Thursday, December 10, 2009I realized this morning that I've become an outright critic of the Obama Administration, which perhaps explains why I'm been blogging more lately. It's easier to have something to write about when you're pissed off, I suppose.
I supported Obama in the primaries, but if you recall I became deeply frustrated with him following his vote on FISA. Civil liberties and the rule of law are profoundly important to me (they should be important to everyone, but sadly aren't), but beyond the specifics Obama's vote on that issue signaled an unwillingness to take chances for the sake of important principles. Obama's behavior on Afghanistan, financial regulations, health care, the environment, and any number of other areas has only confirmed that old suspicion - that Obama is excessively risk-adverse, and will always bargain with existing institutional forces rather than challenge them.
Let's take health care reform, the preeminent issue of the day. There are a lot of bloggers whom I respect - Klein, Yglesias, Kleiman, and even Bowers - who think that the Senate health care reform bill is worth supporting even in its present, highly attenuated form. Their calculation - and it's a reasonable one I suppose - is that even an incremental advance is an improvement over the status quo, and a failure would not lead to a stronger bill in the future but a weaker one. They are predicting that this will be a first step that will open the way to further reforms in the future. But what I fear is that a mangled health care bill will discredit reform as its every failure will be heaped on the head of liberals who foolishly championed such weak tea. What if the mandate is enforced while costs continue to rise, health care benefits are delayed, and future conservative congresses slash subsidies? The result will be a massive tax on the working class, a tax that will be laid at the doorstep of Democrats. This strikes me as least as likely as the scenario in which we pursue another round of reforms in five years.
Similarly, there are those like James Vega who argue that outright opposition to the escalation in Afghanistan will only marginalize liberals and strengthen the hand of the hawks. But what is the alternative? To blindly support a policy one opposes and bear responsibility for it? It seems strange to argue that someone should feign support for something one doesn't support and expect that it will shift the balance towards one's position. Wouldn't it just shift the entire debate away from what one believes?
And this I suppose is where I break ranks with my fellow liberals. I do not trust Obama's judgment, because I have seen little reason for doing so thus far. At every stage in his young presidency, when he has been given a choice between doing what is easy and doing what is right, he has done the former. If this is because he doesn't agree with liberals on all of these issues - if he thinks that we are in the wrong on domestic and foreign policy, then he is no liberal. If on the other hand he does agree with us at least a large measure of the time, but does not believe that our positions are feasible, then I respectfully disagree with his analysis and would condemn him for excessive caution. If there was ever a time to pursue progressive aims, if we have ever been proved demonstrably right, that time is now. I'm realistic enough to accept that we cannot attack every problem, but thus far liberals have gotten precious little in return for our political efforts. If we can get nothing now, when will we ever get anything? How can we be optimistic about reforms in the future if large majorities in both houses nets us so little in the way of tangible benefits?
So no, I do not believe that this is the best we can get. I am not thankful for the few crumbs we've been permitted, or for the limp legislative posture of the administration. Trusting in Obama's good intentions has gotten us precisely nothing, so perhaps liberals should consider forthright opposition when we oppose.