My Love/Hate Relationship With Progressive Liberals

As the last days of 2010 step into place for their final curtain call, I find myself humming the occasional holiday song, appreciating the snow-capped mountains, eating too many cookies, and wishing I could strangle some of my dearest friends on earth.

It’s only fair to tell you that you might be one of those people. But before you go getting all snippy and defensive you should also know that I didn’t start this little spat. You did. I tried to be patient with you and I tried to be kind. We’ve been going round and round about this for the better part of a year – and I was prepared to let it slide, again, but when you went off and found fault with the repeal of DADT, the passage of health care benefits for 9/11 first responders and the passage of the START Treaty, well, I’ve had enough.

No, I’m not talking about the Tea Party. I’m talking about the most liberal progressives among us.

The Pink Cloud
Remember how we bonded back in 2007 over a little thing called the Obama campaign? Boy oh boy, it went down smooth, didn’t it? We lapped it up like kitties at the milk bowl, sure that we had found the one to speak for every one of us.

Remember the early days of this presidency? Remember all the criticism Obama got for taking on too much, doing too many things too fast? Remember how we gave each other high fives because Obama was so ON it?

The Honeymoon is Over
Within months, you began complaining that he wasn’t really doing anything he promised to do. You felt he was paying too much attention to the conservatives and corporations. You went crazy when he escalated in Afghanistan , even though he promised to do exactly that during his campaign. You felt betrayed and that you had been suckered into a false promise of hope.

Once you became disenchanted, you gave up on Obama. You decided that incremental change is selling out to corporations; that negotiation is a sign of weakness and strategy is merely an attempt to hide procrastination; that compromise is a dirty word and that Obama has revealed himself to be no different than George Bush.

I was taken aback. But I trusted you so I took a deeper look. But I didn’t see what you were seeing.

Our First Fight

I think I know why we saw things differently. I don’t think you really believed Obama when he said he would speak for every one of us. You thought he meant everyone except for the people you don’t like.

So you gave up and you moved on to bigger dreams. You began building new grassroots organizations, recruiting from the old grassroots organizations, passing on your level of anger and frustration to your new members. That’s exactly what our Republican friends do, only they’re much better at it than you are. You know why? Because if there’s one thing the Republicans are really, really good at, it’s united fury. They don’t have a platform, they don’t have any ideas, and they don’t have any good candidates, but lordy, lordy, they’ve got anger. And it wraps them up in one great big hate-fest snuggie. You, my friend, you’ve got the fury but you don’t have the unity. It doesn’t look good on you and it smells funny, too. But you’re on a roll and you won’t be denied.

You see the health care law as a cushy backroom deal for the insurance companies. It doesn’t have Single Payer. It doesn’t have a Public Option. It takes too long to implement. Obama didn’t respond fast enough to the BP oil spill. He was a coward for not standing up to the Republican obstructionists. He lost your respect when he elected not to charge Bush/Cheney with war crimes. His cabinet is full of crooks. Gitmo. The Patriot Act. The Bail Outs. On and on you could go with all your evidence of how Obama has failed us.

Ironic then, isn’t it that so many of your other liberal progressive friends disagree with you? Just this week, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC discussed President Obama’s achievements very succinctly:

“If you would have told policy people and political scientists two years ago that halfway through his term in office, Barack Obama will have accomplished 85% of his agenda, they would have laughed at you and told you how impossible that would be given the amount of polarization in our legislative process. If you would go on to tell them that after one year Obama would lose his 60 vote majority in the Senate, and would still pass major legislation the experts would have told you to seek mental help, but this is exactly what President Obama has accomplished.”
~ Rachel Maddow, December 22, 2010

So no; I haven’t had a single second of regret over working to get him elected. I haven’t even questioned it – not once. Not only was the alternative too hideous to contemplate, but he was and still remains, the clear and obvious choice to lead our country into its next defining period.

The Crowning Blow
Remember the organizing principles of REI? Respect/Empower/Inclusion. You might want to blow off the dust and have another look at them because now you’re just strident and demanding. You don’t talk so much as you yell, and you let anyone who disagrees with you know what a worthless lump of uneducated piece of garbage you think they are.

Shame on you.

You don’t really want anything for “all” of us. You just want it for you. And you want it right now.

Shame on you for using the peace-and-love-for-all doctrine to defend your purist, elitist, dogmatic, unforgiving postures. Shame on you for castigating every small success because it wasn’t perfect. And shame on you for not being happy unless you make someone else unhappy, too. Would you chastise a preschooler’s accomplishment of having learned the alphabet because she still can’t read? Must it really be all or nothing with you?

