaiian, too laid back.

Kovie's point also is that Presidents sometimes grow into their job. They can become larger than life and rise to meet the historical moment. I'm thinking of LBJ, in particular, but Lincoln also and TR. It would be wonderful if Obama could grow, too, but it might take blood on the streets. And he would have to be primed to grow. Not sure if that's true in his case. But we are at a crossroads certainly. I don't see how the income disparity, the rapacious greed of Wall Street and some industries like health care, the utter collapse of the pragmatic part of the GOP, how that can be sustained over time. Something has to break.

[ Parent ]
LBJ Didn't "Grow Into His Job" (4.00 / 2)
Or, if he did so, he did it ahead of time while he was Majority Leader.

He had a long backlog of things he wanted to get done from Day One.

Public perception certainly grew.  But that's a different thing.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
LBJ Also Had Years Of Experience In Senate Of Learning (4.00 / 1)
how to hone his power to get things done.
Also, LBJ was living in an era, at least on domestic front, that was more accustomed to progressive policies and legislation.
Obviously, the civil rights movement was certainly not something that people were "accustomed to".
Still, the civil right movement was a force so powerful that LBJ knew that signing the Act into law, alienating the South was the right thing to do.  Though, he was kicking and fight for awhile on the issue.
The great cause of health-care reform as a right has no movement nearly as strong and united--though I think it is growing.
That said, this does not excuse Obama from fighting to make people see health-care access as a right.

[ Parent ]
JFK Was Kicking And Fighting On Civil Rights (4.00 / 1)
LBJ, not so much.

In fact, LBJ had already been the driving force in passing the 1957 Civil Rights Act--the first such piece of legislation in more than 80 years at the time.

It's true that Johnson initially opposed bringing up a voting rights bill in 1965, so soon after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  But that was a purely strategic opposition on his part, and as soon as he saw that the political winds were strongly favorable, he got behind it.

JFK, OTOH, never stopped with the dinner theatre Hamlet bit.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Have you ever met anyone who went to Punahou? (0.00 / 0)
It's not actually a dude, let it all hang out kind of place. Nevermind that HI is an incredibly diverse place with a range of influences that go beyond one cheap stereotype.  

[ Parent ]
it's not hyper-competitive, either (0.00 / 0)
I believe the too-Hawaiian theory.

There's definitely a laid-back attitude in Punahou, compared to the mainland. Competitive for some (not all or even most) of the students, sure, but not confrontational-competitive in a mainland way. (And I went to Punahou a few years after Obama.) There's nothing at all comparable to the Chicago-style politics that Obama was supposed to have picked up by being a politician in Chicago.

Knowing nothing about his Chicago experience, it wouldn't surprise me if a Hawaiian style worked there, rather than Obama adopting the Chicago style.

[ Parent ]
In A Nutshell (4.00 / 2)
Call it the sin of pride, but I think that having arrived where he is, and knowing what it took to get there, has confirmed him in the notion that his analysis of what's wrong with America, and how to fix it, is more reality-based than ours is. It's a variation on that old bit of American anti-intellectual folklore, If you so smart, asshole, how come you ain't rich?

The analysis of why Obama is how he is may be quite tangled and complex.  But the analysis of why he ignores us is, I think, as utterly pedestrian and shallow as you artfully put it right there, William.

Only Alexander Pope could put the diagnosis better:

"A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again."

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Obama's DIAGNOSIS = Antisocial Personality Disorder (0.00 / 0)
Treatment = Democratic Primary!!!

[ Parent ]
Obama succeeds at bipartisanship (0.00 / 0)
Obama ran as a liberal Democrat, governs as a moderate Republican. Now, isn't that bipartisanship? Give him credit. He campaigned on a promise to bring change and bipartisan civility to DC.

I like the premise (4.00 / 3)
But I think he's actually seven degrees removed, or 6.5.

7. Disparaging solutions that could work. For example:

When Barack Obama gave his "this is it" speech on health care reform on March 3, he once again swerved out of his way to hit advocates of a single-payer system.

He said: "On one end of the spectrum, there are some who have suggested scrapping our system of private insurance and replacing it with government-run health care. Though many other countries have such a system, in America it would be neither practical nor realistic."

You can argue about whether it is realistic politically but there should be no question whatsoever that it's practical in the sense of being functional. It works well in other countries, including Canada, and there is no reason it can't work well here. Canada's health outcomes, and the health outcomes of every other advanced industrial country with government-run systems, are superior to ours.

Maybe Obama was using the "neither, nor" construction to try to strengthen his weak and illogical opposition to single-payer and even to a robust public option like Medicare for all who want it-and 65 percent of the American people do want that kind of a public option.


Disparagement Is Subsumed Under Excluding (4.00 / 5)
Mostly he doesn't even deign to talk about solutions that could work.

Even in this act of disparagement, he isn't actually including the subject matter of solutions that could work.

