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I think Obama summed up the reason why so many in the progressive blogosphere are having trouble with his administration in his Saturday video address this week.

I have always believed that it is better to talk than not to talk; that it is far more productive to reach over a divide than to shake your fist across it. This has been an alien notion in Washington for far too long, but we are seeing that the ways of Washington are beginning to change. For the calling of this moment is too loud and too urgent to ignore. Our success as a nation – the future of our children and grandchildren – depends upon our willingness to cast aside old arguments, overcome stubborn divisions, and march forward as one people and one nation.

Since its inception a few years ago, the role of the progressive blogosphere has been to "shake our fist across the divide." That was certainly what initially drew me to these kinds of conversations back in 2003/04. First of all, it helped us not feel so alone in our rage. And secondly, that's about all we could do. It was clear that Bush and Cheney weren't interested in anything we had to say. And Congress, even after the 2006 elections, wasn't paying much attention either.

Obama is right that shaking fists across the divide is what those in Washington have also done. Its been interesting to watch the Republicans as they sometimes have to work to position the divide so that they can continue to shout across it.

But one of the things I have questions about these days is "where exactly is the divide we should be shouting across?"

As many have noted over the last few weeks, the Republicans are in a death spiral and shaking fists at them seems to only give them a form of credibility that they wouldn't otherwise have.

So we are increasingly seeing folks develop the divide between themselves and Obama. From the standpoint of many of the issues we care about as progressives, that makes some sense. Obama has provided fodder for that in many instances, just as the Democrats in Congress have been doing since 2006.

The one thing that I'd like to challenge about all of that though, is that we all need to recognize that there is validity to the different roles that insiders like politicians and outsiders like bloggers play.

Obama, as President, is tasked with getting things done - not just espousing his ideals. If you want a look at his ideals, read the commencement speech he gave this week at Arizona State University. When it comes to actually getting things done, he not only has Congress to deal with, he has a huge entrenched system to challenge and move with him...not to mention years of sludge to clean up from the last administration.

I also think that Obama is looking for long-term lasting change - not short-term fixes. That not only means bringing the system along with him, it means doing so in a way that doesn't continue one of the biggest challenges to our constitutional democracy that was left as a legacy of Bush/Cheney...the unitary executive.

We have heard Obama state clearly on a few occasions that he prefers for change to come legislatively rather than from executive orders. He is well aware that executive orders can be altered in the future at the whim of the person in office. But changing legislation is a different matter.

And this week, NCrissieB wrote a very thought-provoking diary putting forth a theory about why Obama might be sending many of the executive privilege questions back to the courts for a ruling. If he simply negates them by executive order - the framework of a unitary executive is still in place for future administrations to exploit.

The only way to restore our constitutional system of checks and balances is if the other two branches of the government are empowered to weigh in on these issues and do their jobs. Its interesting to me that the framers of our constitution seem to have understood the value of partnership in a representative democracy in ways that we have sometimes forgotten.

As for us progressive bloggers, I think that its our job to hold on to our ideals and shout them from the rooftops- all while recognizing that its a different task altogether to get them implemented. For me, that means paying close attention to judicial nominees and working to get Congress to stand up and do their job. Shouting across the divide means restoring the system of checks and balances that are provided for in the separation of powers - not just focusing on a President who is but one of those branches.

Originally posted to NLinStPaul on Sun May 17, 2009 at 08:13 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  How 'bout a little (7+ / 0-) the unitary executive?????

  •  Then explain military tribunals. (6+ / 0-)

    If Obama wants to undo Bush's extrajudicial acts by kicking them back to the courts, why would he decide to continue the military tribunals?  That seems like a total contradiction.

    And one more thing.  This is a nice sentiment:

    Our success as a nation – the future of our children and grandchildren – depends upon our willingness to cast aside old arguments, overcome stubborn divisions, and march forward as one people and one nation.

    But prosecuting those who broke the law isn't about rehashing an old argument or stubborn division.  It is about restoring and upholding the Constitution.  And I, for one, resent the implications that seeking justice is somehow a partisan war best left in the past.  

    We must hold the criminals accountable.  Because otherwise, they will return.

    They tortured people to get false confessions to fraudulently justify our invading Iraq.

    by Kaili Joy Gray on Sun May 17, 2009 at 08:22:31 AM PDT

    •  I think its fair (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cotterperson, addisnana

      for many to disagree with the military tribunals. I certainly see your point.

      But in that instance, I think Obama was left with a "bad and worse" kind of decision. He can't detain folks indefinitely without trial, evidence against them can't be used because its tainted by torture, and a few of the people are too dangerous to simply release. I would suspect that some folks will disagree with that last one. But I also understand Obama's reasons for not discarding it completely.

