It's Time to Get Obama-Skeptical

Shakers, I've had all I can stands and I can't stands no more. If I see one more person on the internet acting like Obama is some kind of progressive dream candidate, I'm gonna lose it.

Obama is not a fucking progressive.

Now, before you say it, Hillary is not a fucking progressive, either. Clearly. That's not my point, and it never has been when I've written in support of her. Today, I am not here to discuss Obama v. Hillary--I'm here to discuss Obama the myth v. Obama the man.

The man is not a fucking progressive.

I got up this morning and immediately started writing this post, which has been percolating for a while, and when I checked my Google reader on a break, I discovered that Jeralyn at Talk Left apparently woke up with much the same idea. So I'll let her start this off:
Obama seems to tell us over and over that he'll talk the talk but we shouldn't expect him to walk the walk because It may not be worth the political capital. How does that differ from politics as usual? How is that change?
Exactly. Too many times, when asked about progressive issues, he's said he just doesn't think that's the best place to put his energies--and even more gallingly, that the activists working tirelessly on these issues are going about it all wrong.

Take what he said yesterday about anti-choice Democrats supporting him:
"It may be that those who have opposed abortion get a sense that I'm listening to them and respect their position even though where we finally come down may be different," he told reporters at a news conference.

"The mistake that pro-choice forces have sometimes made in the past, and this is a generalization so it has not always been the case, has been to not acknowledge the wrenching moral issues involved in it," he said.

"Most Americans recognize that what we want to do is avoid, or help people avoid, having to make this difficult choice. That nobody is pro-abortion, abortion is never a good thing."
Hey, guess what, dude. Progressives? Do not respect the anti-choice position.

This isn't a "Hey, we just see things differently!" thing. This is a "Hey, we believe in a woman's right to bodily autonomy, and they don't" thing. Also? Pro-choice "forces" have consistently acknowledged the "wrenching moral issues" that any individual woman with an unplanned pregnancy might face, but we don't acknowledge the question of whether that should be her choice as a wrenching moral issue, because it's not. It's a fucking no-brainer. And finally, those anti-choice voters you're reaching out to? They do not want to help women "avoid having to make this difficult choice." If they did, they'd support comprehensive sex ed, accessible birth control, and emergency contraception wholeheartedly.

Oh come on, Kate! You're nit-picking! The important thing is that he's pro-choice and he'll stand firm on that!

Yeah. Except in 2005, Obama was planning to vote to confirm John Roberts as Chief Justice, because he "expressed admiration for Roberts's intellect" and said that "if he were president he wouldn't want his judicial nominees opposed simply on ideological grounds." His chief of staff, Pete Rouse, had to point out to him that voting for Roberts might just come back to bite him in the ass if he ran for president.
"Pete's very good at looking around the corners of decisions and playing out the implications of them," Obama said an interview when asked about that discussion. "He's been around long enough that he can recognize problems and pitfalls a lot quicker than others can."
Yeah, wow, that Rouse really has some amazing political insight! I mean, who else could have figured out that voting to confirm Roberts might be a bad idea for an ostensibly liberal, pro-choice Democrat with presidential aspirations? It's not like Obama had a crystal ball, people!

You want to know what upsets me most about that article? I mean besides him not wanting to oppose judicial nominees on "ideological grounds"? What bothers me most is that you don't have to go digging to find it; it's on his own fucking website. (Though I found it via The Ghost of Dr. Violet Socks.) The man does not even have the good sense to be embarrassed by the first four paragraphs of that article; by his own admission that without outside help, he couldn't recognize the pitfalls of voting to confirm Roberts; or by the strong implication that he only voted no so it wouldn't haunt him in a presidential run, not because he actually opposed Roberts.

Why on earth should I believe that this man is going to stand up for his supposed pro-choice beliefs in any way that will actually be meaningful to me as an American woman? He's courting the votes of anti-choice people--what happens when they put pressure on him? If both pro-choice and anti-choice voters help him get elected, whom does he tell to piss off when it comes down to it? And it will come down to it in the form of Supreme Court nominees for the next president--why the hell should any pro-choice person vote for a man who couldn't figure out all on his own that Roberts should not be Chief Justice?

Obama is not a fucking progressive.

And I'm only getting warmed up. Let's talk about that Advocate interview.

Portly Dyke already brilliantly handled the "He wasn't proselytizing all the time" line, but that was hardly the only thing that bothered me about the interview. Take, for instance, this bit (which Jeralyn also noticed):
I'm the product of a mixed marriage that would have been illegal in 12 states when I was born. That doesn't mean that had I been an adviser to Dr. King back then, I would have told him to lead with repealing an antimiscegenation law, because it just might not have been the best strategy in terms of moving broader equality forward.

That's a decision that the LGBT community has to make. That's not a decision for me to make.
Okay, first, there were actually anti-miscegenation laws on the books in 18 21 (and this is why I shouldn't quibble) states when Obama was born, but that's a quibble. The important thing there is the part I bolded--which I actually missed the first time I read the article. He's not talking about what he would have done as an adviser to Kennedy or Johnson, the presidents in office between his birth and Loving v. Virginia. He's saying he would not have advised a civil rights leader to lead with interracial marriage, "because it just might not have been the best strategy."

