Thoughts On Left Criticism of Obama

Thoughts  on Left criticism of Obama:

The Left press and blogosphere is rife with analyses on the mistakes of the Obama administration that allegedly 'caused' the Republican resurgence in the mid-term elections. But there is more profit in looking deeper.....

Thoughts  on Left criticism of Obama:

The Left press and blogosphere is rife with analyses on the mistakes of the Obama administration that allegedly 'caused' the Republican resurgence in the mid-term elections.  Chiefly Obama's stimulus effort is scored as half-hearted, less than half the amount needed using the most precise Keynesian calculations. And from the perspective of Hyman Minsky's Post-Keynesian followers, the absence of a strong employer of last resort strategy gravely threatens a country's ability to recover stability or sustainable growth from the chaos of a 'government-constrained great depression' (the more accurate term for this crisis than 'the great recession'). 

On the social safety net front, increasing the economic rights of the American people, Obama's (and Pelosi's and Harry Reid's, Chris Dodd's and Barney Frank's)  accomplished reforms in health care and finance are seen as compromised by excessive concessions to corporate interests. It has shocked some to discover, or re-discover, some of the basics of class politics in this era of giant transnational corporations. To  left and even most liberal thinking forces, the ideological arguments for universal health care and for more constrained and sustainable financial markets disciplined to more useful investment strategies seem unassailable, stronger than ever from an historical perspective. The uneven but nonetheless unmistakable worldwide advance of objective socialization processes in the global economy and national economies are strongly reflected in the ever increasing degree and sophistication of regulation in markets, and in the advancing sector of public and quasi public goods, including infrastructure, in advanced economies. More and more these processes have the tinge of inevitability, though we should have learned to be careful of such appearances. They are grounded in both technological and interconnected social evolution, especially the division and re-division of labor. Given the vast transformations in the class and occupational diversification since the 18th century dawn of capitalism, it's likely a longstanding idealist tendency on the left that seeks to reduce them by referring to capitalism as single system throughout, even though certain features certainly persist.  

The socialization tendency, for example, regardless how inevitable it may be, paradoxically makes corporations and the rich ever more dependent upon the public sector for essential services and infrastructure, and thus in proportion, ever more -- not less --  fierce in their efforts to manipulate and dominate public institutions   This is obviously an inherently corrupting process however and thus compels --- again, and not for the first time -- a no less fierce defense of democracy and democratic institutions. The expansion of democratic rights -- i.e. entitlements -- inherently challenges unjustified wealth inequality.  Yet some on the left draw a different conclusion, namely, that democratic struggle in all  state and public  institutions is a dead end, and the president's departure from the ideal an illustration of this, rather than simply a testimony to its difficulties, and importance.

In foreign policy, Obama's efforts to "draw down" wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been excoriated as false and dishonest and, indeed, simply a continuation of 20th Century imperial policies.

In most cases  critics decline to place the president's 'defects' in context of what is politically possible given the balance of forces in and between Congress, state legislatures and governors, the Supreme Court, and not least --  the armed forces and their institutions and vast economic clientele. "Out Now!", "Jobs Now", "nationalize the banks" are slogans that epitomize these tendencies. They prefer instead to measure his performance ideological standards. Even the most trenchant and credible critics of the president's 'compromises' -- such as Paul Krugman -- frequently preface their objections with "'s unknown if a better bill was politically feasible, but.....". The "but" usually includes the argument that its better to hold a more pure, but failed, position, than legislate a piece of sausage which most folks would prefer not to inspect too closely.

The problem with the hatred or disgust of sausage making is that all legislation, in fact all governing, is really like sausage making. The problem with primarily ideological objections to the president is that they are too often distractions from the harder mobilizing and organizing activity that's at the heart of the challenges to move the democratic restructuring agenda forward, and send its enemies to the dustbin of history. To expect any elected president to fall on his or her sword is, well, foolish.

More sober analysis, it seems to this writer, points out that the weaknesses in the stimulus response, the reforms, and the setbacks in the mid-term elections are, more than ever, calls to arms at the grass roots. Overcoming the corrupting forces of monopoly corporations and their owners on the political process needs exponentially more horsepower from the bottom up. The failure and nullification of existing democratic institutions, the spread of ungovernability, are the greatest threat posed by both the current assaults from the Right, the arrogance of the military, and especially the failure of existing institutions to effectively counter the economic crisis. It's an opportunity for the Left, broadly speaking, that has not presented itself since at least the Sixties, and perhaps even the Great Depression. But seizing the opportunity means a strategic re-focus on breaking out of its electoral and governing isolation, breaking out of the political sidelines.

Local power is the chief link the chain of tactics I think we need to grasp, to borrow Lenin's famous metaphor. It's not the only link, but the one most accessible to us given the organizational chaos on the Left. And the essence of the challenge in local electoral battles is how to galvanize, neighborhood by neighborhood, workplace by workplace, majority coalitions of workers, nationally and racially oppressed, women, youth, seniors, small business, democratically minded intellectuals and liberal corporate interests that expand the mandate of local government to take aggressive action on the immediate needs of the people, AND become much more foundations on which to force state-wide and, in turn, national institutions to turn back demagogic and corrupted attacks and address the key problems.

In some ways I am convinced that the organizational chaos is largely a product of our relative electoral isolation -- and thus isolation from the real vicissitudes of exercising working people's great power.

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  • I strongly agree that the focus has to be on mobilizing the grassroots, especially those sectors which voted for Obama and the Democrats in 2008 and stayed home in 2010: Youth, minorities, and low income workers. This, and organized labor, is where our focus should always be. If these sectors are not fully mobilized for action, the whole political discourse moves to the right, and we are thrown onto a defensive posture, as we are now. If they are mobilized, we can fight for things that go well beyond what the Democratic Party leadership finds convenient to stress. But we can not mobilize these marginalized sectors simply by exorting them to vote because the Republicans are so bad. They will move when they see we are fighting for specific improvements in their conditions.
    I do not agree that when the Republicans do something evil, it is because of their reactionary ideology and their connections to international monopoly capital, but when the Democrats do something evil, it is because objective conditions force them to do so or, in effect, that the Republican devils make them do it, so it's unfair for the left to criticize them.
    The Democratic Party is a very heterogeneous and heterodox big tent, in which many sectors have their own connections to international monopoly capital, and their own ideology which is certainly not leftist. For every Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee or Raul Grijalva, who would be on the left of any of the social democratic parties in Europe, there are Heath Schulers, Rahm Emmanuels and their ilk in the Blue Dog Coalition or the New Democrat group. And this is not all dictated by the political demographics of specific states and congressional districts. There are some districts that are just so ideologically backward that only right-wing Democrats could even hope to win an election there, but there are many others that contain un-mobilized population sectors--youth, minorities, low income workers, etc--which would vote in greater numbers for a Democrat who took more progressive positions than they would for a Blue Dog. The work has to be done at the grassroots level to determine what the situation is in any given district.
    Finally Democratic Party figures are not fragile and are not going to fall apart emotionally if they receive pressure from the left. But if they don't receive that pressure, they will only be receiving pressure from the right, and what will happen then?

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 12/05/2010 1:53pm (12 years ago)

  • Anytime a story spends more than half it's space simply setting up their belief about what the landscape is - as you did - i find they have no solutions and little to say.

    This is the case with your story.

    Your set up is incorrect.
    Your conclusions totally based on your false setup.
    Thus your conclusions are irrelevant to the reality

    The reality is (and notice my lack or setup) Obama is a conservative Republican who most in the Democratic party assumed would be a liberal. Once you recognize the fact he is a conservative republican no excuses need to be made for his actions. Furthermore his actions suddenly all fit the reality without a long falsifying setup or incredibily twisted and inconsistent varying logic about why he did each individual thing he did.

    This is the best test of a truth.

    It amazes me to hear masses of people say Republican politicians are smart enough to fool masses of naive Republican voters about what they really want to do when they get elected.

    Yet none of those same people are willing to accept the possibility that a Democrat presidential candidate could have done the same thing to them. People needto realize they elected a black Reagan.

    If they didn't know it before they surely should have figured it out when Obama proposed the equivalent of the Reagan pay freeze for Air Traffic Controllers. Except Obama out did Reagan by proposing freezing the pay of ALL federal employees.

    There could be no more distinctive and incorrect conservative republican solution to a depression/recession than the freezing of worker pay.


    Posted by vivzizi, 12/03/2010 1:18pm (12 years ago)

  • After a number of years as an IWW member and some hard study I have arrived at some conclusions. There is no redeming value to voting for this or that party. For me it was painful to watch Obama supporters gush forth in their messianic fervor about "change," "hope and change", and "Yes we can" etc. What exactly was to be changed? Everybody had their opinion but where we needed to hear concrete policy decisions it was strangly quiet. Or was it an acceptance of the lesser of two evils approach i.e., anyone but another republican?
    Unfortunitly, the game is set up and controlled by a socio/economic class that certainly doesn't represent me nor, I would guess, the vast majority of Americans. The game does however represent the Bush's, Gore's, Fortune 500 crowd to name just a few. I absolutly agree with the authors take on the importance of local situations. There we can make tangible and immediate difference whether its at a local work place or town meeting.

