by Jerome a Paris
Tue Aug 17th, 2010 at 04:12:44 AM EST
Originally posted on DailyKos, where it has been astonishingly well received and spawned a largely civil, if really big, thread
The debate on whether it is more appropriate to say that Obama has done a lot or that he has done too little regularly divides DailyKos, and I'd like to tackle it from a slightly different perspective, to say that this is not really about Obama, but about the views of the different groups about our civilisation.
I would like to propose that those who think that Obama has not done enough consider that the current system is profoundly failing, and that it is time for systemic changes, instead of the tinkering they see Obama doing, whereas those that tend to focus on what Obama has done think that the system is flawed, but mendable, and that Obama is doing just that, moving things back in the right direction.
And the fact is - we don't know yet what group is right, and we may not know for a few more years.
First, I think there is a number of things that most here agree with:
- Obama inherited a mess, and he has no responsibility in creating it. The financial meltdown, the economic recession, the budget crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were all created by the policies of the Bush years (or the policies run since the Reagan revolution, if you want to look at the bigger picture);
- he is facing a nastily partisan Republican party backed by a well-run and highly effective media / noise machine. They were bullies while in power, and they have adapted similarly shamelessly ugly behavior now that they are in opposition;
- Obama ran on "change" - including a change in the way politics were run in Washington - that included going back to listening to actual experts rather than hacks, and it also included trying to move away from partisanship and trying to reconcile opposing view points. He's done both of these
Now here's a list of the points where fundamental disagreement pop up:
- the bank bailout, however distasteful, was necessary to save the economy, and Obama was right to support it (alternatively: the bailout of the banks is the original sin of this administration: it has not solved anything and wasted massive amounts of money; the economy is still in the doldrums while bankers make even more money than before);
- the stimulus plan was unprecedented in its scope and content, and it worked to support the economy at the worst time, and things are now improving (the stimulus was far too small and the economy is now on the verge of collapsing again, the administration does not seem to care about the incredibly widespread and persistent unemployment) ;
- the troops are leaving Iraq; the fight in Afghanistan, while incredibly difficult, was and is the right thing to do because leaving would create new dangers (Iraq is still occupied, Afghanistan is a lost cause, draining massive resources which can ill be afforded, Guantanamo is still open );
- the healthcare bill is a massive improvement for many American families and sets in tone the principle that everybody has a right to healthcare coverage (it's a massive giveaway to insurance companies which will find their way around the new rules, meanwhile healthcare costs continue to increase);
- Obama did that, and a lot more (2 competent women in the Supreme Court and many more) despite the systematic and outright evil opposition of the Republicans at every step (Obama has failed to use the bully pulpit to push for his preferred options, choosing backroom negotiations with lobbies and giving up too much too early, and watering down policies for the sake of illusory bipartisanship);
Fundamentally, such contrasting opinions on the meaning of basic facts (which are themselves not really in dispute) can only be explained by profound differences on deeply held beliefs about where we are going.
Those who are happy about Obama consider that the what matters is that things are back in the right direction, and, while the departure point is far out and the current position not satisfactory in itself (thanks to all that was done under Bush), it is only a matter of time until things get back to normal. In that perspective, Obama will also be a transformative president, thanks to the foundations created by the healthcare bill, the Supreme Court nominations and the return to a competent, serious presidential behavior. Within the system, he is pushing things back in a progressive, more enlighened direction, which is exactly the (good) thing one can expect from a Democratic president, and he is doing it well.
Those who are disappointed by him are really worried that the crisis we are facing is more profound, and that he is not tackling the underlying causes. They despair of Obama's willingness to play within the existing mindset - whether economic, strategic or political. They consider that the economic crisis is not a (deeper than usual) run-of-the-mill recession which can be tackled by traditional instruments, but a sign of fundamental flaws in the way our economy is managed - or rather mismanaged and looted - by an out-of-control oligarchy; that the political context is one of total warfare by the Republicans rather than one of principled disagreements to be ironed out by negotiation; and that the climate change and resource constraints are systemic emergencies which require massive action today rather than the small steps taken so far by the Obama administration.
And the fact is, we don't know yet if the economy will move back to growth soon; we don't know for sure if the financial system is back on its feet or just zombie-like; we don't know how climate change will affect each of us and our civilisation even if we accept that change is on the way; we don't really see how we would do without oil ; and we don't really know how to move away from the financial optimisation logic which drive everything today - or let alone agree whether it is a good thing to do so.
But all of this suggests that we should discuss our future rather than trying to judge Obama - as that judgement depends a lot more on our vision for the future than on our assessment of what he has done.