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Should Obama Be A Liberal Bush?

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Message Adam Bessie

Part II of Moving Off Bush St.

This morning, my fiancé and I strolled through the sunny streets of "The People's Republic of Berkeley", every other store window hawking a stylized Obama t-shirt, every other Volvo plastered with his slogans "HOPE" and "CHANGE."  Amidst the usual clipboarders petitioning for decidedly liberal causes, such as "Stopping the Israeli Occupation," and "Legalizing Marijuana," one young man yelled at us, across the busy Telegraph St. intersection, to help him "Keep Obama Accountable!"

Even in the Obama hotbed of Berkeley, I have little doubt that this clipboarder was able to fill a few pages with dissatisfied progressives who expected a revolution with Obama's win.  As Counter-Punch's Gary Leupp noted in a recent
article (which is well worth your read, for it's depth and clarity), the "liberal blogosphere's been seething in indignation for weeks," as Obama has alienated "the most serious, activist component of his political base."

And why have the progressives turned on Obama? According to Leupp, also a Professor of History at Tufts University and Adjunct Professor of Religion, the President-Elect's "staff and cabinet picks suggest a deep desire for acceptance by the existing power structure."  While Obama has created a "team of rivals," Leupp notes, this team "pointedly" excludes "antiwar liberal-progressive Democrats, to say nothing of genuine anti-imperialists."

The ardent anti-war progressives are looking for a liberal overthrow, a total ideological restructuring of the imperialistic foreign policy philosophies of Bush and the Neo-Cons.   They are looking for an ideological revolution, one carried out by an uncompromising liberal, steadfastly holding onto his values against the nefarious Neo-Cons.

In other words, some Progressives want Obama to be a liberal Bush.

Bush – and the Neo-Cons – mounted their own ideological revolution the last eight years, particularly in terms of foreign policy.  The terror of 9/11, as Noam Chomsky claims in his lengthy analysis of American foreign policy Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, provided the Bush Administration an opportunity to mount this revolution, in the form of the "National Security Strategy," by which the US "declared the right to resort to force to eliminate any perceived challenge to the US global hegemony," or dominance.  Uncompromisingly, Bush and the Neo-Cons implemented this philosophy of US global dominance, ignoring and even openly condemning national dissent and international law.

This bullheaded radicalism extended to the culture of our country itself. If you recall, the Dixie Chicks were essentially outcast by the "red states" for Anti-Bush comments.  In my own neighborhood, a neighbor left a series of outraged and angry messages at my parents' business because of their "NO US IN IRAQ" bumper sticker.

Should Obama fight for liberal values with the same revolutionary zeal? Should he use the power of the Presidency – and the democratic Senate – to brazenly fight against his ideological foes, as Bush did?   The answer, for many, is no: both McCain and Obama ran on platforms of "reaching across the aisle," and changing the partisan culture of Washington.

And despite the lack of ideological progressives on his staff, Obama appears to be delivering on this promise.  In this way, we see a change: that Obama isn't just surrounded by "Yes" men, as Bush was. 

But, by filling his cabinet with conservatives and moderates, has he demonstrated that he is really trying to be a "Bush-lite," as Leupp claims? Has he just "flip-flopped" on us, campaigning as a liberal, but really acting as a "centrist" President?

Has Obama crossed the line from compromise to complicity?

The gay community would say he crossed it with the choice of Rick Warren, who is ardently against gay marriage.  While Warren has claimed he wants to "bridge our differences," lawyer and writer Norm Kent points out the impossibility of this claim: Warren "brings to mind all those nice Southern politicians who were willing to let Negroes ride the bus in the 1960's, as long as they sat in the back."

By appeasing the evangelicals, Obama has alienated the gay community. But if he were to appeal to the gay community, so would he alienate the evangelicals.   The same was true for those fighting for civil rights in the 50s and 60s, and before them, the abolition of slavery.   Somebody, inevitably, will be unhappy.    And perhaps, some need to be unhappy, for the greater good.  As Kent also points out,  "I am not interested in appeasing evangelical Christians. I am interested in telling them to stop getting in our way." 

And by soliciting Warren for the inauguration, by appealing to the evangelical community, has Obama now implicitly supported their agenda? Is he now a bigot because he tolerates bigots?

The greater ethical question is much more difficult to answer: When should we compromise? When should we be like Bush, and push for our ideals without regard to others? When should we push for what we believe is right, even when everyone else believes us wrong? And when should we work together? 

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Adam Bessie is an assistant professor of English at Diablo Valley College, in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a co-wrote a chapter in the 2011 edition of Project Censored on metaphor and political language, and is a frequent contributor to (more...)
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