There is quite a bit of buzz around the blogesphere lately with regard to whether or not Obama is really a progressive, really wants progressive policies to be realized and the like. There is Matt Taibi's article in Rolling Stone. Then there are Digby's comments. Matt Yglesias has a response, and Steve Bennen chimes in. There are also comments from a reader at TPM. And follow the links you can get more comments on the comments and so forth.
I haven't much to add to the discussion above on how accurate Matt Taibi's view is or how good Obama's progressive credentials are. But I do have two thoughts to add.
One is that this discussion, it seems to me, confuses two distinct points. If the question is whether or not Obama is truly a progressive and how righteous a progressive he is, I do not know. Should Obama be admired as a great progressive? I have no idea. Is Obama to blame for the difficulty in achieving progressive aims? Hard to tell. Those questions are very difficult to resolve and really are largely a matter of opinion. However, they are also, I believe, not all that important. If, on the other hand, we are interested in the best way to advance Progressive policies then Obama was certainly the best choice in the general election, and I hardly believe a poor choice for the Democratic party. If we are concerned about advancing Progressive policies then supporting Obama is our best choice. I would suggest also that Matt Yglesias's views on how we need to reshape Congress is the next place for progressives to act. At this point, whether or not Obama is as progressive as he promised (and he might well not be), the sticking point is Congress. The fact that we have been counting on Joe Lieberman as a Democrat is a far greater problem than Obama's lack of progressiveness.
The second point that comes to mind with these criticisms of Obama is that Progressives seem intent on continuing the strategy that has a) been pursued steadily for a half-century and b) been a total disaster. The progressive community backed away from supporting Johnson in 1968. They were then disillusioned by his involvement with and commitment to the Viet Nam war. Likewise they were only lukewarm about Humphry due to his connection to that war. They were determined to show the Democratic party that it needed to be true to its progressive ideals. Nixon won the election. The Democratic party responded with McGovern who was crushed. The Democrats did come back with Carter, who in tern failed to live up to our progressive ideals and who met with a liberal challenge from Kennedy. Liberals were unwilling to support a Democratic party that abandoned its progressive ideals. Reagan won the election. Another set of true Democratic progressives and another set of stunning defeats. Then the Democratic party got Clinton elected. Clinton of the DLC and triangulation also did not quite live up to our progressive ideals and so support for Gore was again lukewarm as many liberals were unhappy supporting a candidate that did not truly embrace liberalism. We got George W. Bush. Now, once again, the Democrats have elected a president who may not embrace our ideal. Do we abandon support of him and get, what, Sarah Palin for the love of God.
How clear does it have to be made that we would be better off supporting the candidates we have and use our position to push for yet more liberal candidates in the future. We are not going to transform the nation in a single year, or in a single President's term. We need to push for the liberal policies we can get from the political process we have and then push for more liberal policies in the future.
Another note, when people criticize Obama as a failure for progressives, is our love and support for various liberal and Democratic politicians of the past, now when such support is of no value. There has been an abundance of posts and comments lately, progressives calling for Obama to be more like Johnson. Johnson is well respected and admired now, though in 1968 when such admiration would have been some value to the advancement of Progressive causes, it was scarce to be found. Far more progressives today admire Jimmy Carter as the nation's greatest ex-President than could be induced to vote for him in 1980 when progressive causes might have been advanced by such respect. And, of course, Al Gore is now much admired by progressives who, including large numbers who stayed home, or who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. Could we not try, just this once, supporting our guy when such support will be of value.