A friend of mine sent me a message citing this Alternet piece. She was concerned, wondering "is this really all we can hope for these days?" Here's most of my response:
I don't disagree with this point of view, as such. Sullivan and the Alternet folks have some really good points. Where I disagree, and what bothers me — and I don't know that I see this in the article — is the sense of despair that I hear from you, e.g., "is this really all we can hope for these days?" That denies the successes, and the significant ones at that; can you say "Iraq"? Health care? Sotomayor? Kagan?
One problem I have with the Alternet piece right off the bat, is where Saperstein (who, unlike Sullivan, is using "conservative" as a derogatory epithet) characterizes Sullivan: "…that Obama is not a liberal, let alone a socialist, and that, in fact, he has governed as a conservative. The fact that these two critiques are internally inconsistent…" (my emphasis). Those aren't facts, those are opinions. The nature of political punditry — and political campaigning — is to confuse them, to assert one's opinion as if it's an established fact.
The fundamental fallacy here, as I see it, is the argument about what label to put on Obama. I think trying to decide whether Obama is/has governed as a "progressive", "centrist", "conservative" or "neo-colonial Kenyan socialist" is not useful — not entirely meaningless, perhaps, but not useful. And that's because these kinds of labels are not measurable quantities, but terms of art. I think what Saperstein, and to a certain extent, Sullivan, is doing is looking for quasi-empirical data to "prove" a preconceived conclusion that he believes to be true. I call that political creationism. That's what they do. They see something they decide they don't like, and figure out some pretense to denounce it as "liberal". And call the denunciation a fact.
What has Obama done, vs. what has he promised? Perhaps you've seen this.
I think the Roosevelt analogy is apt. In particular, I'm reminded of that apocryphal story about someone going to Roosevelt about something or other, and him saying, "Go out there and make me do it." I think Obama has been as progressive as he could be, given the political circumstances, and the totally unprecedented obstruction by Senate Republicans via gross abuse of unanimous consent (the only reason that people like Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu and, ick, Lieberman have any power at all — or, for that matter, Collins and Snowe). That, which you've heard me harp on before, is so unprecedented that we (i.e., Congress) have been unable, so far, to make the necessary adjustment (which I think is pretty simple, lower the cloture threshold to 55 votes — I call it "lowering the pitcher's mound"). It takes awhile for the system to react to something that radical; it took awhile, after both the 1957 and 1964 filibusters (one by a Republican, one by a Democrat) against the Civil Rights Act, for the Senate to lower the threshold then, from two-thirds to 60 votes.
I also disagree with Saperstein's analysis of what happened in 2010. I think one of the big reasons that 2010 happened the way it did is that too many 2008 Obama supporters took the Saperstein attitude, and had such a tantrum that Obama didn't immediately produce Shangri-La, that they stayed home and sulked in November 2010. These are people who, when Palin said "How's that hopey-changey thing working out?", said to themselves, "yeah, y'know?" The "we didn't get it all, so therefore we didn't get anything" cohort. (Perhaps you've heard the line, "the perfect is the enemy of the good"?)
There's no realistic scenario of the past three years that would have satisfied Saperstein. Frankly, I think that's, um, inadequately sophisticated. I think it's not very different from Republicans who bitch that the economy didn't magically go into a boom starting January 21, 2009, when, in actual fact, we were already hemorrhaging jobs, and, in actual fact, the job situation started getting less bad by that April, got increasingly less bad over the next several months until there was actual job increase by the end of the year, and employment has been pretty much steadily increasing since. So, y'know, I'm disappointed that Obama didn't screw the bankers as much as Saperstein or I might like, but, really, c'mon.
I think people like Saperstein have not learned the lesson of 2000 and the Nader mistake. The "fact" that we were all working from then, that there was "no difference" between Republicans and Democrats, and Gore would be just as bad as Bush… Well, as Sarah might say, how'd that work out?
That's why I have little patience with that kind of bullshit. Because I remember the last twelve years.