Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You Can't Ever Get What You Want

As a complement to David Frum's dissection of what's wrong with the party he happens to be an avowed member of, Jonathan Chait takes to New York Magazine online to write the definitive takedown of the arrogant, whining, pouting, tantrum-throwing left. The whole thing is dead-on, but here are just a couple of pertinent quotes.

"Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president—indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious—but not with the real thing. The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president."


"'Monty Python’s Life of Brian' has a classic bit depicting the followers of 'Brian,' a thinly disguised satire of Jesus, as left-wing activists. The movement contains bitterly feuding splinter groups with such names as the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean People’s Front, the Judean Popular People’s Front, the Campaign for a Free Galilee, and the Popular Front of Judea—the last consisting of one man—all of which hate each other more than the Romans.

The joke was that left-wing politics has always taken the same form: that lefties in Palestine 2,000 years ago would act pretty much like their counterparts in seventies Britain. Political psychologists have found for decades that the joke is pretty much true. Conservatives, compared with liberals, have higher levels of respect for and obedience to authority and prefer order over chaos and continuity over change. They are more likely than liberals to agree with statements like 'It is more important to be a team player than to express yourself.'

The 1968 Democratic convention—'which consisted of spokespersons for about 253 major ideological factions giving each other the finger through clouds of tear gas,' as Dave Barry put it—is the sort of scene that could not occur within the Republican Party. Or consider the contrast in style between the tea party and Occupy Wall Street. These two movements, allegedly mirror images of each other, perfectly display the differences between the right and the left. The Occupy activists abhor anything that would force any member to subsume his or her individual autonomy to the greater good. Did the drum circles drive everybody else to distraction? Too bad—you can’t tell the drummers what to do, man. There are no leaders, no organized speakers, no attempts at organizing anything except addressing the protesters’ elemental need for food and shelter. The tea party was mostly able to suppress the racist signs that popped up in the early stages of the movement. Occupy Wall Street has been unable to silence a handful of anti-­Semites because it can’t silence anybody."


"Obama will never match among Democrats Reagan’s place in the psyche of his own party, as reflected in the endless propaganda campaign to give him full credit for the end of stagflation and communism, the dogmatic insistence that everything the great hero said offers the One True Path for all time, and the project to name every possible piece of American property after him. Republican Reagan-worship is a product of a pro-authority mind-set that liberals, who inflate past heroes only to criticize their contemporaries, cannot match. If recent history is any guide, they are simply not capable of having that kind of relationship with a president. They are going to question their leader, not deify him, and search for signs of betrayal in any act of compromise he or she may commit. This exhausting psychological torment is no way to live. Then again, the current state of the Republican Party suggests it may be healthier than the alternative."

Seriously, read the whole piece. It says everything I've been saying for two years now and sums up just about every point I've ever made to those who argue with me or write me off as some kind of Obama apologist. In other words, if you decide to bitch about any of this in the comment section, spare yourself the effort.


Anonymous said...

Spare me (us) your indignation and watch the comments fly.

Chez said...

Always a big fan of the anonymous negative comments. Generally, they got nothin' (as evidenced by above).

Don't you have a Brazilian beach to sun yourself on, Glenn?

Claude Weaver said...


I mean, wow.

It is so on point it is scary. And the really sad thing is it isn't even a new phenomenon. These anti-Obama liberals are even original in their oh-so-perfect condemnation of the man. They are simply following in a long-held tradition of "cool people rebel against authority".

And I think the fact that they aren't special snowflakes but just as prone to dogma and reactionary actions as the people they demonize on the other side, is the greatest insult you can ever lay on them.

Captain Splendid said...

Interesting article, but the conclusion is dead wrong. If Obama wins re-election, he will go down as the left's Reagan, no problems there.

Anonymous said...

As a matter of fact, I do have a beach to sun myself on, and I'm going to think of you while I tea bag my Brazilian boy toy.

Nathan said...

I was out with a friend a couple of weeks ago who started into a bitchfest about how he got sold a bill of goods when he voted for Obama and how he might not vote for him again.

I asked him if he honestly thought any Democrat might challenge Obama and he acknowledged that it wouldn't happen. I asked him if any Independent (more to his liking) might make a credible run and he agreed that it would be the longest of longshots. I asked him which Republican he thought might be a good alternative and he laughed.

The current crop of Republicans would demonize Obama if he adopted every part of their agenda; it's a miracle he can get anything done. They'd call him unAmerican if he issued a proclamation honoring motherhood and apple pie.

As far as I'm concerned everybody should just STFU already, commit to backing Obama for another term and work toward giving him a Congress he can work with.

