Friday, August 13, 2010

More alike than you think

There's been much discussion about comments that President Obama's spokesman made about criticism that the administration has been getting from liberals. Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, spoke dismissively of the "professional left," saying, "They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That's not reality." Gibbs (photo from NY Times) also said that, “I hear these people saying [Obama is] like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested.”

I am only part of the amateur left. I have been critical of Barack Obama, who I voted for in both the primary and the general, on a wide range of issues. Gibbs comments are off the mark for a couple of reasons. First, they call to mind the story, possibly apocryphal, about FDR, who told liberal reformers at one point, "I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it." As a citizen, it's my duty, I believe, to say what I think; it's not my job to worry about how my criticism plays out politically.

More deeply, however, what Gibbs' little rant ignores is that those of us on the left understand the political realities and the national climate; we are not unaware of how these factors can limit a president's legislative agenda. I wanted the stimulus package to be more sweeping; I wanted health-care reform to be more bold; I wanted financial regulation to be tougher. Each of these bills was watered down in Congress. I wish the president had been more forceful and had pushed harder, but I understand the obstacles. I wanted to see immigration reform and an energy bill, but I understand that there was no appetite for either. With majorities in both houses and control of the White House, I hoped the Democrats would be more aggressive, but there were some victories.

Much more troubling than these issues, however, is this administration's failings on foreign policy, civil rights, government transparency and national security. blogger Glenn Greenwald does a commendable job keeping up with these issues, and to be honest my level of disappointment with Obama in these areas is through the roof. The US military is still in Iraq and Afghanistan, people are still being held in American military prisons without being charged and tried, way too much information is still kept secret and Americans are still being spied on by their government. On these and other similar issues Obama is indeed "like George Bush." And implying that those of us who are willing to speak the truth are chemically impaired is an insult and a disgrace.

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