Progressive Forces Push Hard to Keep Dems Accountable
A great majority of Americans approve of President Obama's early performance in office, but some of his staunchest supporters on the left are criticizing his troop surge proposal for Afghanistan and the withdrawal plan for Iraq that he's set to announce today at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
On Thursday, liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald -- whose anti-McCain viral videos helped shape the campaign narrative in Obama's favor -- released the first of a series of documentary online videos that urge Americans to rethink Afghanistan and has called for congressional hearings on the surge. Historian-activist Howard Zinn, a liberal eminence grise, called Obama's plan to send 17,000 additional troops there "disastrous."
Obama is expected to announce a 19-month withdrawal Iraq plan today that would leave behind as many as 50,000 of the 142,000 troops currently there, even after August 2010. On the campaign trail, Obama promised that troops would be out of Iraq in 16 months, but compromised after his military commanders suggested a 23-month timetable.
Rethinking Iraq troops
Soon after Obama's Iraq plan leaked, he began getting objections from the left. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday she didn't see any justification for 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq. Usually supportive MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow said this week that Obama's plan "looks very much more like a Bush plan than it did like a Barack Obama-the-campaigner plan."
They are the latest to emerge from the liberal group hug that has embraced Obama since he secured the Democratic nomination last year to now criticize him. While the president has long expressed a desire to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq while bolstering forces in Afghanistan, liberal critics are challenging a president who encourages debate on every issue.
"I don't expect to agree with my wife on everything let alone with the president of the United States," Greenwald said Thursday. Noting that many major social movements -- like those supporting women and civil rights -- sprang up outside the political establishment, he said: "It is critical to build a movement that is not part of the Democratic Party."
Others are poking at Obama's military budget, released Thursday. As a candidate, he called for revising military priorities, but his budget proposal includes a $534 billion request for the Pentagon -- or $20 billion more than Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2009, said Miriam Pemberton, a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank.
If the administration is planning to pull troops out of Iraq, "then what are we spending that money on?" asked Pemberton, who specializes in military affairs. "We're here to loyally support the administration and keep (Obama) honest and pointed in a direction where we think his heart wants to go."
Pelosi doubts Iraq numbers
Pelosi questioned what the 50,000 troops would be doing in Iraq, telling MSNBC that a little more than a third, 15,000 or 20,000, would be sufficient.
Two-thirds of respondents to a Washington Post/ABC News survey released Thursday support Obama's proposed Afghanistan troop surge. Sixty percent said the costs of the Iraq war have outweighed its benefits.
With Democrats holding the White House and Congress, "for now, the more important battle is between Obama's own progressive vision of big bold change versus the D.C. establishment (including many Democrats, some of whom work for the president) and conventional wisdom," Mike Lux, author of "The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be," wrote Thursday on OpenLeft, a liberal blog. "President Obama, you should ignore the voices of the D.C. conventional wisdom and follow your vision of big, bold change."
Liberals can't define themselves, as Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald wrote, by "whatever Obama supports."
"If you succeed in muting all your critics to the left, all you do is create a situation where your program is defined in the press and the Congress and the public imagination as the most-leftwing-possible proposal," wrote Matt Yglesias, who blogs for the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress. "And the furthest-left proposal can't possibly win."
Holding Dems accountable
On Thursday, a group of prominent liberal bloggers including Glenn Greenwald -- and backed by MoveOn.org and Service Employees International Union -- announced they had formed a political action committee, Accountability Now, that would challenge congressional Democrats who are "more responsive to corporate America than to their constituents," according to its new executive director, Jeff Hauser.
But they're not going after Obama. Yet.
"Accountability Now is focused on Congress, which obviously has a role to play in authorizing and funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," Hauser said. "We are waiting to see whether or not a divide develops between the public and Congress on the wars -- at this time, we do not yet have an opinion with respect to Obama's plans."