Thursday, December 10, 2009

Obama: Best President Ever

Glenn Greenwald has an interesting post up on Salon comparing Obama admirers the relentless defenders of George Bush and Sarah Palin. He writes...

Those who venerated Bush because he was a morally upright and strong evangelical-warrior-family man and revere Palin as a common-sense Christian hockey mom are similar in kind to those whose reaction to Obama is dominated by their view of him as an inspiring, kind, sophisticated, soothing and mature intellectual.
I view Obama as an inspiring, kind, sophisticated, soothing and mature intellectual. He's also a great president. I am inclined to rise to his defense against critics to his left and right. There are several Bush-era policies that appalled me at the time of their introduction. Because I trust him, I am willing to grant Obama lot a latitude to continue those same polices. I'm stunned by the rationalizations of Bush and Palin defenders, but I fit Greenwald's profile of a pie-eyed Obama fanboy rather closely.

Is there something wrong with that?

Before I defend myself, allow me to dig this hole deeper. Not only do I consider Obama, who is not even through his first year in office, to be a great president -- I hear-by anoint him with the title of Best President I Have Seen And Am Likely To Ever See In My Lifetime.

Overblown? Blinded? Bombastic? Consider the competition. These are the human beings that have in my lifetime ascended to become President of United States -- I'll even thrown in the near-presidents: Carter. Regan. Mondale. Bush. Dukakis. Clinton. Dole. Bush. Gore. Kerry. McCain. Obama's virtues stack up well. A president who is an inspiring, kind, sophisticated, soothing and mature intellectual is very rare bird. We have the good fortune to have one at at time when we really need one. Why not be grateful? Why not admire him? Isn't that something to be cherished and defended?

Criticism of Obama from the right is certainly voluminous but it has such an incoherent kitchen-sink quality to it that I have a hard time taking any of it seriously. He's a socialist. He's a Nazi. He's a coward. He's a tyrant. He's hasn't done anything. He's trying to take over the country. He's too intellectual. He's an empty suit. He's a ruthless Chicago pol. He's naive and in way over his head. If there's a coherent right-wing critique of Obama I've yet to encounter it*. I always feel like telling these people to just turn off the Fox News. Pay attention to his actual words and the policies he proposes. Measure his actions against the principles you claim to have. These feelings of incoherent rage will pass.

The criticisms coming from the left are more pointed and, to my ears, better grounded in reality. The most frequent of these are that Obama is too centrist, too moderate, too conciliatory, doesn't know how to play political hardball, and that he's insufficiently aggressive in denouncing Republican chicanery. If these are flaws, they are flaws that I admire. Obama seems to be genuinely committed to forging consensus, exploring the options, prioritizing policies over politics. On issues from health care, to the economy, to Afghanistan, to climate control we see an administration that is patient but persistent. The president should set the national interest above the interests of the Democratic and Republican parties. If more politicians did this we would all be much better off.

Greenwald blasts Obama defenders saying...
These outbursts include everything other than arguments addressed to the only question that matters: are the criticisms that have been voiced about Obama valid? Has he appointed financial officials who have largely served the agenda of the Wall Street and industry interests that funded his campaign? Has he embraced many of the Bush/Cheney executive power and secrecy abuses which Democrats once railed against -- from state secrets to indefinite detention to renditions and military commissions? Has he actively sought to protect from accountability and disclosure a whole slew of Bush crimes? Did he secretly a negotiate a deal with the pharmaceutical industry after promising repeatedly that all negotiations over health care would take place out in the open, even on C-SPAN? Are the criticisms of his escalation of the war in Afghanistan valid, and are his arguments in its favor redolent of the ones George Bush made to "surge" in Iraq or Lyndon Johnson made to escalate in Vietnam? Is Bob Herbert right when he condemned Obama's detention policies as un-American and tyrannical, and warned: "Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House"?
Greenwald is entitled to his questions and his criticisms. And the individual issues merit direct answers. I will decline to address all of them now, but hope to address these issues in future posts.

 Instead, I offer these general defenses:
  • In many of these cases Obama inherited huge problems for which there are no good solutions. The proposed policies are easy to criticize, but do you, the critic, have an alternate plan that you think is better? If you offer your own counter-proposal I may disagree with you. If you can't think of any other plan which you like better and you are prepared to offer and defend, then perhaps the criticism is unfounded.

  • Many critics point to some action (or some lack of action) as evidence of some glaring character flaw. Obama did (or didn't do) X, therefore he is weak/cowardly/craven/ unprincipled/incompetent. Often the case for the flaw following from the act is very weak. In such cases, it us not unreasonable to rise and defense and point out the weakness of the case and the absence of the flaw.