    Posted by , 12/03/2010 12:39pm (12 years ago)

  • I was just trying to make a point. Nowhere did I say that everyone in this country is fascist; although, a strong case can be made that the political climate of the U.S. and especially the policies of the Corporate State and its elite handlers can be considered fascist or something closely resembling fascism. Do a web search on "14 points of fascism" and you will see what I mean. Also, nowhere did I suggest that anyone should engage in violence.

    Posted by Joseph Waters, 12/01/2010 7:22pm (12 years ago)

  • @Ron I think @Joseph gave a recipe for suicide bombing politics.

    Posted by Lulu, 12/01/2010 4:09pm (12 years ago)

  • @Joseph Nice sloganeering, but not everybody is a fascist and not everything is about masculinist fight against fascism. Cut and dried politics like that are far too narrow in this political terrain.

    Posted by Ron P., 12/01/2010 4:05pm (12 years ago)

  • The democrats simply cannot give us (Leftists) what we want. For one thing, they don't want to. Why should they? And why would we want to compromise with scum like that? As a Spanish Republic general said during the Spanish Civil War: "You don't fight fascists because you might win, you fight fascists because they are fascists." Decide what your values are and stick to them. Don't be tempted to engage in Machiavellian machinations and become corrupted. There are many actions that can be taken to help create a revolutionary moment, but each individual has to decide how much risk they are willing to take on. Sometimes, simply to do no evil is enough.

    Posted by Joseph Waters, 12/01/2010 3:01pm (12 years ago)

  • @Lydia

    You've mentioned a long list of discontent with the Dems, which I don't dispute, but you say it boils down to thing: unemployment and taxes.

    What along the way caused you to be willing to drop the long list in favor of these two things. I'm not trying to be snide; I really want to know.

    My guess, off hand, is that you understand questions of tactics and winning what is possible in the midst of major contradictions – which I say are always with us unless your willing to abandon real politics altogether and pretend completely going off in an isolated direction is a meaningful choice.

    If the Dems do manage to overcome Republican filibusters on the taxes and unemployment issue, likely they will have to do so at the expense of some other really important issues, principled ones. So which ones currently pending in Congress are you willing to have them give up?

    This is the problem. When we talk about politics on the level of Congress, Presidents, legislation, laws, real public policy, some leftists don't want to get dirty – and that is why pure leftism and the so-called political parties (and kooky listservs) that advocate it will never have any real power, don't understand power, and don't understand politics. And that is their privilege.

    Posted by Joel Wendland, 12/01/2010 12:43pm (12 years ago)

  • @Joel Wendland

    Who said anything about "a more progressive agenda"? Depending on what that phrase really means, I might not even want that myself.

    I'm saying that the working class hasn't got its rightful place in what the author is proposing, and that his "liberal corporate interests" and intellectuals would, in reality, be running the regime.

    So, none for me.

    Posted by Trailer Trash, 12/01/2010 9:59am (12 years ago)

  • The idea that we are supposed to blindly support President Obama and the democratic Party NO MATTER WHAT THEY ACTUALLY DO has grown tiresome beyond endurance.

    After the 2008, the Democratic Party had EVERYTHING they had told us throughtout the Bush-Cheney years that they HAD to have in order to be effective on any issue: Democrats controlled Congress & had the White House. They also had DISASTERS that they could blame on the republcians from 2 failed wars, the housing foreclosures & jobs crisis. THE COUNTRY WAS MROE READY FOR A PROGRESSIVE DIRECTION THAN IT HAD BEEN IN 30 YEARS.

    What did they do? HALF nmeasures on stimulus, more giveaways to banks WITH NO STRINGS ATTACHED, the CONTINUATION of all Bush era polcies form the wars to expanding Spy State, Gitmo, OFFSHORE DRILLLING BAN LIFTED RIGHT BEFOER BP DISASTER;the list is ENDLESS.

    Yet, John case tells left critics to shut up and FORGET THESE FACTS. It's a variation on the theme we've gotten from Democratic Party hacks & creeps like rahm Emanuel: "It's better than nothing!" they shout at us.
    Or that prerrential favorite"Thikhow bad it would be under the Republicans!"

    Well, when Obama & the Dems CONTINUE the policies of Bush, it's hard to see hwo much worse it could be. (McCaines' SPOEECHES would be worse, I guess).

    RIGHT NOW we have a BRIGHTLINE MOMENT with the Democrats & Obama. There are 2 actions the dems MUST take or be revealed as NO DIFFERNT THAN REPUBLICANS:
    2.END THE BUSH TAX CUTS FOR TOP 2% (which would ADD $700B to deficit WITHOUT creating more jobs).

    If they fail in these 2 BASIC acts, I think that tells us that the Democratic Party is BANKRUPT in terms of representing working people & now represents CORPORATE OLIGARCHS. The D & the R will be UNDENIABLY interchangeable.

    Posted by Lydia Howell, 12/01/2010 9:45am (12 years ago)

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