Sunday, September 9, 2012

Obama Exceptionalism

Greenwald is right, but I don't think what he's talking about is anything new.  Elections aren't about issues, after all: they're about which candidate you'd want to have come over for dinner.

I posted this clip on Facebook, noting that neither Greenwald nor I really expect the Right to voice valid complaints against Obama; the Right's actual complaint seems to be that he's being President While Black, which is hard to voice in a way that won't be 'misunderstood.'  (I put 'misunderstood' in scare quotes because usually this locution refers to things that will be understood all too well, as in "If two men have sex in the street in broad daylight, they might be misunderstood as being gay.")

My liberal law professor friend moved to defend her President, using a popular one-two approach that is typical of American political discourse among the educated classes.  First the apologist poor-mouths the subject: sure, he hasn't done everything I'd have ideally liked him to do, President Obama is just doing the best he can against hateful Republicans who set out to make him fail!  Then the apologist distorts or flatly misrepresents the subject's record, touting all the wonderful things he's done, ignoring the less-wonderful things.  These two sit poorly together, since the first shot acknowledges how uninspiring the subject's record is, while the second magnifies his name as choirs of angels shout Peace on earth, good will to men.

In this case, my friend conceded that she wished the wars would end -- a bold move, since the official Obama line is that he's ended the wars.  But I guess wishing that the wars would end admits that they're going on without admitting Obama's role in extending, escalating, and multiplying them.  I had mentioned Obama's appointments to his cabinet of retreads from previous administrations, which my friend took to refer only to Robert Gates although I'd mentioned Larry Summers, a retread from Bill Clinton's day.  She couldn't quite manage to acknowledge this, just repeated that Obama's cabinet appointments, while not those she would have chosen, were his attempt to "reach across the table."  (Even if I had been talking only about Republicans, it's not clear to me that "reaching across the table" to a gang of war criminals, financial frauds, and general bad guys is either ideal or sensible politically.)

In the end, she retreated to the accusation that I was demanding "political perfection, not political reality", since obviously no one was going to prosecute Republican war criminals.  Most obviously, it's revealing that she (like so many educated liberal Democrats) considers massacres of civilians, escalation and multiplication of aggressive wars, an ongoing assault on the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, increasing suppression of dissent by "whistleblowers" and in the streets, active collaboration with the Right on the deficit and social programs, and much more, to be mere imperfections.  More subtly, I notice again the tacit acknowledgment that most of Obama's campaign promises were mere fantasies, pandering to the unrealistic hopes of his base, that he never intended to deliver.  (This surely applies as well to Romney's current hard-line promises to get rid of the Affordable Care Act and so on; if elected, he'll surely disappoint many of those who vote for him.)  Those of us who warned during his campaign that Obama was a right-wing Democrat closer to the Republicans than to his progressive supporters, and who were vilified as cruel cynics at the time, turned out to be prophets without honor in our own land; well, it wasn't the first time, nor will it be the last.

I don't think this is deliberate.  I don't think such people are self-aware enough to realize what they're doing.  (This is ironic, given their level of education and their scorn for the stupidity of the Republicans.)  The important thing is to keep up the team spirit and root for the good guys, basking in their reflected glory and hoping that one day you might even get to shake his hand or gasp attend a White House dinner.  Winning isn't everything, as a football coach reportedly said, it's the only thing.