Obama Losing the Left?
It's not just gun-toting rightwingers who distrust Obama. US progressives have lost faith in his commitment to change
Keith Olbermann had had enough.
Last Tuesday the liberal host of MSNBC's Countdown, perhaps the loudest Barack Obama cheerleader on cable news, singled out the Obama White House in his sarcastic Best Persons in the World segment for the "best impression of the Bush administration".
Obama's sin: hiring the Rendon Group, the beneficiary of Bush-administration largesse, to screen journalists seeking to be embedded with US military forces by picking over their past coverage.
"It gets worse," Olbermann continued, complaining that the Rendon Group had worked with Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile leader whose propaganda had helped pave the way for the American invasion. (The story was first reported by the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. The contract was terminated earlier this week.)
In this, the summer of Barack Obama's discontent, the president is generally portrayed as a victim of gun-toting rightwingers who bellow about death panels at healthcare forums, rascally members of Congress more interested in political gamesmanship than in the public good and his own inexperience and overreaching.
What's generally left out of the equation is growing discontent on among the leftwing netroots. Olbermann may not be a card-carrying member of the netroots, but he frequently gives voice to and reflects their views. Heck, he even has a diary on Daily Kos, the überblog of the left.
Among progressives, discontent has been building pretty much since inauguration day over issues ranging from civil liberties to torture prosecutions, from Obama's tepid support for gay and lesbian equality to his - well - tepid support for a government-run insurance option in the healthcare reform plan now stalled in Congress.
Glenn Greenwald, whose blog for Salon is among the most important stops for liberal activists, has been getting on Obama for months now. Greenwald wrote way back in February that the president had "resoundingly and disgracefully" failed his first civil liberties test by adopting the Bush administration's "state secrets" privilege in dealing with detainees who'd been subjected to extraordinary renditions.
More recently, Greenwald endorsed New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's view that Obama had lost the trust of progressives on issues such as terrorism, financial reform and, of course, healthcare.
At FireDogLake, Jane Hamsher, like many on the left, blames the president's chief of staff for the corporate, business-as-usual tilt of Obama's Washington. She writes that "the #1 goal of the guy calling the shots (Rahm Emanuel) was to keep all the stakeholders ... at the table and their chequebooks out of Republican coffers."
Here's Zachary Roth, writing for TPM Muckraker, part of the Talking Points Memo network: "It's looking more and more like Barack Obama's pledge to usher in a new era of openness in government may well go unfulfilled."
Here's Alex Blaze, writing for the Bilerico Project ("daily experiments in LGBTQ"): "[T]he angriest and most vocal sector of the people who generally voted Obama has been LGB people." Here's Danny Schechter, blogging about Obama's reappointment of Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve: "Why, Obama, why?"
Signing statements that assert a unilateral presidential power to rewrite laws. Indefinite detention without trial. A withdrawal from Iraq roughly in line with that proposed by President Bush - which is to say, an indefinite occupation army. A dramatic increase in spending on the war in Afghanistan without any clear statement of our objective there. Lots of money for bankers. At this rate, I won't be very surprised if the big push for healthcare reform winds up as the Bush prescription drug benefit 2.0: top dollar for healthcare corporations, happy talk for everyone else.
I'll grant you that it all seems a bit much. Not that Obama hasn't been a disappointment in some respects. Personally, I find his stiff-arming of civil liberties and gay rights to be particularly galling.
But though Obama may be the first liberal president since Lyndon Johnson, his liberalism is very much of the mainstream variety. His supporters on the left seem to forget that he originally stood out as an alternative to Hillary Clinton because he could appeal to Republicans - "Obamicans" - as well as Democrats. He ran to the right of Clinton on healthcare, and to the right of just about everyone in his tough-guy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In short, we did not elect Dennis Kucinich last November.
Obama's media image as a far-left liberal is based on several factors: the unprecedented measures he had to take in response to the financial crisis, measures from which he is already retreating; the extreme rhetoric ("socialist", "Nazi") of rightwing pundits such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck; and his status as the first African-American president, which for many folks automatically transforms him into, say, Malcolm X.
Not to make light of Obama's cautious approach - after all, what progressive wouldn't like to see him fight for same-sex marriage, transformative healthcare reform and a decisive end to the Bush-Cheney terror policies? But you would think that Team Obama by now would have figured out how to take advantage of discontent on the left.
By embracing netroots opposition, Obama could make the case that he is, in fact, a president who commands the broad middle of American politics, disliked as much by the left as the right.
As it stands, Obama's got the worst of all possible worlds. Ordinary Americans, fed a steady stream of foolishness by media outlets that parrot Republican talking points, believe Obama is a dangerous leftwinger who's spending the country into bankruptcy and plotting a government takeover of healthcare.
And the liberal activists who helped get him elected are sniping and sitting on their hands at a crucial moment in his presidency.
For Obama, August couldn't have ended soon enough. Back to you, Keith.
© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited