Has the TPP "debate" finally allowed progressive critics of Obama to come out of the political closet? Possibly. For years, left wing critics of Obama were shut down, politically isolated, or dismissed as oddballs. This dismissal of progressive critics is part and parcel of any Democratic presidential administration. However, the emotional investment of progressives in Obama and the right wing overreaction to his election has further shielded Obama from legitimate criticism of his conservative policies from the left. Obama's fight for a trade policy that is more about writing corporate rules than trade may finally have opened up political space for Obama's progressive critics.
Historically, Democratic presidents are always given some grief from progressives. Yeah, you can't please everyone, but part of this antagonism stems from the problems of governance and the messiness of politics and the ideals of political movements. For example, civil rights leaders were highly critical of President Kennedy, and some remained so even after Kennedy's assassination. Thurgood Marshall gave high marks to Truman and Johnson on civil rights, but he thought Kennedy was too cautious and didn't do enough for the civil rights movement. However, Kennedy and his people believed he was hemmed in on what he could do for civil rights because of the dominance of conservative Southern Democrats in Congress.
On a more cynical level, Democratic presidents like it when progressives complain about some of their efforts, especially if the issue is considered controversial. It is the old, "I must be doing something right because liberals and conservatives are both complaining about my policy!" It is the old searching for the magic middle on an issue. The president will think that he is just in the right spot when he has angered the "extremists" in his party.
So the above historical pattern was guaranteed for Obama's turn at the helm. Unfortunately, Obama's campaign in 2008 absconded with progressive rhetoric that base Democrats thrilled to. I say unfortunately because two things occurred with Obama's sleight of hand with progressive rhetoric.
First, Obama was able to emotionally bond African Americans and white progressive to him and not just for symbolic reasons but for his policy prescriptions which progressives loved. Second, Obama had no intention of governing as a progressive. To govern as a progressive meant taking on the power elites and the establishment, and Obama did not do this.
Obama surrounded himself with Wall Street types who urged caution, and caution is what we got. The stimulus plan was half of what was needed to properly get the economy out of the deep recession it was in. Also, the architects of the financial meltdown needed to be broken up and punished. This never occurred.
Progressive Democrats in Congress knew that Obama was governing as a corporatist. I was informed at a townhall meeting in the Kentucky 3rd Congressional District by Congressman John Yarmuth that there would be no second stimulus package.
The explanation was that Obama believed in Reaganomics, and as long as Wall Street was doing well that was all that needed to be done
. I remembered that specifically because I violated the rules of the town hall meeting not to ask questions while John Yarmuth was talking. I did it anyway, and I apologized. Yarmuth was gracious enough to explain that Obama was surrounded by Wall Street types and as long as they were doing well, the American economy would be doing well. Additionally, the public option was not going to be a part of Obamacare. All of this was told at a public meeting in early 2010.
During this time, the Republican Id had raised its ugly head. Republican voters wanted Obama defeated, and their leaders went about do just that. While progressives thought the idea of a biracial man in the White House showed the greatness of America, conservatives believed we were all going to hell. And the election of a biracial man allowed for every racial slur to be uttered against Obama and his policies. For those who didn't feel safe enough to use the N word, communist and socialist were substituted for Obama.
The racial animosity and disrespect of President Obama reached into the state of the union speeches. We had Supreme Court justices letting it fly with body language that said, "NO" to parts of Obama's speeches. One Supreme Court dufus wore a Thomas More hat to let everyone know that he felt persecuted by the uncontrollable "king Obama. Finally, we had at least one speech interrupted by a South Carolina Congressman with a "You LIE!"
Given this rank tribalism from conservatives, liberals and other progressives reacted with "We must not give aid and comfort to the enemy. We must stand with Barack Obama!" So any criticisms of Barak's sellouts (inadequate stimulus plan, too big to fail left in place for banks, the government reaction to the BP oil spill, the abandonment of the public option, the embrace of austerity, and the attempts at a Grand Bargain that requires sacrifices from Social Security) had to be muted. Besides, it is hard to argue that Obama is a corporatist when the other side is SCREAMING that he is a communist and socialist.
Trying to get across to conservatives that they didn't know the difference between a communist and socialist or even what socialism was impossible. And liberals and progressives were not going to readily acknowledge that they had been duped by a politician. So progressive critics had no political space for airing their concerns on actual Obama policy. When we did try to bring up some salient points, we were shouted down by some or dismissed as wanting pie in the sky policies.
Then the TPP reared its ugly head, and we got to see some of Obama's contempt for the base. The lies are flying fast and furious from Obama's mouth, and it is amazing to see Obama impugning the integrity of fellow Democrats. Amazingly, Congressional Democrats rebelled.
Will it last? I have no idea. I hope so. At least one thing I am seeing on Daily Kos: progressive criticism of Obama is now making the recommend list of diaries.
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