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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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Remarkably, though my piece inspired tremendous vitriol, none of what I laid out is in dispute. The only point of contention is whether these shifts just sort of happened, with the President as an innocent bystander or an ineffective actor, or whether he aided these shifts with his policy framework. If it is the former, then this President is guilty of gross incompetence and one wonders why he is worth defending. Moreover, one wonders why the President should be credited for policy victories like the resuscitation of the auto industry, or, if the Presidency is so ineffective an office, why it is so important to deny it to someone like Mitt Romney. Indeed, Obama defenders – and Obama himself – simply cannot dispute any of the facts above. Is it any wonder this is a close race? Romney may be a comically foolish liar, but Obama isn’t exactly Mr. Credibility.


Moreover, arguing that Obama’s policy framework didn’t contribute to serious problems is foolish, and disrespectful. Many advocates who support Obama, such as Bob Kuttner, Dean Baker, Damon Silvers, Charles Ferguson, Simon Johnson, and Elizabeth Warren, understand that policy is significant, which is why they worked so hard to encourage the President to choose a different policy course than the one he chose. And many people who worked on policy during this period, such as Neil Barofsky, Sheila Bair, and Jeff Connaughton, are perfectly willing to explain how Tim Geithner, Eric Holder, and Barack Obama executed the policies that produced the society I described above. They even wrote books about it, all of which are available from Amazon. You don’t even have to read if you don’t want to. Ferguson made a film called  Inside Job about the rampant criminality enabled by Barack Obama. It won an Academy Award.

Obama defenders for the most part simply do not address the core moral question in evaluating the role of any political leader, which is whether the lives of their constituents have improved during that leader’s term and whether society is more just. And the outcomes for Americans under Obama – a historically higher student debt burden, deleveraging of debt occurring only through defaults, larger banks than existed before the crisis, a crushing foreclosure crisis, higher inequality, and a falling median net income – suggest that for most, the answer is no. What people care about – whether their lives are better overall – is basically irrelevant in their calculus. As Kuttner  notes, this is the reason that Obama is in a very difficult reelection campaign against a comically weak opponent. The American people think he has done a bad job, because he has. And he has promised, many times, to cut more spending and cut entitlements – Social Security, Medicare, and/or Medicaid. This is what you are voting for when you vote for Barack Obama.

The Resistance Effect

What is gained by not supporting Obama for reelection? Simply put, there is power in resistance. Organized people that distrust and constrain their political leaders can have a significant impact on policymaking.

The President does not sit in the Oval Office and play a video game where he governs the country. The Presidency is constrained by the various checks and balances in our governance system, notably a partisan opposition and public opinion. Under Obama, that partisan opposition has been a right-wing Republican force buttressed by well-funded Tea Party activists. This has made it far easier for Obama to implement conservative policies. Under Mitt Romney, the Democrats will be far more likely to oppose Romney from the left, and the public will be much more likely, as it was under Bush, to mistrust its President and demand social justice.

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