Friday, September 30, 2011

Ideal Delusions

Melissa Harris-Perry wrote a piece for The Nation that has got a lot of people talking.

President Obama has experienced a swift and steep decline in support among white Americans—from 61 percent in 2009 to 33 percent now. I believe much of that decline can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation.

In other words, a lot of white liberals voted for Barack Obama out of a sense of guilt and now they are seeing him as just a guy who was elected president.

Bob Cesca does a fine job of responding to the critics of the president who say he hasn’t lived up to their ideals of the liberal leader riding to their rescue from the wilderness of the Bush years and how, echoing (deliberately or not) the arguments of the GOP, he hasn’t accomplished anything.

According to Politifact, the president has kept 147 of his promises in just under three years, and broken 47. In other words, he’s batting around .750. In baseball, a .300 average is Hall of Fame worthy. Additionally, and I repeat for the umpteenth time, try to name a single president in American history who kept all of his promises and with whom you agree on every policy. I can’t think of a single one. To impose a different standard on this president seems dubiously motivated — a key point in Harris-Perry’s column.

This is also a sign of one of the worst things about progressives: we are our own worst critics and seem to feed on our own self-doubt. It’s a paradox that has haunted us for generations; we have always been able to publicly and proudly proclaim our ability to waver. To many, that’s a feature, not a bug. Many believe it shows us as being open-minded and willing to listen to other ideas, but far too often we come across as wimps whose core convictions can be rattled and changed by having someone yell at us on cable TV.

Perhaps the most important element is that a lot of progressives and liberals deluded themselves into thinking what they thought they were getting when they voted for Barack Obama. I’ve noted this many times before, but it still seems to elude: he’s not the great liberal savior. He never sold himself as one, he hasn’t governed as one, and anyone who thought he would be one just because he’s black and a Democrat is as guilty of race-tinged assumptions as those on the right who looked at him and instantly saw Malcolm X and Robert Mugabe. Even a skimming of his books — you can still buy them — reveal a rather centrist and pragmatic thinker who doesn’t do the Rick Perry “Fed Up!” routine at all. As Bob Cesca notes, “[n]evertheless, many progressives have unfairly superimposed their own politics onto the president. I’m not sure why, but then, when the president doesn’t follow through with your agenda, he’s suddenly a disappointment.”

I don’t want progressives or liberals or centrists or anyone else to lock-step support the president, and I don’t want them to stop criticizing and analyzing the job he’s doing. But I want them to at least be fair about it, be aware of the agenda they’re bringing with it, and acknowledge that perhaps the wrong place to appreciate what Barack Obama has done would be from the bleachers as Rick Perry’s inauguration parade heads down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.