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