Ah, 2008. Remember that year? That was a fun time. Television writer’s strike, Eliot Spitzer got taken down for being anti-Wall Street, the first blows of our economic catastrofuck, and the country was all aflutter for Barack Obama, that suave, eloquent, handsome Senator man from Chicago who played basketball and unapologetically smoked weed during his college years. His speeches were rousing, he had a catchy slogan, and with grouchy Old Man McCain as his opponent, he was always going to be the popular choice.
Predictably, he swept into office on the back of his message of hope and change, and even more predictably, he has unequivocally failed to deliver on his promises. In fact, he’s been doing his finest George W. Bush impression: despite ordering the closing of Guantanamo Bay, it hasn’t happened. He let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans be renewed. He has extended the Patriot Act. He has been the worst president for whistleblowers in history, and has turned a blind eye to the torture of Private Bradley Manning by US intelligence. And that is just his domestic policy.
In the Congress, it’s been even more frustrating. Obama entered office with strong majorities in both houses of the legislature, but in some strange, Doris Kearns Goodwin fantasy of his, instead of pushing through as much good legislation as possible, the President decided that attempting to work with the Republicans, that most reasonable and calm of political parties, was a better idea. It backfired spectacularly, leading to progressive laws like the health care bill and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell either being gutted, endlessly delayed, or dying out altogether.
You’d think, then, that the establishment of the Left would be pissed at Obama for failing to live up to even a modicum of his hype. But it’s there that you’d be wrong; there’s a new trend now of middle-left Democrats accusing their more progressive peers of being unreasonable, of asking too much. Our own mayor called those who criticized so-called Blue Dog Democrats for balking on the health care bill “fucking retarded.” Jonathan Chait, war apologist and the guy those Blue Dogs have posters of on their walls, wrote a feature for New York Magazine two weeks ago making this claim:
Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president—indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious—but not with the real thing. The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president.
Why is this? Chait makes the claim that liberals have a strong case of Reagan-envy: that is, a figure of idolatry who is made to epitomize all that is great and good about the party, a demigod. Chait concludes that
If recent history is any guide, they are simply not capable of having that kind of relationship with a president. They are going to question their leader, not deify him, and search for signs of betrayal in any act of compromise he or she may commit. This exhausting psychological torment is no way to live.
So, what Chait wants liberals to do is stop questioning and challenging our leaders and blindly follow the path, as the Republicans have done for so long. Besides the incredible hilarity of the fact that he’s ignoring the fact that many, many Democrats already do this, isn’t it just a fucking awful thing to want anyways? Sit down, shut up, be happy with what you get, don’t try to make change? Great, that’s an inspiring message to tell your children. That’s exactly what we should be teaching: be mediocre, and you’ll never be disappointed.
So, is it reasonable to be disappointed with Obama as a liberal? You bet your ass it is. Should it come with certain caveats, since the Congress is incredibly messed up? Sure. But don’t call for your fellows to be satisfied just because of that. Disappointment is an inevitable part of life, so use it as a driver to make change, not an excuse to give up.