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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Period of Adjustment in the Netroots?

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:

Of course, I still read dKos, Sirota, Digby with pleasure and profit -- and it would be utter foolishness to forget the years and years during which they were often among the few places where anybody was talking any kind of sense -- but they really all do seem to me a bit off their game post-Obama compared to pre-Obama.

I think all of them are underestimating Obama's boldness and savvy (apparently, even after watching his masterly primary and general election campaigns and unprecedentedly authoritative transition) as well as underestimating the indispensable value of progressives being critically supportive of rather than undercritically denunciatory about his admittedly imperfect but still progressive-enabling moves.

Please, if you can help it, don't confuse what I am saying for a recommendation that progressives should be uncritically enthusiastic of the actually centrist Obama.

There is a question of striking a balance between buoying up all this positive energy and hope and directing it to positive use, of appreciating the actual complexity and facility of Obama's moves in the service of practically possible progress, and the necessity of pressing a too centrist, too militarist, too corporatist (and sometimes, of course, just plain wrong on my view) Obama from the left to the benefit of all.

Judging that balance is a thing people of intelligence and good will can differ on. But as I said, a lot of my favorite Netroots people -- from Atrios to Open Left have sometimes felt to me, for the first time almost ever in any kind of consistent way, simply a bit off tone and off point in their reactions to Obama's moves.

The last time I felt this way about progressive discourse was when people I respected were telling me there is no difference that makes a difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush. I saw the point then, too, of course. I am hardly insensible to the charge that both parties have long been too beholden to corporate-militarism. But recognizing that, you then determine whether your resistance is revolutionary or reformist, and opting for the latter you throw aside your narcissism and easy perfectionism and take up some ugly compromised sausage-making.

If I may go out on a limb here, I believe that Obama essentially replaced the Democratic Party with his own organization after he prevailed over the incumbency represented by the Clinton machine largely without anybody noticing it (Clinton at State is the consummation of this move, complete assimilation), I believe that Obama is currently creating a more congenial alternate GOP for post-Movement Republicans to move into in much the same way and that his bipartisanship is far from the usual capitulation but an effort to marginalize the better to consume Nixonian/Reaganite Republicanism to spit it out as an Eisenhower Republicanism he can work with (and probably has more sympathy with than, say, I would), and now I also believe that Obama is attempting to re-invent the Middle East conflict rather than getting tangled up in the usual heartbreaking intractable construction of it. I mean, this is all oversimplification, but I just keep getting the feeling that the people who usually talk the most sense on politics in my view are rather missing the scope and boldness and promise and risk of Obama's characteristic politics.

You really do have to go back to FDR to find anything like this kind of near-revolutionary reformism, this progressive-enabling pragmatism -- and, no, FDR wouldn't do the same things FDR did then now if he were really FDR, either.


Ryan McReynolds said...

It's interesting. I read most of the same people you're talking about (particularly the Open Left crew), and what you are seeing as perhaps too vigorous criticism of Obama's centrism I see as precisely the sort of pressing the actually centrist Obama from the left you speak of. I think one can pretty easily see why he has done the things he's done, and even to say they were the "right" things to do, while simultaneously keeping an ever-present reminder that they aren't living up to his progressive reputation. I am fairly sure that this is the case with Sirota et al., and it is always better to have the fringe (if the netroots can really be described as radically leftist at all) pushing for the pipe dreams to make what Obama proposes seem reasonable and moderate to the right-wing nutters in comparison.

Dale Carrico said...

I don't think Obama has a progressive reputation that he is failing to live up to. That is part of the reason why he is progressive-enabling. I don't mind pushes from the left -- but I think they need to be smart, and they won't be smart until they grasp certain basic premises governing the way in which Obama's characteristic politics are going to be progressive-enabling in the first place.

Pushing him on the left where he is actually already left-enabling just seems pointlessly divisive to me when there are already plenty of divisive forces afoot to stymie progressive aspirations. One needs to push in a way that is enabling not disabling.

And I am especially confused by those who are forever alert to supposed betrayals of left principle or demonstrations of naivete or even signals of stealth right-wing approval in Obama's moves. I for one just don't see it.

I truly hate that Larry Summers has Obama's ear, and I truly fear and abhor Obama's apparent eagerness to get deeper into an immoral and catastrophic quagmire in Afghanistan (if I am assessing that policy correctly -- I wonder if I am tho'), I am not proposing that Obama is Love's Young Dream, but the fact is that Obama is flabbergastingly flipping scripts decades' old (some centuries old), and pushback needs to be much more attuned to the consequences.

Obama isn't Bush -- Republican shenanigans needed Bush to work, polls are overwhelmingly favorable to Obama -- progressives need to ride that tide not dampen it. Obama isn't prosecuting Bush -- but he's laying the groundwork for Congress to. Obama isn't investing in rail over roads -- that comes later, feasability studies make it longer term. Obama ended the global gag order. Obama reversed the US refusal to back international criminalization of homosexuality (did you notice?). Obama's first call was to the Palestinian authority (as impossible and unprecedented as a Black President in its own way). Obama is allowing Republicans to publicly commit suicide clinging to a discredited unpopular ideology, thus assuring he retains capital for the next round of progressive bills as for this one (notice how everything is actually sailing through?). People, people, get a handle on this stuff. You've gotta flip with the script even if you want to make poetry out of it.

