There has been a lot of talk this week about criticism of Obama from the left. After Andrew Sullivan posted a number of emails from readers under the subject of “Leaving the Left,” Glenn Greenwald, a persistent (and I think, fair) critic of Obama had enough:
What’s most striking about these valiant defenses of Obama is how utterly devoid they are of any substantive points and how, instead, suffuse with weird, even inappropriate, emotional attachments they are. These objections are grounded almost exclusively in (a) a deep-seated conviction that President Obama is a good and just man who means well; (b) their own rather intense upset at seeing him criticized; and (c) a spitting ad hominem fury of the type long directed by Bush followers at any critics of their leader, and generally typical of authoritarian attacks on out-groups critics.
I feel like commenting because I walk on both sides of this line. Here’s the blog post that kicked off the “leaving the left” thread, which I was quite sympathetic toward. How can I agree with someone who’s “leaving the left” and someone who criticizes Obama pretty much every day?
I just don’t have much patience for people on the left who seem to believe that Obama is a sellout to interests they don’t agree with. All of these arguments seem to have the same form: “President Obama will not do this thing because he is afraid to stand up to this group.” He is not pushing for the public option because he’s afraid to stand up to Joe Lieberman. He is not ending the war in Afghanistan because he’s afraid Republicans will attack him for it. He didn’t nationalize the big banks because he was afraid of Wall Street. He has not passed financial reform because he’s afraid of Wall Street. The list goes on.
All of those things could be true, but there are other equally plausible explanations for each of them. Take the public option. As Matthew Yglesias explains, the public option had been weakened substantially in its journey through Congress. The public option people were talking about at the beginning of the process is not the public option that was in the bill the Senate is debating and there were efforts in play to weaken it more. Obama detractors argue that had President Obama drawn a line in the sand and refused to accept a bill without a strong public option, a strong public option would be there, but I believe that the Obama administration has a better sense of Congress than the average blogger for the Huffington Post. The probability that a hard public stand for a strong public option would have killed health care reform entirely is greater than zero.
I am in complete support of criticism of the White House for policies you disagree with. There are plenty of things the White House is doing that I find unsatisfying. A few are infuriating. But I don’t assume that because President Obama is choosing a course that does not match my ideal, he therefore does not share my goals, or that he has abandoned the principles that he espoused during the campaign. People can say what they like, but I’ve pretty much stopped listening to those who go that route.