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Why Is the Left Defending Obama?

The author's "Progressive case against Obama" stirred strong reactions. He takes on his critics.

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Mike Lofgren, a Republican staffer for 28 years who resigned in 2011 and now seems to think it’s his role to speak for Democrats, goes down this road. First, he argues Obama did not break his campaign promises, that “progressives are deceiving themselves if they think they have been deceived by Obama”. This is simply, baldly untrue. Obama broke many campaign promises. Here’s a  list. My favorite is Obama’s promise to renegotiate NAFTA. Obama was so cynical about this promise during his 2008 campaign that he sent his chief economist Austan Goolsbee to Canada during the campaign to  explain privately to Canadian elites he had no intention of following through on it. Obama lies, a lot, and he lies about important things that matter. Lofgren simply refuses to acknowledge this, because it’s easier to pretend it’s the fault of progressives for believing their lying eyes. His piece gets worse. Lofgren goes on to rebut the argument he implies critics made, that “the worse [the situation] the better”, or that critics wish to “heighten the contradictions”. He then said he “not yet seen” anyone make this argument “in print”. And that is because it is far easier to smear critics as nihilistic Leninists – a charge he admits is untrue even as he makes it – than address the fact that average household income is dropping and inequality is really high.

Finally, according to Lofgren, pointing out that Barack Obama has pursued a set of destructive policies means that one is a nihilist, and in that case, we should “stock up on canned food and ammunition.” Talk to people in Staten Island abandoned by Obama’s FEMA, and you’d find that at least the canned food bit is good advice. Doesn’t Lofgren realize that politics is not a game? That Obama’s failure to act on global warming is the ultimate act of irresponsible nihilism? Partisans may enjoy Mitt Romney’s corrupt denial of man-made global warming, but nature doesn’t distinguish between Obama’s cynical lack of action and Romney’s cynical denial of reality. We simply do not have time for this nonsense anymore.

An even more problematic argument came from Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine. Chait, in rhetoric reminiscent of Dow 36,000, argued that Barack Obama is a “ Great President. Yes, Great“, surpassing every President in gross positive accomplishment, with the possible exception of Lyndon Johnson. As proof, Chait cited a laundry list of minor policy shifts, as if the Presidency is about doing well on a series of homework assignments assigned by pundits and think tanks. He did not even acknowledge that median income has dropped, that millions have lost their homes with no policy response, and that the rich have captured a historically high proportion of income gains in the Obama era (93 cents of every dollar, versus 65 cents of every dollar under Bush).

Another argument came from Peter Coyote,  in Salon. Coyote’s argument is more effective than Chait’s, and more honest, in that he addresses the policy thrust of the Obama administration. He agrees that, yes, the trends described above are real, and that yes, Obama’s policies are partially to blame. But it is not Obama’s fault, he argues, because this is really the result of a long indoctrination campaign by the right launched after Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964. It’s the system. This is a common argument that draws its lineage from the beautifully told story by Rick Perlstein in his book on the Goldwater campaign, “Before the Storm”, and also, in Jeff Madrick’s work “The Age of Greed”. In these books, it’s a series of policy changes, media consolidation, and conservative organizing that led to the takeover of the country by conservative reactionaries. These trends were noticed at the time; political scientist Tom Ferguson wrote “Right Turn” in the 1980s, and Sidney Blumenthal’s “Rise of the Counter-establishment” also noted the influence of this network of conservative organizers, and the shift in the loyalties of the business elite.

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