Last night, President Obama delievered a sensational State of the Union address. Today – just like clockwork – I spent some of the day engaged in a pointless debate. This time though (and much to my surprise) the opposing viewpoint didn’t come from an Obama opponent. Instead, it came from a diehard supporter. The debate focused on Obama’s tendency to kowtow to the right. Using some parts of the speech as context, coupled with his administration’s recently reversed decision to include end-of-life counseling from the list of Medicare checkup rules, and the tax cut deal he made with Republicans, this once unmovable Obama supporter lashed out her frustration in watching Obama continuously caving in to the right wing. This supporter was at her wits end with Obama, echoing a very popular complaint from progressives about how Obama’s decision-making falls short of the agenda they expect. My response to her was simple: are you really shocked? I’ve said it before, I’ll say it a thousand more times: Barack Obama is NOT a progressive. At best, he’s a moderate.
Long since he became a viable candidate for President, Obama provided pretty clear signs of his moderate agenda. As he became a player during the Democratic primaries, some of his moderate positions were also brought to the forefront including his support for the widely-contest FISA bill. Once he was elected, it wasn’t long before he started appointingd numerous Clinton-era officials to positions within his own administration; included his hated rival, Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State. From there, he continued (or slightly modified) a number of policies first enacted by the Bush administration, policies directly polar to the agenda of progressives. For example:
- The Pres called for a troop surge in Afghanistan: This angered folks on the left, but recall that he never touted himself as an anti-war person. No. He was just anti-Iraq.
- He was a chief architect in the bank bailouts, a process that occured without natioalizing the financial sector
- He relinquished his support for a single payer health care system.
During his brief tenure in office, progressives have slowly began backing away from the President (though his support in the black community, at no surprise, is still pretty high). Meanwhile, the media have been suggesting that Obama is simply a pragmatist; adhering to practical approaches in order to solve problems. But both the media and progressives fail to even consider the possibility that Obama is nothing more than a moderate operating from as close to center as possible, not because of political expediency, but rather because the center represents the political space most aligned with his philosophies.
Truth be told, I don’t see any point in focusing at all on the right. No matter what Obama does, their “Party of No” mantra will forever keep him stuffed in the “Socialist, Nazi, foreign-born” package. But I will say this: it’s pretty odd to me that they continue trying to muster up scare tactics about how evil Obama is, despite the evidence suggesting Obama’s moderate tendencies. But I’ve had that conversation with folks ad nauseum. It’s getting tiring.
So – in focusing this post on the progressive folks of the world (of which, I’m a part as well), I have a few suggestions for them so they don’t feel as though they’ve wasted their time/vote/support on Obama. The need to face a simple and glaring reality. The person they once crowned Champion of All Things Progressive champion ain’t really that. Plain and simple. Still, I would advise them not to be so quick to dismiss his moderate agenda. As history recalls, some of this country’s most progressive acts (Lincoln and the abolition of slavery, Wilson and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, LBJ and the Civil Rights Act) have been credited (in part) to moderately-leaning Presidents. But even in the face of that reality, making everything about one President is very short-sighted and, frankly, historically inaccurate. Social change is, has been, and always will be the product of interconnected activism at the local, state and federal level. While we rely on elected leaders to draft, vote on, and enact legislation, WE can also take a stand though our mobilizing efforts.
Where I also think progressives have failed is when it comes to the fine art of putting aside self-centered political interests in favor of a collectively beneficial agenda. I saw the writing on the wall seemingly after the first week Obama was in office. Instead of recognizing the priority that HAD to come with improving the economy, repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and gay marriage were on the dockets of progressives. Sheesh. And while I do still give progressives credit for trying to promote agendas of fairness and equality (which, in turn DOES lead the country down a road of collective politics), putting the most socially radical and vastly excoriated agendas at the forefront was silly. Obama started his presidency doing that nonsense, but finally had an epiphany which eventually led him to going back to his moderate roots; where he SHOULD’VE been in the first place!
In short, progressives need to realize that Obama’s presidency ain’t about them. I understand how hard it is to accept that. I mean, even I declared on numerous occassions that I wish Obama would take the progressive bull by the horns and run wild on his conservative opponents. But I’m convinced that’s not how he rolls, nor will it ever be. He is a once-in-a-lifetime politician who I believe truly resides in the middle. But if progressives – in their zealous attempt to turn him into the leftist people have falsely made him out to be – can’t see what he’s doing with his moderate agenda, they may stand to lose out on celebrating one of the most free thinking politicians we’ve seen in a while.