Marc said...

Dale, I hope you are right. But there is such a thing as putting someone on too high a pedestal, don't you think?

Simply assuming from the outset that Obama is a complete and utter genius who, in the big picture, is about to double-, triple-, quadruple-cross the movement conservatives and drive them into (well deserved) oblivion - well, I simply don't have that much trust or confidence in ANYONE, not even Obama, especially after the nightmare that we just went through.

I suspect many of the big netroots names you mentioned feel something along those lines. It's VERY hard not to be completely paranoid over every suspicious utterance by the likes of Summers or Geithner etc...
After all the damage that has already been done I consider it quite rational to adamantly oppose every single policy that only so much as smells of accomodation and "bipartisanship" with the lunatics in Republican party.

But again, I hope you are right.

Dale Carrico said...

Simply assuming from the outset that Obama is a complete and utter genius

Am I, though?

It's VERY hard not to be completely paranoid

I think it's just sensible not to be completely paranoid.

After all the damage that has already been done

Obama is not Bush. Obama is not Clinton. He just isn't. This is not to say he's a messiah, but he isn't what he would have to be to justify the paranoia beyond a certain point.

I consider it quite rational to adamantly oppose every single policy that only so much as smells of accomodation and "bipartisanship" with the lunatics in Republican party.

The Republicans exist. America, while never the center-right country the Villagers and Movement Conservatives painted it as is center-left, which is still right of where I am. These facts have to be taken into account. Politics is not morals, in politics we contingently reconcile a diversity of stakeholders with whom we share the world, in morals we identify with kin and dis-identify with outsiders to yield belonging. Both are necessary, but they are different.

The weird thing is that I don't think I am a particularly hopeful person. I honestly seem to see what Obama is doing differently than many of the people with whom I normally feel very much kindred politically. I think Obama is using "bipartisanship" to shift that discourse back to the center-left where America has always been, rather than as capitulation to right wingnuts. I think he is punking Republican ideologues into suicidal self-marginalization. I think he is setting up facilitative structures for many of the very things the left is bemoaning as his failures and compromises (prosecutions of torture and spying, universal healthcare, renewable economy, progressive taxation).

I don't think this makes him a genius at all, actually. He just seems to be sensible to me.

Maybe that feels like genius given the neoliberal epoch, but it really isn't.

Anonymous said...

an effort to marginalize the better to consume Nixonian/Reaganite Republicanism to spit it out as an Eisenhower Republicanism he can work with (and probably has more sympathy with than, say, I would)

I think we would all benefit from you telling us what you think Eisenhower Republicanism is.

I don't think this makes him a genius at all, actually. He just seems to be sensible to me. Maybe that feels like genius given the neoliberal epoch, but it really isn't.

No one is disputing that it is sensible. The point that Marc is making is that your defense of Obama gives the impression that you think some of us are simply too dumb to understand Obama's Master Plan to Remake America which we seem to have accept on faith that this is what he is actually trying to do...

Dale Carrico said...

No one is disputing that it is sensible.

I strongly disagree. I think many are indeed disputing that Obama is being sensible.

I think many (are pretending to?) believe that Obama would be surprised that the House vote on the stimulus would contain 0 Republican votes, for example, when I doubt he was at all. I certainly wasn't, and I'm no genius. I think that Movement Republicanism is hanging itself in plain view and that Obama is handing them the noose, I think the Democrats will get the stimulus anyway, I think everything he is presumably horrendously giving up is either symbolic or soon to reappear in supplementals. This isn't faith so much as observable fact as far as I can see.

I don't need to posit a secret Master Plan to applaud Obama's moves (obviously not unqualifiedly, but, yes, substantially) up to now, and I haven't done. I am saying that Obama's actually visible decisions have been incomparably more progressive-enabling than one would expect given the charges of compromise, betrayal, naivete, and so on I am hearing from people I otherwise read with profit and pleasure.

I didn't say anybody was dumb at all, I expressed surprise at how different Obama's moves looked to me compared to other takes I normally respect a lot -- in fact I pointed out that intelligent people of good will could disagree with me about the most balanced way to push Obama from the left -- so don't make me change my mind by saying dumb things now.

As for Ike: Eisenhower famously and properly thought that market fundamentalism of the kind that fuels contemporary Movement Republicanism was stupid. Obviously he was right to want to helm a conservatism that accepted the New Deal and its Middle Class as part of the fabric of modern America he would "conserve." I am not insensible to the racism of that New Deal and its Middle Class, by the way. Certainly, none of this means I would have voted for him if that's the next imbecility you'll attribute to me. Yes, I know he was instrumental in the horrendous overthrow of Mossadegh and inappropriately adding "Under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance and didn't denounce the appalling Joe McCarthy. I would have voted for Adlai Stevenson. But an Eisenhower Republicanism is more sensible than the hysterical patriarchal racism of the post-Goldwaterian Right of Nixonian/Reaganist/Bushie Movement conservatism.