      On prosecuting - that is clearly a separation of powers issue. Its up to Congress and the DOJ to investigate. Any overt move on that one by Obama would simply be in support of a unitary executive.

      •  Yes but... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NLinStPaul, addisnana

        While it is up to the DoJ and/or Congress to investigate and prosecute, Obama is using his megaphone to say that those who seek justice are somehow undermining the future.  He could leave it up to the DoJ and Congress and say nothing, but he is involving himself.  And not in a good way.

        As for the military tribunals, I know that all the "experts" insist that it's complicated, but I just don't see it that way.  Either we are a nation of laws, or we are not.  You can't create an extrajudicial system for dealing with certain people if you believe we are a nation of laws.  That may sound overly simplified, but as I said, to me, it's really not that complicated.

        They tortured people to get false confessions to fraudulently justify our invading Iraq.

        by Kaili Joy Gray on Sun May 17, 2009 at 08:37:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think if you look (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          at Obama's words, you'll hear him saying that he is going to look forward - which is his job. He has never done anything that I can see to impede Congress or DOJ in investigations.

          And yes, I see the whole Gitmo thing as very complicated. The whole matter of having to clean up after such a mess was made of things tends to get that way. Would you have him merely release all of the prisoners there?

          •  Regarding Gitmo... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NLinStPaul, addisnana

            I would say that the prisoners should be brought within the U.S. justice system.  Those who can be prosecuted (with legitimate evidence, not evidence coerced by torture) should be prosecuted.  Those who cannot be prosecuted should be set free in whatever country they came from.

            Does that mean some potentially dangerous people might be set free?  Yes.  Our system of justice is based upon the founders' belief that it was better to let a hundred criminals go free than to imprison a single innocent person.  Yes, it means taking a risk, but that is how our system works.  

            As for Obama's rhetoric on prosecutions, I just don't like it.  I don't like language that paints those of us who seek justice as somehow partisan or unfair or holding grudges.  That's not what it's about.  As I said, if Obama wants to stay out of the way and let the DoJ and Congress do their job, he should say nothing.

            They tortured people to get false confessions to fraudulently justify our invading Iraq.

            by Kaili Joy Gray on Sun May 17, 2009 at 08:52:36 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  As I said before, (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I think your argument about Gitmo has merit. Just as I can see the other side. I'm just glad I'm not the one in the position of having to make that call!!!!

              You might notice that on the other issue - I'm addressing investigations rather than prosecutions. And from what I see - there is one (Senate Armed Services Committee) that has concluded, and others in the Senate Intelligence and DOJ that are underway as we speak. Finally, I suspect that Pelosi will likely get another one underway soon - if for no other reason than to try to save herself.

              So if investigations is what you'd like to see, I'm not sure why you're focusing on Obama so much about that.

              •  I think you're misunderstanding me. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                It's not about prosecutions versus investigations.  It's about accountability, in whatever form it takes.  And Obama is using rhetoric that accuses those who seek accountability of somehow wrongly dwelling on the past.  And that is where I have a problem.  It undermines and discredits a very legitimate argument for not letting bygones be bygones, for not going the Gerald Ford route, for not sweeping it under the rug and pretending it didn't happen.

                They tortured people to get false confessions to fraudulently justify our invading Iraq.

                by Kaili Joy Gray on Sun May 17, 2009 at 10:05:38 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  Yes, actually. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I done said this before, but these are broken people.  If one or two ends up as a figurehead in a movement which would exist with or without them, there is no great or additional harm.  Whether someone is brown and Afghani or white and American, torture eliminates the moral standing for trial.  

            If we were smart, we'd be offering them treatment in the US and some nominal parole.  Seriously.  By holding on to the idea of 200 or so torture survivors as some greater threat than, oh, the children of perhaps a million or so dead Iraqis or displaced Pakistanis, we contribute to and perpetuate the Bush era meme of people so bad that all is excused.  

            Realistically, if I go with the exercise of identifying with Obama for a moment...sure, I see where you are coming from.  It's a political cost he's not willing to pay.  OK, I'm not him.  Governing is all about expedience, and I do actually think as a person he's inclined to try for expedience which serves a greater good.  

            But yes, I think it is a terrible thing to keep these people imprisoned.  

            ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

            by jessical on Sun May 17, 2009 at 08:58:38 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Actually, (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              jessical, addisnana

              the administration is apparently preparing for exactly what you're suggesting in terms of a rehab program for an estimated 100 of the prisoners involved.

