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It's great that Ta-Nehisi Coates now has an occasional op-ed column at the Times. He's a great, thoughtful writer (especially when compared to the execrable Friedman, Brooks, Douthat and Dowd, and the merely silly Frank Bruni, Dowd wannabe). But his Obama and his Discontents column today is a flawed attempt to use turn on its head Obama's argument for compromise using the Emancipation Proclamation as an example.
Briefly, Obama made the point that, because the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in states in rebellion, it would have been excoriated by, e.g., the Huff Post (and of course, in diaries here) with headlines like "Lincoln sells out slaves." Coates' answers that the "Professional Left" of the 1860's (i.e., Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips) praised the Proclamation despite its obvious limitations. Therefore, argues Coates, Lincoln did not alienate the Huff Posters of its day.
Coates misses the obvious point that the focus could also easily be on a comparison between today's left and the abolitionists -- that Douglass and Phillips rationally saw that compromise was required, unlike today's firebaggers et al.
For example, the Health Care bill for the first time extends health care as a right, and insures millions of uninsured. It is not single payer and does not have a public option, but, like the Emancipation Proclamation, it is an historic step toward universal care. Under Coates' comparison, the Phillips's and Douglass's of today would applaud this measure, even if it doesn't free everyone from the "slavery" of private insurance.
Like LIncoln with the Proclamation Obama believes in the art of the possible. Unlike Lincoln, he is viciously attacked for this by the Phillips and Douglass of today.