The conversation usually goes like this:
Me: In 2008, I was all jazzed up about Obama, but for the most part his first term has been disappointing.
Obama Supporter: What do you mean? Obama has accomplished more in his first three years than anyone since LBJ.
Me: That may be true, but it’s not the kind of accomplishment I was hoping for.
OS: What about the stimulus package? And the salvage of the auto industry? And health care reform? And financial reform? And “don’t ask, don’t tell”? And Osama bin Laden? And the end of the Iraq War? And most of all, the stabilization of an economy that could be a lot worse? Is that not enough?
Me: Those are all good things, don’t get me wrong. I guess I just had different expectations. I wanted more. Three years ago, didn’t we all hope for more than this?
OS: Well, Obama had to come down from the mountain and start governing in the real world. One man can’t save the nation in one term, especially with the economic catastrophe and obstinate Congress that he’s had to deal with. It’s a miracle that he got anything through that broken system. As he’s said, you’re letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” No president will ever live up to your expectations.
(The conversation rarely moves beyond this point, but I hope it can in the coming months. Here’s how I would lay out the argument that Obama needs to make some serious course changes.)
If we look past that initial list of accomplishments, we’ll find a deeper pattern that everyone on the left should be concerned about. Obama has directly betrayed some of our most sacred progressive principles.
(1) He’s basically continued the same neo-conservative foreign policy that Bush initiated. Look where we are now compared to 2008. Still knee-deep in Afghanistan, and looking to trade one messy situation in Iraq for two or three others. We still act like the planet and its resources are ours to do with as we please, and we’ll use our overwhelming military and moral flexibility to guarantee it.
(2) He has caved to Republican obstructionism on the absolutely core principle of taxation. It is unthinkable that with a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, the Bush tax cuts were extended. Either Obama is politically inept, or it’s not really a core principle for him. We know he’s not politically inept.
(3) He has refused to be a voice for climate change awareness, or to spend political capital to push legislation. He even made some back-door maneuvers to block a bi-partisan bill. As it stands now, both Bush and Obama will be remembered by history as presidents who ignored a looming catastrophe.
Summary: I want a president who changes the basic tone of American foreign policy and ends our militaristic approach to the world. I want a president who is not afraid (in non-election years) to say that the rich should pay more. And I want a president who makes the United States a leader in the fight to preserve the environment, instead of the chief culprit.
So I will continue to criticize Obama, to push hard from the left, and to hope that he tempers his relentless tack to the center.