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A proud member of the reality based commentosphere since 2000. You can find my two Eurocent mainly at liberal and centrist discussion threads, but also at some other surprising places. Also tweeting now, as user "graygoods".

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Close, but no cigar, Ms. Dowd!

In one of her better columns (which are seldom exceptions among her usual college girl style brouhaha), Maureen Dowd examines the ridge between the Obama/Dino/Big money wing of the Dems, and the progressives. While making some good points, her conclusion "He [Obama] needs to communicate more clearly" falls short, imho.

No, his communication is good enough, when he stoops to communicate at all, which he doesn't do often enough. Since he ran on a promise of more transparency, among many others, most of them unkept, he should do much ore in this regard. But he should stop to paint overly optimistic pictures, as he did during the campaign, when he is unwilling to really make a stand on those issues. Too much of his speeches seem to be based on what his writers think is popular, but not on Obama's actual convictions. With less grandstanding, and more honesty, his communication should be ok.

Unlike during the Bush reign, the the rhetorical abilities of the president aren't a problem this time. The problem is the huge discrepancy between the revolutionary call for change, the pledge to break up Washington's shady and undemocratic power structure, most importantly the role of the lobbys, and the total failure to deliver anything in this regard. There have not even been attempts to get the power back to the people! Instead, even in cases where polls showed a strong public support for liberal ideas like the public option, the administration caved in to the interests of big business, without even trying to fight that influence. Rahm Emanuel's shamelessly selling out of the healthcare reform to the insurers, in exchange for the corporations' conceding not to fight the reform with advertising and PR, is simply undefensible. No amount and quality of communication could put lipstick on that pig. The evidence that this "pragmatic" White House never intended to change the power structures, and instead prefers to simply play along the same old same old lines is much too strong.

So, the huge dissatisfaction of the left wingers with this administration was unavoidable. Team Obama went much too far with their campaign promises, which now turned out to be hollow words. And it's not that the progressives didn't do enough to support change, the attacks on center/right lawmakers who stood in the way of real reform show otherwise. But the left wingers made a futile stand, because "their" president not only didn't support them, but actually supported the reactionaries fighting for the status quo.

Still, Obama could have improved his standing with the "democratic wing of the Democratic party" if he pragmatically admitted that he at least had to deliver their pound of flesh to them for their support during his campaign. Even without going into the swamp of Congress, he could have given the progressives something to feel good about, by making executive decisions in their favor. Appointing liberals to administrative jobs, overhauling regulation agencies, prosecution of torturers, getting rid of "don't ask don't tell" by prohibiting the Pentagon to investigate such cases, there's so much he could have done. Alas, what he did instead was needlessly surrendering to right wing pressure on nominations (most shockingly in the Van Jones and Sherrod cases), dawdling in the reform of the agencies, covering up the Bush crimes, and dragging out the repeal of DADT. Even Bush knew he had to deliver something to the extremists of the GOP, but there's no sympathy for the left wing of his own party from this Dem president!

And that will inevitably backfire for Obama. After all, the progressives muster the highest share of activists. Without them, the going will become very hard in the November elections, and even more so in 2012. The outright antipathy of guys like Emanuel and Gibbs, and probably Obama himself, to large parts of their own party is not pragmatic, but delusional. The Dems need every vote, and the 2000 Nader debacle shows they actually can't take progressives for granted. There will be hell to pay if they ignore that lesson!

(Blog post based on a comment to Dowd's Column at the NYT)

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