December 20, 2010

What Progressives Don’t Understand About Obama

This piece hit home in a way that few rarely do – partially because I can see myself in the author for more than one reason, and by proxy I see myself in the logic behind the way President Obama argues and negotiates with people on his side and across the table from him.

It’s remarkable how much progressives – with whom I stand, especially – want someone who rides into Washington, guns blazing, shooting down conservative ideals and missteps with glory, taking us all the way to a progressive American utopia and ultimate victory for the truth and justice that we all know is on our side. The problem is it just doesn’t work that way, ever, and regardless of the fervor around President Obama, he’s not that guy – he can’t be that guy and expect to get anything done. And this – this piece explains why.

I couldn’t possibly cut it, so I’ll present the whole thing here, with all credit due to Ishmael Reed, writing for the New York Times:

Not all of my white teachers viewed me as a discipline problem. To the annoyance of my fellow students, one teacher selected me regularly to lead assembly programs. A high school teacher insisted that I learn about the theater. She was an America-firster who supplied me with right-wing pamphlets and magazines that I’d read at breakfast and she didn’t seem bothered by my returning them with some of the pages stuck together with syrup.

But most of them did see me as an annoyance, and gave me the grades to prove it.

I’ve been thinking recently of all those D’s for deportment on my report cards. I thought of them, for instance, when I read a response to an essay I had written about Mark Twain that appeared in “A New Literary History of America.” One of the country’s leading critics, who writes for a prominent progressive blog, called the essay “rowdy,” which I interpreted to mean “lack of deportment.” Perhaps this was because I cited “Huckleberry Finn” to show that some white women managed household slaves, a departure from the revisionist theory that sees Scarlett O’Hara as some kind of feminist martyr.

I thought of them when I pointed out to a leading progressive that the Tea Party included neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers — and he called me a “bully.” He believes that the Tea Party is a grass-roots uprising against Wall Street, a curious reading since the movement gained its impetus from a rant against the president delivered by a television personality on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

And I’ve thought about them as I’ve listened in the last week to progressives criticize President Obama for keeping his cool.

Progressives have been urging the president to “man up” in the face of the Republicans. Some want him to be like John Wayne. On horseback. Slapping people left and right.

One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Mr. Obama. If President Obama behaved that way, he’d be dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people. His grade would go from a B- to a D.

What the progressives forget is that black intellectuals have been called “paranoid,” “bitter,” “rowdy,” “angry,” “bullies,” and accused of tirades and diatribes for more than 100 years. Very few of them would have been given a grade above D from most of my teachers.

When these progressives refer to themselves as Mr. Obama’s base, all they see is themselves. They ignore polls showing steadfast support for the president among blacks and Latinos. And now they are whispering about a primary challenge against the president. Brilliant! The kind of suicidal gesture that destroyed Jimmy Carter — and a way to lose the black vote forever.

Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all. They know how it feels to be unemployed and unable to buy your children Christmas presents. They know when not to shout. The president, the coolest man in the room, who worked among the unemployed in Chicago, knows too.

Reed isn’t just right here, he’s so right on the dot that you’d be able to verify his accuracy with an electron microscope. If Obama were as aggressive and militant as a lot of progressives – especially some who have served in government long enough to know this is the truth (I’m looking at you, Robert Reich,) he’d fail instantly as everyone – include people in his own party and on his side, dug in against him or simply failed to support him.

He’s doing this the right way – and while it’s not as fast as progressives would like and it’s not as winner-take-all leave-no-prisoners as many of us would like it to be, we need to remember that each step forward is a positive one, and one we would never have gotten had the other guy been elected.

[ What Progressives Don’t Understand About Obama ]
Source: The New York Times

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