Yeah, problem is, it's not the '60s, and you're not advising Dr. King. It's the 21st century, and gay Americans and their allies have already made it clear that marriage equality is important to us. That horse is out of the freakin' barn, and yet, when a gay publication asks you, "[I]sn't that what you're asking same-sex couples to do by favoring civil unions over marriage -- to wait their turn?" your answer is, No, I'm not asking same-sex couples to wait their turn, I'm just saying gay marriage isn't the issue they should be focused on.

Hey, thanks for the tip, pal.

And wait, it gets better.
Advocate: Is it fair for the LGBT community to ask for leadership? In 1963, President Kennedy made civil rights a moral issue for the country.

Obama: But he didn’t overturn antimiscegenation. Right?
No. He got shot a few months later. Instead, the Supreme Court overturned it in the remaining 16 states 4 years later, 3 years after the Civil Rights Act Kennedy introduced was passed. But I'm sure political leadership had jack shit to do with that. It had nothing to do with Kennedy saying:
We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.

The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.
When Obama is ready to make a similar speech with regard to gay Americans, to call on all citizens to examine their consciences about our treatment of gay Americans, to make homophobia a moral issue for the country, then maybe I'll give him a pass on thinking marriage rights can be back-burnered for a bit. In the meantime, he can fuck right off with that answer, seriously. But he didn't push through marriage equality laws! Why should I have to?

Are you kidding me?

And that's without even getting into McClurkin and Meeks.

Jeff, I swear I expected to find a post by Melissa when my search on McClurkin returned the title "In Which Barack Obama Loses My Vote for Good," so I'm sorry to do this to you, but as it happens, you put it very well back in October:
Barack, I can understand the sort of brutal political calculation that leads a staffer to suggest that throwing gays under the bus may help you win more votes. And sadly, in some places, maybe it will. But the Republican party was dead wrong to throw blacks under the bus in the 1970s, and they're beginning to reap what they sowed now. We cannot, we must not abandon our full and vocal support for the right of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transmen and transwomen to be full and equal participants in our society. That's a bigger issue than any campaign, and a more important fundamental calling than any single race. In short, a candidate for the Democratic endorsement should be willing to lose before they abandon a commitment to equality.
Sing it with me, kids: Obama is not a fucking progressive.

Progressives do not praise Reagan and Bush, or argue that religious politicians can't be expected to leave their beliefs at the door just because of that whole separation of church and state thing. Progressives do not believe Bush hasn't quite met the standard of "grave, intentional breaches to presidential authority." Progressives don't talk about solving the "Social Security crisis"--prior to his kidnapping, even Josh Marshall believed that. And hell, prior to that statement, Obama believed that.) Progressives do not praise gay men who do them the kindness of not "proselytizing." Progressives do not ally themselves with vicious homophobes. Progressives do not support an immigration plan sponsored by John McCain, which does not include benefits or amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Progressives do not make it a high priority to demonstrate respect for people who do not believe in women's bodily autonomy. Progressives do not brag about their ability to attract Republican voters. Progressives do not baldly state that they are unwilling to spend political capital on progressive issues.

Are we clear on this now? Obama is not a fucking progressive.

So what, Kate? There is no progressive candidate, and he's better than Hillary!

You're right about the first part, and we can agree to disagree about the second. But here's so what.

A lack of progressivism is not the only pattern in everything I've described above. There is also a pattern of unbelievable fucking tone-deafness from a man who's constantly praised for his oratory. He is either deliberately using right wing framing when he talks about gay marriage, abortion, and Social Security, or he doesn't realize he's doing it, and either way, it should be a huge red flag. His "typical white person" comment didn't bother me on its face--he's not wrong--but it bothered the hell out of me that he could be so careless with his words. That's one thing on the looooong list of shit that will be used against him in the general election. See also, yesterday's comments about small-town Pennsylvania voters:
So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
Sure, that's likely to soon blow over for now. But if he gets the nomination, that's going to be played over and over and over, until every working class white voter in America has it burned into their brain. Ditto everything Jeremiah Wright has ever said and every word Obama's ever said in praise of him. Right now, everybody's having fun talking about how Bill Clinton keeps saying dumbassed things that are torpedoing Hillary's campaign, but that's right now. When it comes to the general, I guarantee you we are all going to get sick to fucking death of hearing Michelle Obama say this is the first time she's ever been proud to be an American. Et fucking cetera. He and his surrogates have stepped in it a gazillion times--and that's without even getting into gaffes like his accidentally calling ethnic cleansing a positive thing--but they've almost never been rigorously called to account for it, because right now, the focus is on getting him the nomination. Once he's got it? All bets are fucking off.

Once again, pre-kidnapping Josh Marshall nailed it, back in January:
One observation stands out to me from this debate. Hillary can be relentless and like a sledgehammer delivering tendentious but probably effective attacks. But whatever you think of those attacks, Obama isn't very good at defending himself. And that's hard for me to ignore when thinking of him as a general election candidate.