I know. We used to be tight. Now you think I’m one of those deluded “Obamabots” who drank the kool-aid and can’t see the forest for the trees. That’s okay. I think you’re just as judgmental, obstinate, irrational, petulant and unforgiving as any Tea Party patriot.

The Breakup
You’re so positive you’ve been betrayed by a man, who by all indication, will be recorded as one of the best, most effective presidents in U.S. history. Being emotionally invested in that position means you can’t afford the possibility of any other reality. It would force you to face the crack in your values.

Friends support and love one another through good times and the bad. They also give you a kick in the pants when you’re being a jerk and tell you to snap out of it. Consider yourself told. You’re being a jerk and it’s time to wake up.

Begging You To Come Home
I know it’s been bad between us but I still want the same things as you. Obama has done plenty of things I wish he’d done differently and I’ve been angry at times, disappointed at others. I know why you’re upset and I understand.

I want you back. We’re better together than we apart.

We need to realize that creating more factions simply duplicates and dilutes existing efforts. The rift between us has made us nitpick everything, analyzing this or that, intellectualizing a comment here, a comment there, and dissecting the president’s every step. We’ve compartmentalized ourselves to the point where we’re in danger of becoming a moot point. We’re not just angry with the Republicans or the President – we’re angry with each other, evidenced by the amount of time we spend arguing about what the priorities are and how we should be going about dealing with them. We are passionate people who live by the creed of “you’re wrong and I’m right.”

This continued, systematic effort to dilute our greatest resource – the US in this grassroots movement – will be the death of us.

I don’t want that. Deep down, I know you don’t want that either.

We are a work in progress. We can choose to focus our energies solely on what hasn’t been done. Or we can focus on what has been accomplished and continue to press forward in that vein. There is so much work left to do! I can’t do it without you. You can’t do it without me.

I’m sorry I was so harsh. I’m sorry I blamed you for all of it. I did the same things I accused you of. I was strident and demanding and exacting in what I expected of you. I’m sorry, I really am. Can’t we put this behind us? I want you to come home. Please take a breath and come home. If you won’t do it for me, do it for the country. Please?

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13 Comments

  1. List of strawmen in this article:

    1. Progressives “found fault with the repeal of DADT, the passage of health care benefits for 9/11 first responders and the passage of the START Treaty”

    2. Progressives believe “that incremental change is selling out to corporations; that negotiation is a sign of weakness and strategy is merely an attempt to hide procrastination; that compromise is a dirty word and that Obama has revealed himself to be no different than George Bush.”

    3. Progressives “don’t talk so much as you yell, and you let anyone who disagrees with you know what a worthless lump of uneducated piece of garbage you think they are”

    4. Progressives “don’t really want anything for “all” of us. [We] just want it for [us]. And [we] want it right now”

    5. Progressives take “purist, elitist, dogmatic, unforgiving postures” and “castigate every small success because it [isn’t] perfect”

    Please provide examples of prominent progressives (Democratic officeholders, people with their own cable news show, frontpagers on prominent blogs – basically I’m saying, not some random commenter on Daily Kos) who make any of these arguments.

    Also, please provide some actual arguments, instead of snarky, patronizing put-downs against supposed allies. Thank you in advance!

    1. @Jim:

      I don’t think that voices in the realm of elected officials and main-stream media are what Marla is talking about, nor are they particularly relevant. In other words, their voices don’t necessarily reflect or represent the opinion of progressives everywhere. It also occurs to me that Marla isn’t talking about all progressives, just many of the ones who have been vocally criticizing Obama. Perhaps it is only anecdotal, but I have had this experience too. It’s just to frequent to be a few random bloggers and commenters.

      In any event, there has been ample criticism of Obama from mainstream progressives. Paul Krugman for just one example.

      1. Oh, I totally agree that there are mainstream progressives criticizing Obama. But Paul Krugman makes cogent arguments, like “the stimulus was too small” and “Obama should have made the stimulus bigger when he had the chance, because realistically he was only going to have one shot to do it right before the Republicans started to obstruct again”. But I’ve never seen Krugman, say, call someone a worthless lump of uneducated garbage.

        I guess I’m confused by your other comment – if it’s not people with actual power to shape opinion making these arguments, why is that something worthy of calling out? Like, by focusing on the crazy guy who thinks that Obama covered up 9/11 (no joke I know someone like this), the author is handwaving away an entire group of people, who have actual arguments against Obama – people like Krugman.

