Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Smart Dissent

If, like me, you've been a little worried about Obama's support for the FISA telecom-immunity bill, his pledged support of Bush's "faith-based initiatives" program, and his other seemingly rightward-tacking positions, I recommend that you read Al Giordano's "Smart Dissent" post on The Field.

Its summary:

… the highest calling of patriotism is not dissent. It is smart dissent, that based not on self-indulgence or the blurting of one's frustration's out in ways that seek to share the panic or the misery, but based on - even sometimes against great odds - building the objective conditions by which we will win the important battles worth fighting. We don't need any candidate's permission or endorsement of our issue or position to do that, and we sure don't have to wait for any politician to begin organizing the people to set him straight once in power. Ironically, we, the people have more leverage - if we organize - after a candidate becomes an official, than we do during the heat of an electoral campaign when he or she is so singularly focused on the goal of getting elected. And if we can use his own campaign as the basis through which to become organized, that much stronger will be our ability to move mountains when and if that campaign is victorious.

I've still got a lot of problems with Obama, but as the above quote from Giordano illustrates, politics is a game, a game that unfortunately demands of its players a willingness to conveniently forget ideology in exchange for political expediency. That's the game we're stuck with for now. So my disappointment with Obama runs deep, but we've got to face the facts. And the facts are that he's the best-positioned person to win who shares even an inkling of my political and moral philosophy. It's not a good fit, but it's the only fit--for now. Let's get him into office, and then hold his feet to the fire.


Anonymous said...

True what you say. However, even though I never liked Hillary, one could argue that Hillary was also playing the "game". If we really don't know how they would each act as president, then why was Obama the better candidate? For many, I think it was because they thought he would be able change the frame of debate from security, war and tax cuts to civil liberties, peace and social progress. He isn't even trying to do this. That's what's dissapointing. That being said i agree with your conclusion. Hope alls well...fy

Rick said...

I read that Giordano piece, and though it was interesting, I wasn't entirely persuaded by it. Even though a politician's campaign rhetoric isn't a particularly reliable guide to the way he or she will govern, it's the only thing that most Americans have to go on—especially in the case of Obama, who doesn't have a long legislative record to judge by (or someone like Bob Barr, who is running for president as the Libertarian candidate on a platform significantly at odds with his congressional record.) And, of course, it doesn't seem unreasonable that, in a democracy, the candidates for elective office should be expected to lay out their positions candidly as the basis for their election.

Also, it seems odd that Giordano, after advising us to take the campaign rhetoric with a grain of salt, then recommends a particular speech of Obama's as a window onto his deepest thinking—a speech that seems mild-mannered enough in its statement of the perfectly obvious, as well as in its subtle pandering to the "wisdom" of the American people. ("Most Americans understood that … there is nothing smart or sophisticated about a cynical disregard for America's traditions and institutions." There goes George Carlin's career … )

Obviously, I want Obama to win this election, and he certainly seemed well on his way to doing so in recent months, which makes his sudden reversals so disheartening—especially his ass-kissing appearance before the odious AIPAC, and his support of the FISA bill. (I won't even get into his idiotic criticism of the Supreme Court's decision to outlaw the death penalty for child rapists, especially given that there's only two such people on death row right now, both of them in Louisiana—and there's good reason to believe that one of was framed by the cops.)

These (seemingly completely unnecessary) reversals on Obama's part smack of nothing but naked political calculation, which strikes me as being the one thing that will turn off all the young and disaffected voters his campaign has been so effectively energizing, and whom he will certainly need to win. Digby had a much better take on all this on her blog recently, where she spoke about how the Democrats have gone down in recent presidential elections because they've been seen as people who were unwilling to fight for basic core values, whereas people like Reagan and George W. Bush were perceived as having fundamental principles they would never compromise on—and voters respected that, whether or not they agreed with the principles themselves.

Finally, Giordano states that when it comes to issues like Israel and the Palestinians, or the FISA bill, or "or fill-in-your-pet-issue-here," activists "have to first educate and organize the citizenry to demonstrably agree with them before they can realistically insist that any political candidate stick his neck onto their pet chopping block." But the whole problem is that on any number of these issues, there already is widespread public agreement on the so-called "progressive" position (really the common-sense position) on the issue, as demonstrated in opinion poll after opinion poll on everything from Israel and the Palestinians to national health care to the FISA bill to medical marijuana to the war in Iraq—and yet politicians routinely ignore the public's wishes with impunity, which is exactly what frustrates people and causes them to wash their hands of the system.

Obama seemed like he realized that; in fact, I think the perception that he wasn't going to be "politics as usual" was the greatest asset he had, even if writers like Alexander Cockburn (who has always taken a jaundiced view of Obama) thought it was a crock. In fact, Cockburn had this to say on Counterpunch over the weekend:

There have plenty of articles recently, some in this site, with headlines such "Obama’s Lunge to the Right". I find these odd. Never for one moment has Obama ever struck me as someone anchored, or even loosely moored to the left, or even displaying the slightest appetite for radical notions, aside from a few taglines tossed from the campaign bus. In economics and foreign policy he has swaddled himself with right-wing orthodoxy to a degree that trangresses on the grotesque. He released the list of his "senior working group on national security" the other day. Not since Jimmy Carter entered the White House and promptly chose Cyrus Vance as his secretary of state and Zbibniev Brzezinski as his national security adviser has there been so dreary a news release.

--Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
--Senator David Boren, former Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
--Secretary of State Warren Christopher
--Greg Craig, former director of the State Department Office of Policy Planning
--Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig
--Representative Lee Hamilton, former Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
--Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder
--Dr. Tony Lake, former National Security Advisor
--Senator Sam Nunn, former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
--Secretary of Defense William Perry
--Dr. Susan Rice, former Assistant Secretary of State
--Representative Tim Roemer, 9/11 Commissioner
--Jim Steinberg, former Deputy National Security Advisor

Here’s a crew ripe marinated in orthodoxy, running the gamut of inspirational rhetoric from Madam Albright’s "We think the price is worth it" (killing half a million Iraqi kids through sanctions in Clintontime) to Dr Rice, now of the Brookings Institution and formerly in charge of the African desk at the State Department in the Clinton years, [who said}: “It's clear that Iraq poses a major threat. It's clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully, and that's the path we're on. I think the question becomes whether we can keep the diplomatic balls in the air … even as we move forward, as we must, on the military side." (NPR, December 20, 2002)

Or I could simply quote Obama himself:

… the larger reason that I think this debate is important is because we do have to trust our leaders and what they say. That is important, because if we can't, then we're not going to be able to mobilize the American people behind bringing about changes in health care reform, bringing about changes in how we're going to put people back to work, changing our trade laws. And consistency matters. Truthfulness during campaigns makes a difference.


And that's what I've tried to do and I will continue to try to do as president of the United States.