Hang Ten, Dude

A month ago, after noting that I have not endorsed either of the two remaining Democratic candidates and that I plan and want to stand firmly behind either in the general election (all of which is still true), I confessed that Obama was stretching my faith to the breaking point: "I'm having a hard time getting past Obama's communication problem, and his (and his supporters') admonitions to trust him. Have faith; he knows what he's doing."

When I've gotten itchy about his supposed strategy to win the presidency by obliquely—and sometimes overtly—courting the right, I'm not only told to trust him, but also have been spoken to as though I'm an ignorant fool or an undeserving ingrate who can't appreciate the evident genius of pandering to the people who will least be inclined to support a progressive national agenda.

When I've wondered, as a result of, for example, Obama's vote to confirm Condi Rice as Secretary of State, his endorsement of Joe Lieberman, his support of McCain's immigration plan, or his opposition to impeachment, whether he's really progressive, I'm told to trust him—and that Hillary's done stupid shit, too, which, believe me, I know, but that doesn't actually tell me anything about Obama.

When my spidey-sense starts tingling at the use of framing that alienates progressives, of right-wing talking points, of the favorable invocation of ideological opponents despite assertions he doesn't like their policies, and of calls for reconciliation without balance, I'm told to trust him, and my concerns about his rhetoric's misalignment with liberalism dismissed as preposterous: But of course he's a liberal!

So why is he telling me that he isn't?

"Oh, he's liberal," he said. "He's liberal. Let me tell you something. There's nothing liberal about wanting to reduce money in politics that is common sense. There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure [our soldiers] are treated properly when they come home."

Continuing on his riff: "There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure that everybody has healthcare, but we are spending more on healthcare in this country than any other advanced country. We got more uninsured. There's nothing liberal about saying that doesn't make sense, and we should so something smarter with our health care system. Don't let them run that okie doke on you!"
MSNBC's FirstRead says Obama was "defending" the liberal label, which is clearly not what he was doing. [Hint: when someone says "A is not B" where B is considered something good (universal health care) then a reverse transitive principle takes hold (emotional, not logical) that says, "if A is not something good than A is something bad."] He was running from the liberal label just like Democrats have been doing for years, and—not to put too fine a point on it—just like they have been running from actual liberalism, too.

Frustratingly, Obama's statements aren't even accurate. While taking money out of politics, supporting the troops with more than bumperstickers, and universal healthcare might indeed be common sense ideas, they are also currently liberal ideas. "That's not liberal—that's common sense" undermines liberalism and undermines the credibility, integrity, and decency of liberals who have fought long and hard for these ideas while conservatives fought against them every step of the way—liberals who, by the way, aren't afraid to say they're liberals. And, as Chris Bowers (who supports Obama) points out: "When the good ideas behind liberalism, like universal health care, are denied from liberalism, what it really seems to do it make liberalism or progressivism some sort of fringe extreme where even universal health care isn't good enough health care. Rather than making liberalism mainstream, is denies liberals any credit for having good ideas, and pushes them further to the fringe."

What I find most disappointing about Obama's decision to distance himself from liberalism is the fact that he is better positioned than any Democrat in recent memory to reclaim that label by wearing it proudly. He's got an excited, passionate, invigorated movement behind him, including many young people who are just defining their adult politics, and he's the leading Democratic contender in an election year where the outgoing Republican president has abysmal approval ratings and the presumed Republican nominee is the consummate Beltway insider, a party hack who's trying to be more conservative rather than more moderate, and is old enough to be Obama's father. Conservatism is associated with corruption, cronyism, incompetence, and failure, its reputation torn to such tatters that conservatives have (hilariously) tried to rescue it by claiming that their Golden Boy Bush was never really a conservative.

Obama should be surfing a wave of liberal ascendance, but instead he's paddling away toward still waters. It's a profoundly disheartening missed opportunity for liberalism.

And for all the talk of transcendent unity, I feel more alienated from the Democrats than I ever have in my life.

[H/T Tom Watson.]

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