Kellia’s World – Recommended Reading

Challenging the assumptions we live by — Because I want to.

Obama Apologetics: From “lesser evil” to “Give the guy a chance.

Posted by kelliasworld on November 30, 2008

Jerry D. Rose – Editor, The Sun State Activist

During the presidential campaign, any complaints about the lack of a progressive focus in Barack Obama’s stances on public issues were deflected with the observation that those of the Republican ticket were so much worse, so that progressives were morally obligated to vote for the Democratic one as the “lesser of the two evils.”  The response to that argument was repeated by many commentators innumerable times: that if you continue to vote for the lesser evil election cycle after election cycle, you are going to be confronted every time with an “evil” choice, in a Dantean hell kind of perpetual misery.  To little avail did we make these arguments, as the voters trooped to the polls and those who needed to hold their noses as they voted for the Democratic ticket held their noses and participated in the glorious “historic victory” that is still being celebrated.

The other argument, being played in the background of the dominant lesser evil theme, was that Obama’s lack of expressed support for progressive positions was simply a strategic decision to avoid alienating the “center” of American political thinking, without whose support he had no chance of being elected.  In this view, what’s the use of voting for an ideological “purist” (like, say, a Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel) whose views were too “far out” to make them “electable?”  So Obama and later his team-mate Biden had to be shrewd enough to seem to be centrist in their views, when their “hearts” were with the left. So “give the guys a chance,” a chance to be elected after which their true progressive colors would be allowed to emerge.

After the election and in the current transition period, that secondary “give the guy a chance” motif has now blossomed into the favorite theme of Obama apologetics.  The main occasion for this change has been the fact that Obama has been busily filling his staff and cabinet appointments, some already made and some others still in the usual “float” stage of names being “prominently mentioned” for appointment to government posts.  There is very clearly a pattern in these announced and anticipated appointments that, as Jerome Grossman for example notes, have not included a single “liberal” amongst them. The announced and floated names are almost entirely “experienced” figures, mostly re-treads from the Clinton administration, with a token Bush holdover in the (still floated) re-appointment of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. Ideologically, the appointments focused on domestic policy have been overwhelmingly (maybe exclusively) from the camp of neo-liberal proponents of the Chicago school of economics; while foreign policy-oriented ones have been drawn from the decidedly hawkish figures of presidential administrations from Jimmy Carter to Bush II.  Since folks the likes of “Progressive for Obama” had promised during the campaign to hold Obama’s “feet to the fire” of progressive views, some of them have stoked up a bit of fire to criticize those nominations.

But not yet, apparently, are many Obama apologists ready to participate in the stoking of that fire.  “Give the guy a chance” now becomes their fall-back apologetic position. ”Wait til he’s in office and starts to make some decisions before you start your fire,” they say.  In politics as in marriage, aren’t people entitled to a “honeymoon” before they have to deal with the conflicts likely to pervade any country as any marriage?  We have yet to “celebrate” the historic victory with an historic inauguration on January 20.  Why be a wet blanket on the national euphoria during this transition period? There’ll be time enough for critique after we celebrate yet another “New Deal.”

Like the lesser evil theme, the “give the guy a chance” one has its own minor theme that is vital to supporting the melody.  This is the idea, promoted by Obama himself, who deflects any concern about the ideological character of his appointment choices by saying that these men and women are, after all, only advisers to him and that it is his “vision” as President that will determine his actions in that office: a variation of GW Bush’s definition of himself as the “decider.”  Obama says in effect: “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” pay attention only to what I, the Wizard of Oz, am telling you about my marvelous powers to grant the wishes of the heart to every supplicant.  Now I have a really hard time thinking of figures of the stature of Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton and Paul Volcker as simply “techno-crats” whose experience will allow them to carry out the dictates of their President.  If anything, Obama’s “vision” (or lack thereof) is being demonstrated with every one of his personal choices from Biden as running mate to the yet-to-be-announced ones of Gates and Clinton.  Perhaps the kool-aid imagery used to castigate Obama supporters for their lesser-evilism should be replaced, as attention turns to what Obama will actually do in office, to a different imagery of people somehow disposed to  the Wizard’s mandate which can be translated into modern vernacular as “what are you going to believe, what I tell you or your own lying eyes?”

Sure, I’m willing to “give the guy a chance,” a chance that is to respond to progressive expectations for his administration that are actually the expectations of most of the American people.  That expectation is not that he “rule from the center,” but that he rule from the consensus of the American people that Wall Street and the Pentagon should not be the all-determining institutions of our society.  If Obama appoints mostly bankers and military hawks to his administration, this tells me that his “vision” is really the vision of bankers and hawks, not the vision of the rest of us. I’ve been accused “cynicism” on internet comment strings for this sort of view, but I actually see these views as arising from a “hopelessly” idealistic tendency to think and speak as a “principled progressive.”


One Response to “Obama Apologetics: From “lesser evil” to “Give the guy a chance.”

  1. […] Read the rest of this superb post right here […]

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