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What a Revolt of the Left Means

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By now nearly everyone who pays attention to these things understands that the fortunes of the Barack Obama administration are on the wane. The causes of the decline in confidence in President Obama are not just the pusillanimous approach to the Health Care Reform issue. There are many other moral and political failures of the administration that the Progressive Liberal wings of the Democratic Party are finding increasingly hard to swallow. Swallow we must for the next three (or somewhat fewer) years, but we will not be silent. Obama, Emanuel, Axelrod, and others of the inner circle understand this political fact of life. What they do not seem to understand is the attention span of the jilted. The White House is operating from the mistaken premise that the intellectual and moral left wing of the Party are effectively captives of the Obama presidency and that we will not drop support for Obama next time around. They are very, very wrong. We will drop him so fast that his graying head will spin.

George Lakoff took off on the failure of the White House to follow its campaign style into office. It is as if Obama (and Emanuel) believe that they are home free now they are in office, that their plan to enlarge the Party by sucking up to the middle will somehow expiate their debt to the Left for getting them into office in the first place. They are wrong, very wrong.

Paul Krugman, excoriated recently as a untrustworthy public intellectual by a person of little consequence, tells it truthfully when he says the Obama White House is steadily losing every battle we Progressives and Liberals have been fighting for and keeping faith with during the eight years of Republican locusts and so has lost significant support from the strong side of his own party. I hold with Krugman and Lakoff that the administration has substituted political daydreams for good solid Liberal policy.

Glenn Greenwald in Salon hones in on the prime perp (excepting Obama himself ... who must take full responsibility for the failures of this administration), Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel is ill-fitted to national politics by temperament and intelligence. He is, to be sure, smart enough to get elected to Congress from his locale in Chicago politics ... with all that entails ... and smart enough to be selected to be Chief of Staff in the White House, based (btw) on an undeserved reputation for success with the opposition, but he does not understand the larger picture of American politics and is completely unaware and frankly dismissive of the language and style one must use to carry a point and win the hearts and minds. His arrogant conduct of his office leaves department secretaries and other senior staff cringing at the next volley of f-bombs. I have said it before and will say it again now: Rahm Emanuel must go! He is a dead drag on Liberal Progressive ideals and reasonable hopes for this administration and the nation it is supposed to be serving!

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But, I must go back to Lakoff and the framing issue, which is for all practical purposes the nut that Obama seems to be unable to crack. The Liberal Progressives know that without a piece of the Health Care Reform devoted directly to scaling back costs by direct competition with the big insurers, the Health Care Reform idea is almost meaningless. They have been calling it "the public option" as if the idea of public would appeal to private citizens. Yes, it is to be a "public" (that is federal government run ... like Medicare) component of the reforms, but for individual people it sounds like public means not-private and socialistic. Duh! They should, as my friend in NYC who labored tirelessly for good health care in his state says, call it the "citizen's option or component." I favor component because such a new program would be integral and inseparable from any plan that is likely to draw down health care costs and improve health care delivery.

But, aside from the health care issues, the Obama administration is showing vivid and tragic signs of internal cowardice and moral weakness. There is no excuse for not pursuing criminal activities of the Bush administration. None whatsoever! You would not raise your children this way. Right and wrong are basic and essential to familial love. Those who tortured and who suborned torture must be brought to justice and not just because it is right, but also because our world-leadership depends on the respect that other nations have for us. We are sick to our stomachs that Obama has taken a different view. Likewise, his dealings with the Guantanamo internment facility and its residents is terrible. Following the Cheney line on these people is flat out criminal.

The problem of cowardice arises in the heart of Barack Obama himself. He, as Bromwich at Yale noted (and your attention was drawn to in my recent essay), really likes to assure himself of the "friendship" of powerful people. It is a nice situation if you can get it without selling out your ideals and those of your constituents. But, he defied our wishes and has taken us into a prolonged and useless war in Afghanistan because he does not want to have to worry about the military (and the military industrial complex) being against him. This is understandable, but it is wrong! Apparently, he has never heard of hammering swords into plowshares! Moreover, he has viewed General Petraeus as a likely contender in 2012 and has cannily (he thinks) put the esteemed general in harm's and trouble's way. This has Rahm written all over it ... partly because of the superficiality of the idea and partly because Rahm well understands the extra power that accrues to a "wartime" presidency. It is pathetically immoral reasoning and unworthy of Liberals Progressives and educated Americans of all stripes.

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Barack will not call for special prosecutors because he is both a political and moral coward. He is a block by block, family by family community organizer and, apparently, way out of his element in the White House. Community organizers deal with rampant prostitution on a piecemeal basis, looking for causes and alternatives. In national politics you might say that everyone becomes something of a prostitute ... or at least Congress appears that way most of the time. So, why doesn't Obama go to the hustings and tell it like it is: your Congressman or Congresswoman is a corporate whore and you need to get them "off the streets." But no, Obama is afraid. It comes with his training and his need for approval. It is pathetic.

As others have written, Barack Obama alternates ineffectively between presumption and pandering. He seems not to understand that his election was a chance to educate the American people into a way of seeing their country as a moral agency. Instead Obama seems to think we all understand and that we only need the wonkish details. This is a pathetic misreading of the election and an obtuseness about the Republican response to his inept leadership.

Lakoff and David Bromwich, who both so boldly called Obama's game for what it manifestly is, are probably wrong in one respect, probably because they so fervently hope the situation is remediable. I personally do not think that Obama has the courage to boot Emanuel or to take back the leadership he has so quickly given over to Washington "experts." I truly believe that the only way to get through to him is to get him out of there as fast as possible. If he thinks that there are no other alternatives to his vision of the American democracy or leadership in the Democratic Party, he should look around at the commentary and the personalities in the news these days. Howard Dean is looking more and more like someone who was innocently trashed by the corporate media, while Barack Obama is looking more and more like Keith Olbermann's man with suspenders and belt, but no pants!

Political leadership requires courage. Leaders do not spend their time finding the middle and coaxing the middle, they stand for something and are persuasive about how to attain the goals people agreed upon when they voted. Leaders are all but deaf to timid voices fearing change because it is different. Leaders do not travel in ruts. Leaders lead. Presidents are expected to do more than preside. Those who say they will effect change must stand up, stand out, and state the case and move the hearts and minds. People will respond to honest leadership.



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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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