23 April 2009

Assessing Obama and PUMA

President Obama has now been in office a little over three months. How do things look?

Neither the cultists nor the hysterics have been vindicated. I see neither a messianic savior leading us to the promised land nor a closet Leninist leading us to the gulag. What I do see is, frankly, a rather ordinary politician -- centrist and somewhat timid.

(Long-time readers will know that I've had both good and bad things to say about Obama, depending on what he was doing. People who never acknowledge a good move by a politician they dislike, or who always have an excuse for every bad move by one they do like, are merely being partisan.)

I opposed Obama earlier for many reasons: his inexperience, his campaign's class implications, associations like Wright and Rezko, the abuses during the caucuses, the dangerous cult mentality of many of his core supporters, and -- most relevant to the current discussion -- suspicion that he was not a true liberal. On that last point, I'd say the jury is still out.

Liberal and conservative are not just labels. There are substantive and major differences. Should women be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term? Should gays and lesbians have the same legal rights as everyone else? Should finance companies and banks be allowed to run roughshod over the rest of the economy without oversight? Should deep tax cuts for the highest-income people be kept in the face of huge deficits? Should stem-cell research that could alleviate the suffering of millions be held hostage to bronze-age religious taboos? Should the government of the world's most scientifically and technologically advanced nation pretend that creationism and global-warming denialism are worthy of respect? What about FISA?

Obama has, at least rhetorically, been on the right side of many of these issues (and remember also that even McCain, who was no ordinary Republican, was on the right side of some of them). But consider the opportunity last year's election presented. It was a repudiation of the most incompetent and unpopular Presidency since (at least) Jimmy Carter. It brought not only a large (by US standards) popular-vote margin for Obama himself, but also solid Democratic dominance of both houses of Congress. The country was ready for "change". Under the circumstances, we had every right and reason to expect a much bolder and more radical liberal agenda, pushed far more aggressively, than Obama has given us (at least so far). I think that if Hillary Clinton were President, she would be giving us that, rather than compromising principles and wasting effort by trying to "reach out" to conservatives.

I cannot see, by the way, that such efforts have mitigated attacks on Obama from the right at all. How often has he been denounced as a socialist or even a Marxist, by people who clearly have no idea what those words even mean?

On the all-important issue of foreign policy, Obama has not yet had a major test, but there have been two lesser ones. The Somali pirate hostage rescue must be counted as a plus, the North Korean missile test as a minus. On the most serious immediate threat, the Iranian nuclear program, his true intentions remain an enigma.

Obama has not been a disaster, and seems unlikely to become one unless he grossly mishandles some major foreign-policy crisis. He has made some good moves, such as ending the global gag rule on abortion and the Bush restrictions on stem-cell funding -- things any Democratic President would have done. But his caution does, as I noted, represent the loss of a huge opportunity.

So where does this leave PUMA today? It was inevitable that the movement would end up somewhat adrift after the election, since its goal was to influence the outcome. I did hope that we would be able to help pull the Republicans (our allies of convenience in the McCain-Obama race) toward a more sane and centrist position, and ultimately reclaim the Democratic party from the Obama cultists despite their man's having won the election.

So far I see no sign that PUMA is having any substantial impact in either area. The dominant tendency within the Republican party is still off in orbit around Neptune somewhere, pushing religious crackpottery and fulminating against gays and climate science; all the significant efforts to remedy this are coming from moderate Republicans, not PUMA. The Obama cult is eroding on its own, having set expectations so high that they could not be met by any politician, especially a cautious centrist such as Obama is turning out to be (Rick Warren was a wake-up call for many).

Here's what I do see, around the PUMAsphere:

First and most obviously, large-scale infiltration and co-optation by the right. On a number of originally PUMA sites and forums, rightists have arrived in such numbers as to gradually become the dominant presence there. An example is this forum which I once recommended; it is now laced with the same old leftist-bashing rhetoric you'd see on any right-wing site, the actual PUMA posters have left in disgust, paranoid conspiracy-type thinking abounds, and the level of activity has fallen to a fraction of what it once was.

More nuanced but still troubling is the debate over whether PUMA should associate with the "tea party" movement (good discussion here and here). Now, I do think the tea party movement may be a sign of the shift back toward sanity among conservatives that I've been hoping for; their focus is on opposing taxes and spending (which, even if one disagrees with it, is a rationally-defensible point of view) -- not on the nutty stuff. But it is a conservative movement. It has nothing to do with attacking Obama from the left or with the Clinton camp's reasons for opposing him last year. Conservative values are not our values; conservatives are not us.

The second and healthier PUMA trend is what might be called a return to principles, a de-coherence of the movement into natural constituencies. By this I do not mean the rhetorical tendency to link arms with Republicans, dismissing profound philosophical differences as being mere labels; this is the opposite of principled. I mean recognition, within the left, that ideas are more important that personalities.

