Early in the Obama administration, progressives liked to recount how, meeting with labor leaders, Franklin D. Roosevelt told them: “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.” And they indeed pushed FDR into taking stronger action against the Depression than his own inclinations might have led him. Progressives circa 2009 seemed to understand that politicians rarely do the right thing without being pressured to do so.
But with few exceptions, they have not made Obama “do it.” Much of the responsibility for the failures of his administration lies with progressives who have blunted their criticism, apparently out of the mistaken idea that they had to circle the wagons against assaults from the far right. Obama would be a much better president if he had heard from supporters that we didn’t elect him to approve indefinite detention, murder children with drones, violate the War Powers Resolution, put deregulators in charge of economic policy, and let four years go by without seriously confronting climate change. Instead, the message he gets is “We support you no matter what.”
A prime example of this is The Nation magazine. The liberal bastion has certainly featured criticism of Obama, but it is impossible to imagine a Republican administration doing some of the things Obama has done without receiving harsh, full-throated condemnation from the magazine instead of handwringing talk of “disappointment.”
It was with these thoughts in mind that I sent the following letter to The Nation in response to Deepak Bhargava’s Why Obama? in the October 22 issue:
An intellectually honest case can be made for supporting Barack Obama, but Deepak Bhargava abandons that path the moment he credits him with ending the war in Iraq. Obama strove mightily to secure Iraqi consent to a continued U.S. troop presence, but the deal was scuttled by WikiLeaks revelations that brought renewed attention to U.S. war crimes. Credit for the departure of American troops should go to WikiLeaks and the Iraqi people, not to Obama.
Other than a brief reference to the “war on terror,” Bhargava has nothing further to say about our use of force abroad. Nothing about drones; nothing about violating the War Powers Resolution in Libya; nothing about sanctions inflicting misery on innocent Iranians. Once, urged on by the voices of Martin Luther King and George McGovern, we understood that when the United States government commits injustice anywhere, it is our task to stop it. Now, it’s distressing to see many progressives making their peace with militarism and civil liberties abuses, as long as the victims comprise no significant voting bloc.