In most of these cases -- such as the Reagan issue -- I think Obama's remarks have been unobjectionable but ambiguous and certainly susceptible to both misunderstanding and intentional misrepresentation. And if you're going to talk like that -- nuance, as we used to say -- be able to defend it when people play with your words. And I don't see it.
Emphasis mine. At this point, I can't even say "most of these cases," but in several of these cases, I don't necessarily think the intentions behind Obama's words were objectionable. Yet the words were.

His tone-deafness and his failure to defend himself well when attacked don't necessarily mean he's unelectable, but they mean he's got a major uphill battle coming up, and I am fucking stunned that so many of his supporters can't see this. Do people really think the media treatment he's getting now is going to remain when it's just him vs. Jesus McCain? Or are they truly blind to the multiple vulnerabilities of his own making, and how the media's been politely skirting them so far? Do they really believe the Republicans aren't knee-deep in oppo research they're just waiting to unleash as soon as there's a nominee?

Wait, what am I saying? People haven't even noticed that the man is not a fucking progressive. Why should they notice that he's about to go into battle short half a suit of armor?

But they must.

Listen up, blindly twitterpated Obama supporters (and here, I must insert a big, fat, blinking neon IF THE SHOE DOESN'T FIT, DON'T WEAR IT warning), I'm not even asking you to vote for Hillary if you've still got the chance. It's not my place to tell you what to do with your vote. But as a fellow Democrat--and hell, I'll even go so far as to say for the good of the party--here's what I'm asking you to do: WAKE THE FUCK UP.

You have almost succeeded in crowning Obama the nominee. Way to go. But that is just the beginning. And as far as building him up for the general goes, fawning over him and freaking when he's criticized is not helpful. You need to recognize that he is not the fucking messiah, that the media does not love him more than they love McCain, that you have not seen the tip of the goddamned iceberg when it comes to opponents trying to take him down--and neither has he. You need to recognize that he has a bad habit of saying things that come off badly to a whole lot of people, and you need to figure out some more effective counterattacks than, "But Hillary's got cooties!" You need to stop exhaling when some gaffe of his "blows over" and understand that nothing has blown over yet, because the GOP hate machine has not even fucking bothered with him yet.

And P.S., you might want to think about apologizing to the millions of people who voted for Hillary, whom you've ridiculed, insulted, and attacked time and again, as if the Democratic nomination automatically equals the presidency, and there would never come a time when you need our support. You also might want to tell your candidate to ask for our fucking votes instead of smugly assuming he's got them.

I can't speak for all of those voters, but I can tell you that one of the main reasons I voted for Clinton is that she has proven herself fantastically adept at fending off GOP hits for the past 15 years. Also, she can think on her feet, win debates, and speak extemporaneously without hemming and hawing or saying something asinine. She can't possibly have any skeletons left in her closet at this point, and even if they just make shit up, as they are wont to do, she knows how to defend herself. Obama hasn't had to learn, since defeating Alan Keyes only required "wrapping up the earthling vote," as someone memorably said back then (just not so memorably that I remember who it was), and right now, he's got the likes of Howard Dean, Donna Brazile, Nancy Pelosi, the entire mainstream media and 90% of the liberal blogosphere pulling for him, which might be enough to get the nomination but is not enough to win the general.

You want to keep telling me the primary is already over and Obama's got it in the bag? Great. Then get to thinking about the much more important fight ahead already. And here's a hint: the question is not just "How do we defeat McCain?" The question is also, "How do we sell Obama?" Quit getting so fucking butthurt every time a fellow Democrat suggests your candidate isn't perfect, and start asking yourself why they're saying that and how to argue against their points using Obama's actual merits instead of just hatred for his opponent.

If you hear nothing else I've said, listen the hell up right now: Not enough people hate McCain. Highlighting the many, many reasons to hate him is useful to a point, but the fact is, we have learned time and again that not enough people will come out to vote against an asshole Republican. And on top of that, not enough people understand that McCain is just as bad as Bush. The media has given and will continue to give them reasons to think McCain is a charming, heroic moderate. We can damage that image, but we're not gonna destroy it. The voters who aren't moved by Obama's airy promises of hope, unity, and change are gonna need actual, substantial reasons to vote for him, not just against McCain.

I am not asking anyone to give up their faith in Obama or their hope that he means what he says about change. Hell, I sincerely hope he means it and that he has the, ahem, political capital to actually make some changes. I am only asking that people who have been blindly cheering him on recognize the fight ahead and become, as Zuzu brilliantly put it, "Obama-skeptical." That's all I am--despite my obvious frustration, I am by no means anti-Obama. I am pro-Clinton and Obama-skeptical. (I am also, for the record, Clinton-skeptical. If you're not skeptical of the candidate you support, you're not doing your job as a citizen, as far as I'm concerned. Hence this post.)

Obama has feet of clay, just like every other politician in history. Quit trying to pretend he doesn't and start figuring out how to help reinforce them. Be realistic about who this candidate is, to whom he's beholden, and how much he can reasonably accomplish, so you don't end up under your bed sucking your thumb when the shit starts to fly.

Here, let me get you started on that journey toward reality: he's not a fucking progressive. Discuss.

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