Teabaggers of the left
The deranged vitriol directed against Obama from the right wing is bizarre enough -- but what are we to make of the almost equally deranged attacks coming from some fringes of the left?
You know the kind of thing I mean. Throughout his Presidency, Obama has compromised with Republicans; the public option in health-care reform was lost, the Bush tax cuts were renewed, etc. Most of these compromises were necessary to get any progress at all, given the obstructionism of Republicans in Congress; a few were not.
But the reaction in some quarters has been ludicrously out of proportion. Obama is a closet right-winger. He's no better than Bush, no better than Bachmann. There's no difference between the parties. Given Obama's record -- stem-cell research re-funded, a major step toward universal health care, sane Supreme Court appointments, etc. -- and the dangerous extremism of today's Republicans, this is incomprehensible.
As for how exactly Obama could have done better, it's always vague clichés about "standing firm" and "using the bully pulpit" -- no specifics, no sign of understanding how politics actually works. (They often get the facts wrong, too. For example, in exchange for extending the Bush tax cuts, Obama was able to win an extension of unemployment benefits that saved millions from disaster.)
It's probably true that Obama has compromised too much. He did enter office with a naïve faith in bipartisanship which undercut chances for the real change he promised. It may be that he would have achieved more, marginally, by being more confrontational. But the guy who rolled back DADT is no better than this? That simply isn't reality.
The fulminators' usual response to such reminders is to claim that "if we keep voting for the lesser of two evils, we'll never be offered anything better". This ignores the reality of the political situation.
I've been dissatisfied with Obama in a lot of ways. (He was not my choice for the 2008 Democratic nominee.) I'm an atheist and a socialist; I'd like to see our social contract and social safety net rebuilt on the kind of model offered by places like Scandinavia and Germany; I'd like to see drugs and prostitution decriminalized and rationally regulated; I'd like to see all kinds of things. I too could well describe Obama and the present Democrats as the lesser of two evils. I certainly wish that a President and Congress fully in agreement with my own views could actually be elected. But they couldn't, and in this case, the lesser of two evils is a hell of a lot less evil. The fact that I can imagine better options doesn't mean those options are actually available. Incremental progress in the right direction is far better than letting theocratic/plutocratic reactionaries drag the country backward into some nightmarish cross between the Dark Ages and the Third World.
In other areas of life, people recognize this concept. You're never offered a job, or a residence, or whatever, that's exactly what you want. You choose the best one out of the options that are actually available.
Polls show Obama remains broadly popular on the mainstream left. The attacks from the left are coming from a noisy minority who have no more grasp of political reality than the teabaggers do. But that doesn't mean the problem isn't real. Consider the 2010 election, which was not a pendulum swing back to the right but rather a collapse of voter turn-out (38% vs 62% in 2008). That was what allowed Republicans to win so many seats and offices and do so much damage. The people who didn't vote in 2010 have blood on their hands just as much as the teabaggers do. And if the same happens next year, with the Presidency itself at stake, that will be even more true.
But the anti-Obama fulminators of the hard left vehemently reject any effort to remind them of what Obama has accomplished, or to point out how much worse any Republican alternative would be. There's some weird psychology operating there that I don't claim to understand. They seem to need something to be enraged about; they paradoxically feel dissatisfied, even disappointed, unless they can find some grounds to be miserable and pessimistic.
They really would hand over the country to evil in order to punish imperfect good.
So what can we do? Keep pointing out the facts, keep pointing out what is at stake. As always, those whose minds are already made up will remain unpersuaded -- they're unreachable -- but the real target is those who are on the fence about the issue. They may not comment on the debates, but they're often reading them.
This isn't an issue I plan to write a lot about -- to the extent that I write about politics at all, the danger looming on the far right is the greatest concern. But there are several blogs that do focus on confronting the problem of the perfectionist extreme left, and are doing an excellent job:
Angry Black Lady
The Only Adult in the Room (currently on hiatus)
The People's View*
Please Cut the Crap
Pragmatic Progressive Forum*
If you're disappointed but not sure what to do about it, you need to be reading them. There's too much at stake next year to risk blowing this.
Addendum: There's a precedent for what I'm talking about -- the 2000 election, in which several hundred thousand people threw away their votes on Nader because Gore wasn't left enough for them. There were several states which Bush carried by a margin smaller than the number of votes Nader got -- that is, if Gore had gotten the Nader votes, he would have carried those states, and would have won despite the Florida mess. The Naderites saddled the country with Bush, the Democratic party did not respond by moving further to the left, and Nader did not become a significant political force. Un-pragmatic purism achieved nothing -- except to empower the Republicans, at terrible cost to the country.
*Thanks to Leslie Parsley for the reminders.