              •  That's good to read... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                ..I don't go with the general "Obama sucks" theme.  I suspect as an individual he has a very good idea of what is right, and has no few people around him who do, as well.  The reactions to my "holy crap, just let them go and pay for some help!" position, by folks are putatively left wing, tell me all I need to know about what the administration is up against, politically.  

                If you get busted for, oh, murdering your best friend, and the police beat you and inject you with dog cysts, chances are you aren't going to get convicted.  The fact people keep saying "we must try them in US courts" is like, uh...what?  Its like the actions of the United States, no matter how henious, are invisible compared to the general badness of these people.  That, actually, strikes me as a sort of opprotunity for education...regardless of folk's first reaction.  At least a chance to chip at the layered exceptionalism and absurdity of the thing.

                ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

                by jessical on Sun May 17, 2009 at 09:31:20 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  Agree completely about prosecution, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NLinStPaul, addisnana

      and Obama has been clear all along that it was up to the Justice Department. (Holy cow! Separation of powers!!)

      He also told us we wouldn't always agree with him, and that has proven true. However, there is quite a difference between BushCo's military tribunals and those announced by Obama.

      The rule changes will ensure that: First, statements that have been obtained from detainees using cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation methods will no longer be admitted as evidence at trial. Second, the use of hearsay will be limited, so that the burden will no longer be on the party who objects to hearsay to disprove its reliability. Third, the accused will have greater latitude in selecting their counsel. Fourth, basic protections will be provided for those who refuse to testify. And fifth, military commission judges may establish the jurisdiction of their own courts.

  •  The 'divide,' and reality... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There is a divide between conservatives and liberals, but government seems to have nothing to do with it.

    The divide is a conflict of how we percieve what's good for the country, and how we achieve a better nation.

    Yet, the reality of how Washington does what it does, has been a one sided thing for the last thirty years - it's all for the corporations. And this administration is no different. See any trillion dollar employment programs? The only trillion dollar programs, are going to people who are using it to further enrich themselves.

    The trillion dollar program to ease credit, has paid them to restrict credit, and charge more outrageous fees. It's not helping anybody but the greedy son's of bitches that created the mess.

  •  Can't we make a distinction... (5+ / 0-)

    ...between supporting Obama -- or an Obama like figure -- who works to reduce the harm and increase the benefit of American government....while remembering that the overall frame -- a thousand or so military bases, the highest military expenditure on earth, the highest prison population, wars and atrocities past counting, and the outright consumption of a quarter to a third of the world's resources -- requires another level of opposition entirely?

    I figure that having a vote in America means fielding and voting for the most progressive candidate out there.  Not going nuts means remembering that such a vote is not the revolution, and will hardly ever be such...

    ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

    by jessical on Sun May 17, 2009 at 08:40:50 AM PDT

    •  I totally agree (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jessical, addisnana

      with what you're saying. It seems that we've gone from outrage at Bush to outrage at Obama. Neither one of them is completely responsible for or able to make the kinds of changes that you describe. But I'll take the direction Obama is going any day over Bush!!!!!! And then keep working over the long run on the rest of it...just like always.

  •  I reached across (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the aisle to some valid points that
    republicans had made in the past
    and they bit my hand off. I am extremely
    partisian now.  Just as partisian as they ever
    were or hoped to be.

  •  I am torn (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NLinStPaul, jessical

    There are so many divides, not just past and future.
    I find myself returning to a Dag Hammerskjold quote which I'll paraphrase. He who wants to keep his garden tidy does not reserve a plot for weeds.I can reach across about which flowers one favors or which vegetables one prefers. I can't reach across to reserving a plot for weeds. Not investigating torture  is a big weed for me.

    •  Ahhhh, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jessical, addisnana

      but we are investigating torture.

      This is perhaps the biggest issue that has EVER rocked our nation. It is being investigated and we are learning more every day. And none of us knows what the outcome of it all will be.

    •  The right wing... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NLinStPaul, addisnana

      ...because of their particular psychology, manages to hang on to authority figures even when they turn to expediency.  Many of the same falling-out issues, but they keep a loyalty to the person, even when they don't round up all the queer folk and atheists and promptly ship them off.

      I don't think that loyalty makes much sense.    But we'd best remain aware of what our best options are, to spite our very real disappointments.  There are many weed gardens (not the fun kind) out there -- our wealth and priviledge are predicated on the impoverishment of others in innumerable ways.  I made the mistake of googling many of the torture techniques reported per domestic use.  If you were in charge of this empire, you would -- by default -- be in charge of many terrible things, here and abroad.  

      I'm not saying don't criticise.  Just vote for Obama next time, regardless :}

      ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

      by jessical on Sun May 17, 2009 at 10:55:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nice Thinking (0+ / 0-)

    I was wondering about that myself. I too live in St Paul by the way.

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