Keep up the fight for gay marriage, DADT repeal, rollback of abortion restrictions, rollback of Bush-era invasions of privacy, defense of American workers against both predatory corporations and illegal immigration, accountability for the Wall Street robber barons "bailed out" at taxpayer expense, solid Supreme Court appointments (when the time comes) and so on, and never mind if Obama wants to nuance those things to death for the sake of other priorities or because conservatives will throw a fit. Encourage Obama to be firmer when he is on the right side; when he isn't, work around him. Work with whoever else shares whichever of our goals is being fought for. And, yes, accept that this will mean erosion of the identity of the PUMA movement. PUMA arose to win the Democratic nomination for Hillary Clinton and then to prevent Obama from becoming President. Those battles are over. The causes that motivated them remain.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might also have mentioned Obama not pulling the troops out of Iraq. That's one of the big issues he got elected for.

23 April, 2009 11:32  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Interesting post Mr.Infidel. I actually didnt know much about PUMA... or even the pop-crowd around Obama(cultist's), I just never paid much attention to any of it. I dont believe Obama is a "true" liberal as you put it, and was banking on that before I voted for him. I have been actually more than satisfied with his performance though, even though it bother's many on these both sides because of his moving too fast.. I reckon they would want him to think it out more. I look forward to the day when this right and left passion is obsolete. And a time when we dont have to worry whether someone marries a same sex or a dog or their vaccum cleaner(wanking purposes) :) .. or even have to worry about what any man or woman decides to do with their body, including legalized suicide...for whatever reason one chooses.

The President will get challenges that are bigger...and I dont expect him to be any saviour...or any one who would have got elected, we simply created our own mess...period. I am watching Secretary Clinton especially myself... because as I pointed out in your post sometime back ... I had real concern's with Pakistan if you recall. And of coarse... as I expected ...the situation is growing much grimmer... whether folk's are paying any attention to it or not. As far as the parties... or as they say... the left and the right... I dont know which one is better than the other, I voted republican mostly because of certain issue's... primarily domestic(Texas)on the national level I voted straight democrat...because the GOP in my opinion took the nation further into deterioration than the dem's. And also these silly issues over marriage or sleeping with 17 year old's or other nonsense that need's to be cleared up... these moral issues are just a real pain in the ass,and not damn one of them put food on the table, make us safe, or put a damn dime in our pocket ... people should be able to do what ever the hell they want to do... I alway's have ... I frankly dont care if I'm breaking any law's if I'm not harming anyone...or ever did. As you know I left the right/left thing behind many year's ago ... I only vote for any of these clown's because there is no one else that can get in.... period. Enough said...

But I thought this posting was an excellent piece... certainly make's you think.

Hvae a good un guy.........

23 April, 2009 15:58  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

RC -- And also these silly issues over marriage or sleeping with 17 year old's or other nonsense that need's to be cleared up... these moral issues are just a real pain in the ass,and not damn one of them put food on the table, make us safe, or put a damn dime in our pocket ... people should be able to do what ever the hell they want to do...

See 5th paragraph ("not just labels") -- this is a big part of the difference between the left and the right. The left are the people who agree with you that these things should not be issues and that people should be able to do what they want in those areas. The right are those who insist on making these things issues by having laws about them.

24 April, 2009 09:11  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Yes ....Mr.Infidel ...I believe that is quite accurate. And it sadden's me really, because for instance I have found myself locally here in Texas voting straight republican for year's, more or less out of selfishness of trying to avoid those who have been pounding away on the left to start a state income tax... which I fear is right around the corner any way you slice it here...we are just getting too damn large in population here...especially now, I heard on the local new's yesterday the the DFW area just in the last year/two(didnt catch all the details) had some ridiculous population increase of something like 17%. With this comes need's for services too.Then of coarse it was about the pro-business issue, one of the reason's why we had so much economic success in this state I credit to the pro-business atmosphere. I feel between a goddamn rock and a hard place at times...like I'm screwed if I do or if I dont.I am "pro-business" but also "fair business", not this one way street crap like Bush play's.And "fair" does work... his goddamn clan is just "greedy", no better than thug's!

I am so sick and tired of the time that we waste on this nonsense that I just would wish that the Supreme Court would just once and for all..end this rubbish now... especially in these challenging times...and just say enough is goddamn enough...and stop all this crap!And fully legalize SS mairrage nationally, and stop these nonsensical proposal's of holding bible studies in goddamn science class! And all these petty damn sex and morality issues, anything that doesnt do nothing but waste time and money. I wonder if these right winger's actually know what the hell their argueing about? Issue's that have been debated for centuries that change like the damn season's or a line of fashion wear. Whether we like it or not...to put it simple.... we still eat,play,use the toilet,sleep,have sex...etc. Like just about every other damn animal around ... what's next I wonder, argueing if we choose chocolate ice cream over vanilla? Or which of the two did Moses eat on a hot summer day? Geeeezzz... um,um um .. the goddamn rapture story couldnt come soon enough! I'll shut the hell up.

Thank You Sir.......

24 April, 2009 12:43  

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