Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Positioning to the Left of Obama

I've been complaining a good bit about several of Obama's cabinet choices. I've been disappointed, though I expected to be. But that doesn't mean that I am turning on Obama or anything. Scott Lemieux has an interesting post followed by an even more interesting comment thread that sheds light on why it is important for progressives to position themselves to the left of Obama. Concering the chances that Obama will rescind Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Scott writes:

People who claimed in 1962 that LBJ was playing supporters and opponents of civil rights for suckers would both have had plenty of ammunition. If we're lucky (and put on enough pressure), Obama will (in the manner of LBJ) will shiv his more unsavory allies; if we're not, in the manner of JFK he'll talk a good game sometimes and not actually do much of anything to avoid upsetting his unsavory allies. I'm betting that he'll be closer to the former (or I wouldn't have supported him), but until we see how he actually performs in office, the question will simply remain open.

I'm a bit more pessimistic than Scott. I could see Obama really trying to play the centrist. But the comment thread shows why it is so important to pull Obama to the left rather than think we are helping by supporting him. Aimai says:

...if it were true that Obama is running right and needs the left to pull him back rhetorically, strategically, etc...then the right thing to do is to bitch and moan at every opportunity--to force him to publicly assuage the feelings of the left by doing the stuff we want. Ditto on the warren invocation and the question of gay rights. The backlash was huge and in its own quiet way getting huger and that's a good thing. When the republicans attacked immigration and immigrants the hispanic population got out in the streets and no politicians who lived through those demonstrations has forgotten them. No matter what the core ideology of the right wing on race and immigration most of the top tier politicians on the right have remained very, very, leery of directly offending hispanic voters. Gay voters and their supporters need to do the same thing. It needs to become politically inexpedient for Obama to do other than support gay voters. So whatever we think of Obama--whether we think he's more LBJ or more JFK, we need to keep the pressure on. And don't forget to keep the pressure on on war crimes trials.

Absolutely right and Lemuel Pitkin follows up:

Too often in these debates, people on both sides assume that supporting a politician is good for them and publicly attacking them is bad for them. Which is, obviously, how things work in most other areas of life.
But in politics, being attacked for not doing something can actually be very helpful, if you're trying to move in that direction but facing a lot of resistance from the inside. As in Roosevelt's famous line, "I agree with you, now make me do it."
Again, correct. We can't assume Obama supports what we want him to support. Political debates are usually decided by power, not belief. Our position has to be more powerful than the people pulling Obama to the right. If we win the power game, we win the policy game. Obama is a politician; he wants to survive most of all. We need to make him realize that his best way to survive is to embrace the most progressive principles possible. Bitching about his cabinet selections is a good way to push his administration and hopefully future selections to the left.