Jacob Heilbrunn has a new essay up at the Huffington Post titled "Please, Cut Obama Some Slack." It is Exhibit A in hero mythology of the President, as well as a prime example of chastising anyone -- even progressives -- who would dare criticize any of Obama's policies.
A year ago, Barack Obama was a hero for Democrats. Now he's becoming a villain. Have the Democrats lost their minds?
The tenebrous story is recounted by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, who notes that some liberals are even starting to join forces with the tea party to decry Obama over the confirmation of Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. The decriers are also upset about Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, the administration's readiness to make concessions on health care, its failure to shutter Guantanamo, along with a host of other grievances.
Apparently, because some liberals have chosen not to regard President Obama as a "hero" and have begun to seriously question some of the policies of the Obama Administration, that qualifies Heilbrunn to assert that those same liberals have "lost their minds." Heilbrunn doesn't identify in his article who those allegedly insane Democrats are -- though for the record, Dana Milbank does, naming liberal voices such as Howard Dean, Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, MoveOn.org, John Conyers, and Alan Grayson as the progressives who are supposedly "joining forces with the tea party," to use Heilbrunn's language.
What's particularly sickening about Heilbrunn's essay isn't that he is registering disagreement with these Democrats and otherwise influential liberals, but the way he cavalierly and arrogantly dismisses them as though they have no credibility. In fact, he doesn't even discuss the merits of their criticisms, nor does he provide any substantive analysis of why their critiques of a particular Obama policy are wrong. He just sits back in his chair and labels them as "decriers" who have "lost their minds," as though any condemnation of Obama's policies is an unacceptable, unfair, deranged attack on the President.
The same pattern of sycophantic cheerleading and casual denunciations of any and all critics of the President's policies can be found in earlier articles by Heilbrunn.
March 23, 2009:
The chorus of criticism of President Obama's economic plan has been almost deafening, and it isn't coming from Republicans but Democrats. Sure, the Republicans are engaging in scare tactics about tens of trillions in deficits, but it's the liberal naysayers such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman who've been the real critics.
Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the liberal attack on the Obama administration is that it betrays a kind of pathological political death-wish among Democrats. When Ronald Reagan was trying to extricate America from recession in his first term, Republicans weren't denouncing him. Democrats, by contrast, seem to have no compunction about flaying their president a few months into his first term as courting failure. No doubt they depict it as concern for his success. But it remains astonishing that a variety of pundits and lawmakers continue to underestimate Obama, who is, by a wide margin, the most shrewd and thoughtful president America has had in decades.
August 24, 2009:
By the end of this year, Obama will be in a very strong position. Congress will pass a health care bill -- not a perfect one, to put it mildly, but it will be the first step toward creating comprehensive coverage. Obama will be able to claim it as a big win, as will congressional Democrats.
What about foreign policy? Obama will have greatly curtailed the American presence in Iraq. Within a year, it will also become clear whether his approach to Afghanistan -- upping the number of troops -- is working. In addition, Pakistan seems to be stabilizing. Both would count as big wins for Obama.
Despite all the caterwauling about Obama, then, he remains firmly on course to become one of the most important Democratic presidents in history.
And coming back to Heilbrunn's latest essay:
It's hard to imagine that this is the health care plan that Obama envisioned during the campaign. Nor did he want to have to send tens of thousands of troops to Afghanistan. But imagine the outcry had Obama begun to exit Afghanistan. He would have been the victim of a new stab-in-the-back legend on the right that might well have destroyed his presidency before it even had the chance to get off the ground.
The blunt fact is that Obama has been president for one measly year. Compared to the blunders that other presidents have committed early on, Obama is looking good. If the economy improves, he will look even better. So ignore the tedious and hypertrophied Obama bashers. And never forget that he is as as good and intelligent and decent a president as America will ever have.
Peppered throughout Heilbrunn's essays are empty, personality-based, substance-free arguments about how liberals should just rally behind the President and everything he decides on domestic and foreign policy because he's "shrewd and thoughtful" and "as good and intelligent and decent a president as America will ever have." There's also plenty of cowardly smears and generalizations of progressive critics of Obama's policies like "liberal naysayers" and Democrats who are "hypertrophied Obama bashers" who are just "caterwauling" and have a "pathological political death-wish."
Heilbrunn also charges that liberals are complaining too much because Obama hasn't yet solved all of the problems that his predecessor presented him. This is yet another straw man that is all too prevalent in his writing. While I think it's true that Obama was inaugurated under very, very difficult circumstances, and that there's a lot of work that needs to be done to rectify the worst failures of the Bush Administration, my criticisms of President Obama don't stem from an expectation that he fix everything right away with a magic wand.
The real problem I have with several of Obama's policies isn't that he isn't fixing problems fast enough, but that I believe he's moving in the wrong direction on those problems. I support withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan; the President is escalating the conflict. I support enforcing the rule of law and bringing those who committed war crimes in the previous administration to justice; the President has blocked investigations and the disclosure of torture evidence. I support repealing DADT and DOMA; the President has stonewalled on these efforts, and his own Department of Justice filed a brief supporting DOMA.
I mean, heaven forbid anybody criticize those actions undertaken by the White House. How awful that Alan Grayson would ever dare to oppose the President's Afghanistan War policy, or that Bernie Sanders would have a problem with the President renominating a guy heavily responsible for the economic collapse to be the Chair of the Fed. Because in Jacob Heilbrunn's world, Obama is a "hero" and a "decent man" and any Democrat who questions those decisions must have "lost his mind."
One of the things I've always found most refreshing and significant about being a progressive-minded citizen is precisely that disagreement, dissent, and legitimate criticism of political leaders are considered valuable among the progressive community. Unlike right-wing Bush loyalists, I don't venerate the President or any political official I vote for. I judge them by their actions, policies, and their results, not their personalities or their motives. I think it's vital and necessary that citizens speak up when they disagree with the President and their elected officials, and I say all of that having heavily supported Obama when he campaigned for President. I just wish Heilbrunn would apply the same standard, and that he would not use his platform at the Huffington Post to denounce me and other like-minded progressive critics of Obama's policies simply because we don't agree with or cheerlead everything he endorses.
Cross-posted at Docudharma