  • Some critics don't argue with a policy per se. Instead they argue that the policy seems or could be seen as an indication that Obama is cowardly/craven/ unprincipled/incompetent. Do you fault the policy? Do you feel the flaw is real? Everyone should support politicians that pursue sound policies especially when those policies are politically risky and subject to unprincipled demagoguery. Every policy can be seen as evidence that one is cowardly/craven/unprincipled/incompetent-- especially when there are so many partisans so bent on seeing them that way.

  • As President of the United States, Obama is responsible the efficient function of the entire federal government including and especially the vast national security apparatus. He has never been president before. In many cases he is pursuing his principles and campaign promises cautiously. He is moving at a pace that will not disrupt the function of, or his relationship with, those organizations that he needs and we need to rely on. But he is moving forward.

Everyone is entitled to express their opinion. And blind devotion to a politician is always unwise. Blind skepticism is also unwise. We live in a age of skepticism, criticism, and ironic detachment. We are not used to finding virtues in our leaders. We are unfamiliar with politicians worthy of defense. We are afflicted by fierce partisanship and vast political divides. We have a president willing to stand in the center, look at the big picture, and steer us towards real solutions. We should offer an honest critique. But when the president is doing something right, we should rise to his defense.

* For right-wing critique, there is this. Pretty thin gruel. Anyone got anything better?


  1. Well, golly, Swain, I can see this is going to be fairly difficult - but after our brief meeting on that other site, I thought I'd stop by and see what the 'challenge' was . . . formidable, to say the least.

    I'm hoping you're speaking somewhat 'tongue-in-cheek' here when you bestow "best President ever" on Mr. Obama. Usually, those titles are argued somewhat after their terms (if not their lives) expire. Personally, I think an argument could be made that there IS no such thing as "the greatest" US President -- Washington, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Reagan, Kennedy included. All had their strong points and all added to "the American fabric". But less-than-one-year of service in the White House is hardly enough time to measure.

    And Swain . . . . turn off FOX NEWS? OK - how 'bout the internet? You want me to sign a pact not to read articles or columns critical of Mr. Obama? That'll be tough, but I'll try - but you'll have to do likewise - no CNN, no MSNBC, no HuffPo, no Positive Press -- read nothing - know nothing - just make it up out of your own mind without any outside influences.

    See ya on the on the other site!

  2. Thanks, I think.

    'Best President Ever' is a bit of deliberate hyperbole. As much as I admire the man, it is possible historians will not consider Obama superior to Lincoln, or FDR (he's got a good shot at the others, but time will tell).

    Regarding Fox News: If you would seek to understand Obama, I would advise you to turn it off.

    For the purposes of arguing with me, feel free to seek enlightenment or ammunition wherever you please. If you're trying to convince me of something, I'll warn you that citing Fox News is more likely to damage your credibility than contribute to it.

  3. Lemme think here a moment (scratching head vigorously) . . . which one of us was it that brought up FOX in the first place? Oh, now I remember - it was you. And as far as my credibility, I just don't worry about that - like many others on these sites, I'm a wonder in my own mind.

    As far as seeking to 'understand' Obama, I don't. On the other hand, I don't hate the guy, and certainly haven't made any judgements on the ranking of his presidency - like some folks on the right AND left have. I think he's made some glaring mistakes so far, and I think he's done some things right. I see him as very much a work-in-progress.

    Finally and alas, I want to address your (the Left's) unreasonable fear/hatred for FOX NEWS - not because it's wrongly criticized for a conservative bias, but because (1) there's the suggestion that FOX is the source of all criticism, (2)Obama shouldn't be criticized, and (3) if FOX went away, there would be no more critical voices. Now, I try to listen to 1 hour on FOX a day - the 6:00 (ET) news hour; it's as good an analysis as you'll hear anywhere else. Most of the rest of FOX's broadcasting I can take or leave, and don't watch much. HOWEVER, I also find criticism - SERIOUS criticism of Obama in the Wall Street Journal, in the British Press, from various columnists in various papers - George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Camille Paglia, Peggy Noonen, etc., etc. I ask you again . . . . should all these people be avoided, too?

  4. Mr. Swain,
    At another site, I said your above post would be addressed.
    After reading the above several times, it seems there is little political substance within the article; but appears more an evaluation of Obama's person. I will not argue for or against personal perceptions of a man.
    While I rarely watch Fox News, your declaration concerning credibility seems to imply that you only accept,as credible, those opinions or presentations that are in agreement with your own.
    I prefer to find opportunity to expand one's/my own horizons; over spending time attempting to marginalize another's considered opinion.
    Good fortune to you sir.
    Have a great day
    Thom Paine

  5. Yeah - what HE said!

    Good to see you again, Thom Paine -- seems I have to look all over the internet to catch up with you.

    da Mule