        And also, this whole paragraph: “You see the health care law as a cushy backroom deal for the insurance companies. It doesn’t have Single Payer. It doesn’t have a Public Option. It takes too long to implement. Obama didn’t respond fast enough to the BP oil spill. He was a coward for not standing up to the Republican obstructionists. He lost your respect when he elected not to charge Bush/Cheney with war crimes. His cabinet is full of crooks. Gitmo. The Patriot Act. The Bail Outs. On and on you could go with all your evidence of how Obama has failed us.”

        It strikes me that the author didn’t actually refute any of these problems. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be upset because the President hasn’t closed the secret torture prison, or because he still wiretaps our phones without warrants, or any other of those issues; is the author interested in having a debate about those things? Or just saying mean things about progressives?

        1. I completely agree with you that there are reasons to be frustrated and upset. I backed Obama based on two things: his position on Iraq and health care reform. Like you, I was unhappy without a public option, disappointed that we weren’t actually producing a national health care system, and frustrated that it would take so long to implement many of the changes. But what was got was an incremental change and I’ve seen how hard it was to achieve just that much. I’m happy with what we got even if I’m not satisfied with the final product, even if the work needs to continue.

          My other comments are directly related to my personal experience with progressive friends.

          1. I think this is a really frustrating argument, because we both believe in the same end goals – UHC, an end to the war in Iraq, etc. And there’s not even a fundamental disconnect on strategy – the country as a whole is not at the point where they’ll support UHC, or a dismantling of the military-industrial complex, or anything else like that. So I believe firmly in taking what we can get. I’m just saying, I think Obama is bad at negotiating (or, that parts of his administration have been captured by insurance companies, military contractors, etc). If we lost the public option after a long, hard fight against the Republicans (or against Ben Nelson, Max Baucus, etc) that would be one thing; but Obama was signalling to them that he was willing to drop it as early as spring 2009. I don’t have a problem with the notion of compromise, I just want the President to be actually good at it. The health care bill is better than nothing, but not as good as it could have been. And that’s really my whole critique of the Obama Presidency so far. He’s done a lot; he could have done so much more.

  2. Usually I vent a spleen about this kind of thing, but it isn’t necessary. I know many of the same types of folks you are speaking of Marla, and what I tell them is this:

    We have had decades of conservatives taking control of the arguments. When Obama became the candidate in 2008, he was not, is not, and has never pretended to be a very liberal politician. He only seems that way compared to anyone who has seriously run in decades (apologies to Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader, but let’s focus on “seriously” here).

    For him to do what he has, given the animus over his skin color, his party affiliation, and – oh yes – his skin color, is nothing short of amazing.

    Have I been disappointed at times despite knowing this? Sure. But give the guy a break and quit projecting all over him.

    1. I agree with most of this, but I want to take issue with what you said about liberals “projecting” – I don’t think that’s true. I went into 2008 holding my nose and voting for Obama – just because he was the most liberal candidate I could get doesn’t mean he was actually liberal. But even Candidate Obama, who wasn’t that liberal, was far better than President Obama. Candidate Obama campaigned on closing Gitmo; on a public option; on ending warrantless wiretapping (at least during the Nevada caucus); and many others. To say that liberals are “projecting” is untrue; liberals are simply demanding that Obama keep his promises.

      1. It isn’t the want that I object to. It’s the delivery of the request and the throw away the key mentality if we don’t get it right this very minute that I don’t like.

        We forget that Obama isn’t King. He’s Chief of Staff and he has no choice but to work with the staff in place.

        1. But who put that staff in place? Barack Obama. Ultimately, Obama is responsible for everything his administration does, because he’s the one who picked them. It’s like John said – if Obama had been more liberal in the first place, he wouldn’t have officials like Lawrence Summers and Robert Gates working for him.

          And I think the progressive argument is that we have to keep pressure on the administration, in order to get them to hold to the promises Obama made. Politicians are interested in one thing: getting re-elected. If Obama can do whatever he wants and still get progressive votes and money, he has no incentive to listen to us, and every incentive to move right and try to pick up moderate conservatives. Demanding that he live up to his promises is a way of keeping him honest.

  3. Marla, I totally get this. Wish I understood it. Sometimes I get it, a belief that without pushing and rage, DC won’t listen. A belief that accepting compromise is compromising one’s morals. Wish I know how to speak to this. I like the start you are giving it.

  4. Oh man, this article is so exactly right! And written so many months ago! I’m just now reaching the point you seemed to have reached back then, where I just can’t take it anymore! Anyway, excellent article at expressing the frustration ordinary liberals are having with far left progressives.

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