The Left abandons Obama

Noted liberal historian Gary Wills (Lincoln at Gettysburg) was one of Barack Obama's staunchest supporters during the 2008  presidential campaign. “I had written op-ed pieces and articles to support him in The New York Times and The New York Review of Books [NYRB]. My wife and I had maxed out in donations for him. Our children had been ardent for his cause.”

Wills kept faith after the election despite several disappointments. “[Obama's] backtracking on the treatment of torture (and photographs of torture), his hesitations to give up on rendition, on detentions, on military commissions, and on signing statements, are disheartening continuations of George W. Bush's heritage. But I kept hoping that he was using these concessions to buy leeway for his most important position, for the ground on which his presidential bid was predicated.” But no longer. “Obama will not get another penny from me, or another word of praise, after this betrayal,” Wills blogged Dec. 1 at NYRB. (1)

Wills was reacting to Obama's November decision to commit 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan, copying the Bush administration's “Surge” strategy for Iraq (while also announcing a timetable for withdrawal). A reader might (and some did) take issue with the word 'betrayal,' noting that Obama had campaigned on making the Afghanistan war a priority. However, Wills is quick to explain why he uses that term:

There was only one thing that brought [Obama] to the attention of the nation as a future president. It was opposition to the Iraq war…. He put in clarion terms the truth about that war — that it was a dumb war, that it went after an enemy where he was not hiding, that it had no indigenous base of support, that it had no sensible goal and no foreseeable cutoff point…. Although he talked of a larger commitment to Afghanistan during his campaign, he has now officially adopted his very own war, one with all the disqualifications that he attacked in the Iraq engagement. This war too is a dumb one….

We have been in Afghanistan for eight years, earning hatred as occupiers, and after this record for longevity in American wars we will be there for still more years earning even more hatred…. Although Obama says he plans to begin withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011, he will meanwhile be sending there not only soldiers but the contract employees that cling about us now like camp followers, corrupt adjuncts in perpetuity. Obama did not mention these plagues that now equal the number of military personnel we dispatch. We are sending off thousands of people to take and give bribes to drug dealers in Afghanistan….

If we had wanted Bush's wars, and contractors, and corruption, we could have voted for John McCain. (1)

Then there is Tom Hayden, long-time progressive activist, former California state senator, former husband of Jane Fonda. Hayden endorsed “Barack Obama's movement” in ringing terms two years ago: “If history is any guide, the new 'best and brightest' of the Obama generation will unleash a new cycle of activism, reform and fresh thinking…. For at least a brief moment, people around the world from the shantytowns to the sweatshops, even to the restless rich of the Sixties generation will look up from the treadmills of their shrunken lives to the possibilities of what life still might be. Environmental justice and global economic hope would dawn as possibilities…. Is Barack the one we have been waiting for?” (2)

Hayden went on to co-found Progressives for Obama. (3). However, by Dec. 1 he too had changed his tune, writing in The Nation:

It's time to strip the Obama sticker off my car. Obama's escalation in Afghanistan is the last in a string of disappointments. His flip-flopping acceptance of the military coup in Honduras has squandered the trust of Latin America. His Wall Street bailout leaves the poor, the unemployed, minorities and college students on their own. And now comes the Afghanistan-Pakistan decision to escalate the stalemate, which risks his domestic agenda, his Democratic base, and possibly even his presidency. (4)

Progressives for Obama also did an abrupt name change in December, stripping the President's name off their website; a move that prompted Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Caucus to remark:

The organization formerly known as “Progressives for Obama” has changed its name. After almost a year of President Obama's massive transfers of the people's wealth to Wall Street, his escalation of U.S. wars in South Asia, his shameless alliance with insurance and drug corporations, and his callous disregard for Depression-level Black unemployment, even the president's most loyal sycophants on the Left are running for cover. It's not a pretty sight. (3)

By year end, Ralph Nader was finding further examples: “If you read the biweekly compilation of progressive and liberal columnists and pundits in the Progressive Populist, one of my favorite publications, the velvet verbal gloves are coming off.[…]

Jim Hightower writes that “Obama is sinking us into Absurdistan.'” He bewails: “I had hoped Obama might be a more forceful leader who would reject the same old interventionist mindset of those who profit from permanent war. But his newly announced Afghan policy shows he is not that leader.”…

Norman Solomon, expressed his sharp deviation from his long-time admiration of the politician from Chicago. He writes: “President Obama accepted the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize while delivering — to the world as it is — a pro-war speech. The context instantly turned the speech's insights into flackery for more war.”

Arianna Huffington has broken in installments. But her disillusionment is expanding. She writes: “Obama isn't distancing himself from the 'Left' with his decision to escalate this deepening disaster [in Afghanistan]. He's distancing himself from the national interests of the country.” (5)

By January, even Progressive America Rising (PAR) — the former Progressives for Obama — was commenting on the growing disillusionment on the left:

Many critics correctly question Obama's reliance on Wall Street enablers for key economic advice, and doubt the Obama team can reverse the rising tide of unemployment and underemployment. There is deep anxiety about the president's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, despite growing evidence that this war is as foolish, futile and feckless as any military adventure the United States has previously undertaken. And Obama has not consistently taken the high road on global warming, workers' rights, gay rights and civil liberties. (6)

PAR called on progressive leaders to stop “spending their resources on mobilizing support for the White House agenda. What we need from here on in is a national coalition aimed at mobilizing grassroots support for 'keeping the promises'” — a “revitalized progressive coalition at the national level, independent of the Obama administration but embracing its original goals”. (6)

By mid-January the story was gaining international attention, with (for one) the Montreal-based Centre for Research on Globalization writing that “a number of liberal Obama supporters who identify with the party's center left are expressing serious disappointment. Center right governance, continual compromise with the right wing Republicans, and more wars are not the changes they expected from a candidate some believed to harbor progressive intentions.” (7)

Yet while liberal and progressive disappointment with Obama's first year is becoming major news, it is not an important story in itself, and can  even  be a distraction from the important story. That is another point that Wills was careful to make:

“I know that my disappointment does not matter. What really matters are the lives of the young men and women [Obama] is sending off to senseless deaths.” (1)

Also read:

Obama warned not to take peace vote for granted

(July 2008) – //

Barr on Obama (I): Iraq

(Nov. 2008) – //

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