"[S]crapping our system of private insurance and replacing it with government-run health care" doesn't accurately describe single-payer, which isn't "government-run health care" at all.  Britain--which is like the VA for all--has "government-run health care"  Canada--which is like Medicare for all--has "single-payer health care", quite a different beast.  And other countries--such as Switzerland--even have private insurance systems that are acutally and effectively regulated, something America could never do in a million years.

But Obama can't even bring himself to admit for one second the vast range of systems that work in his obsessive fixation on excluding them all from discussion.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I'll accept that (4.00 / 1)
And why mess with a nifty conceit?

I withdraw my objection.  

[ Parent ]
"government-run health care" (4.00 / 1)
is nearly identical to the right-wing framing of "a government take-over of health care." It is, as The Progressive notes, reprehensible rhetoric, not only in its substantive falseness, but in its implicit demonization of single-payer advocates as extremists. (Then again, dishonest rhetoric in the health care realm is nothing new for President Obama.)

[ Parent ]
We Should Start Railihng Against The "Government-Run Police Department", I Suppose (4.00 / 1)
What with Blackwater and all, it's a little late to be railing against the "government-run military."

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Paul, this is a nonsequitur to this thread, however I was hoping (4.00 / 1)
you can answer the problem that I see occurring everyday-- especially with people who just vote,low information possible voters, or people don't trust see how movements, politics can improve their lives.

The question:  While I admire your compassion, fierce intellect, and truth-telling regarding what and why Obama has failed on many fronts--how are we going to as a movement contend with this, http://www.salon.com/opinion/c...

You, Glenn, David, etc--many enlightened and intelligent writers and leaders calling out the Obama Administration and the Democratic Party on their bullshit, and how they been ineffective at moving progressive--sensible for that-- policies that would help them politically, ironically.

With 2010 looking awful for Democrats, and the conservative players and GOP doing everything to do destroy this administration and it congressional allies (understandably a lot of problems have manifested because of establishment thinking), I see the country, the President, different congressional leaders being attacked like no tomorrow.  I don't doubt the call for hundreds of bullshit investigations are coming. That said, how does one who tries to push Obama and the Democrats to do a better job, tell the truth as a journalist--not a partisan hack--pivot, and say we are on your side Barrack and Nancy?  I mean, a lot of people do not assimilate information that well--myself included--and leads to hundreds of thousands joining in the bullshit charges, conspiracies, etc against Obama and the rest of Democratic Party.  I worry, because I cannot tell you how many people that I have spoke to believe in some of the most egregious lies told about Obama, Pelosi, Biden, etc.  And, I am talking about "independents", people who are "moderates" in New Jersey!

PS  I realize you do not feel that you dohave the best of interest of the progressive movement, admire a lot of leaders--not so many in DC, and more importantly, just wished to saw the light on some very basic principles in governing that would help them.  Anyway, a lot of people I feel get cognitive dissonance from the constant critique and then, when it becomes time (as it had all along since 2007 and your and others have fought back against the different attacks)to fight against this nefarious force that is only going to become emboldened.  Don't you fear some people reading your posts have already given up on the Democratic Party?  Do you fear that the possibility of the GOP taking back power, things are going to get even worse.  And, you are dealing with hardcore liberal and progressive who want to see social justice, a better society.  What about the other people who get the news from rags and the TV?

Also, I realize your role as serious intellect and activist of the left is provide intellectual fact, analysis, and historical content to the current situation--and how to move forward.

Such A Torrent Of Questions! (4.00 / 2)
(And a link that doesn't seem to work for me!)

But, in a word, yes I do worry.  In a muddled, highly imperfect world, one can never avoid the fact that one's best intentions will not be enough to ensure against effects that one does not intend, indeed, that one may well abhor.  That's why I much prefer literature that deals intelligently with that reality, from ancient Greek tragedy up to Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. There are no ready-made answers from this literature, but there are lots of hints, and a modicum of solace in knowing that you're not alone in facing impossible dilemmas.

And so, somehow, you wake up again the next morning, and start thinking about a different angle of attack.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Thanks For The Response (0.00 / 0)
     I have always found good literature to give me solace.  I wish people read it.  lol
    Anyway, it's an article by Joe Conason on what he see as the repeat of the Clinton witch hunts.  This time, the enemies have more power he argues; whereas, hopefully the Obama Administration and Democratic Party do engage in some needless shenanigans.http://www.salon.com/opinion/conason/2009/10/05/clinton_obama/index.html  It's titled the Right Wing Conspiracy Is Back.


[ Parent ]
As a NJ resident, (0.00 / 0)
I wonder who you work for, Jason.  I think it must be the DNC or the DLC.  Maybe the DCCC.  As a liberal, I would NEVER support Obama again, nor would I support an organized Democratic candidate who doesn't do the right thing by the People.  NJ Democrats are Syndicate-Organized SHILLS, no better than the Rethugs!

[ Parent ]

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