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The Progressive/Obama Dilemma

By       Message Donald de Fano     Permalink
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In America today, given its pluralistic constituency, and its mutually held and often irreconcilable objectives, those who choose politics as a professional career have to be at least a little crazy.  They know that any clearly stated public position will alienate, and more probably infuriate significant voter blocks that they can ill afford to offend. This knowledge, coupled to a desire to remain in office, quickly morphs statements of principle into carefully crafted attempts at message control.  The essence of most political expression is this implied message: "Trust me, I'm on your side."- 


In the House, the constituencies are small, and likely to be homogenized, and the comfort level for a Representative can be quite high. Senators have more diverse constituencies, but the six-year contracts give them some insulation from the daily mood swings of their voters.   But the President cannot escape the diversity of his constituency, and however much he would strive to be all things to all people, it's not really possible.  Thus it's fair to say the political calculus Obama needs to exercise if he is to be around long enough to make a difference is considerable.  He has arrived at the "crazy"- part of his job, reconciling the objectives of his passionate and vocal progressive supporters with the more modest, less intensely stated views of the large number of Americans whose priorities do not include a 24/7 obsession with political thought and action.


His dilemma is also a dilemma for me, a progressive who supports him.  Early signals from his administration are not reassuring.  "No man is above the law,"- but let's not get too interested in potential lawbreakers in the previous administration. We have a bunch of people in Guantanamo whom nobody thinks are guilty of anything, but despite years of incarceration we are in no hurry to restore their humanity.  The incursions of the Bush administration moving toward a unitary executive override of other branches of government are not being denounced and reversed.  These are significant concerns to me, and I had hoped that Lawrence Tribe's celebrated student of Constitutional Law would agree.


But there is a reality check.  It is not hyperbole to recognize that the historic scope and severity of the massive problems facing the nation right now are unprecedented. An ideological response to the needs of people who are genuinely in non-ideological trouble, is both futile and heartless. We just had a Presidential election in which an irritable old man, with shallow skills, and calcified rhetoric lost to a dynamic young man with soaring rhetorical skills and an astonishing intellect.  Try to imagine the country today with, say, Phil Graam as Secretary of the Treasury.  I don't think America dodged a bullet; it was more like a cannon ball.


So, given that we are looking at a new President in the first few seconds of his administration, I will cut him some slack, maybe a lot of slack, but I'm a long way from giving him a pass.

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I am a retired boatbuilder with a fascination for political thought. Most of my life I cheerfully described myself as an "eastern establishment, knee jerk, liberal Democrat."

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