Marc McKenzie said...

@Nathan: Agreed.

While I am all for--and I don't mind--honest, constructive criticism of President Obama, what I've seen fly from the anti-Obama liberals/Left is unbelievable. It's not criticism but a mass of bullshit that ignores hard, concrete facts in favor of a stinking sludge made out of fantasy and utopian nonsense.

That this crap has repeated itself over the years--and that no one has bothered to stop it--really pisses me off.

medic8r said...

Chez, for the lazy among us, I think you forgot to include a link to the article ...

As you said, he seems spot-on with this one.

Chez said...

Sorry. Holiday week and post-Disney brain death. Forgot the link.

Chris said...

Chez, I think you're somewhat wrong here. But let me start with where we agree: Obama winning in 2012 is far better than any realistic alternative. Still, I am also one of those in Obama's base who are not thrilled with his performance.

That said, there is good reason for liberal discontent with Obama. He is most disappointing in areas where he has not lived up to campaign promises. For me, especially those regarding the equitable distribution of wealth (taxes on people and corporations), abuses of government power, and willingness to fight for what's right.
For a big list of broken promises:

* The Obama administration still abuses executive power with policies like rendition ( and has done nothing to limit future executive abuses like those under the Bush Administration: eg torture, illegal and unethical detentions of terrorism suspects, and signing statements. The only thing stopping the abuse of these powers is not having another man like Bush in office, and if history is any example it's just a matter of time before somebody abuses those powers even worse than Bush did.

* He has continually let Republicans frame debates, though Dems are doing better than in Bush years. A better health-care reform, single payer, was not even brought up. He was particularly unimpressive when the GOP held the American economy hostage by threatening to not increase the debt limit. He never calls out the GOP for putting Party above Country. He always seems to start out negotiations with the GOP at the GOP's position.

* He has done nothing to fix campaign finance. He became a hypocrite when he reneged on his promise to run a publicly-financed campaign because at that point he knew he could raise more money than McCain. And with $1B in his "war" chest, he's not going to make any campaign finance reform, probably not even after 2012. Don't expect Obama to crack down on Wall Street when they are the one financing his campaign.

But I do love Frum's critique of the Right.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that Obama has not done much. He got elected as a black man, and he got a health care reform bill passed that was doomed from the start to be struck down by the Supreme Court. I'll credit him the assist with Libya, too. While that is better than nothing, it is just barely better than nothing.
I don't mind that Barack Obama has not been a perfect president or a perfect leftist. I mind that he has not been an adequate president, or an adequate leftist. And also I mind that Obama apologists, no names, refuse to hold him to any standard at all, and protest that his critics condemn him for not being perfect.
Look, I don't need him to be perfect. And, I know full well that he has done much better by the American people than any Republican on the field would do. But I wanted him to fill some of that middle ground between "worst possible" and "best possible". I wanted him to be adequate, at least.
I wanted a Democratic president that would aggressively back up the right of union members to bargain, even if that only meant speeches given before the press. I wanted a Democratic president who would say something, anything, against the use of force to silence political protest. I wanted a Democratic president who would end the wars before he was contractually forced to. I wanted a president, of any stripe, that would do something tangible to roll back the tide of bad governance. I wanted accountability, transparency, and a new way of doing business. Like he promised.
He's not perfect. Nobody's perfect. But one should aspire to be more than "better than those idiots". Especially a president.

Chez said...

Dear God. It's such a waste even arguing this anymore. Chris, you seem reasonable, which means you'll understand that for every one thing you can say that Obama hasn't done that you wanted him to do, I can name one or even more that he did. I can send you to websites as well, ones with oodles of examples of accomplishments that should, by all accounts, make the left drool. But of course none of it will, because he's had to compromise -- even on some of the big issues he made campaign promises about -- which is something he shares in common with every other president ever, revered or despised by the left. Again, pick your battles and learn to accept a lot of what you want rather than nothing. I can't believe I have to say this yet again, but I've never said, "Don't ever criticize Obama"; I've said to demand smart accountability and accept that a certain amount of give and take is necessary, even on your pet issues, while the alternative to Obama at the moment will give you nothing you want. Hell, that alternative thinks you're un-American for even wanting it in the first place.

As for anonymous directly above -- your comment is so fucking ridiculous it doesn't even deserve a proper response. Congratulations, you get to see the words you typed printed. I have to assume that was your only reason for typing them.

QuadCityPat said...

Thanks for dropping the knowledge Chez.

The problem with the EmoProgs and their dissatisfaction with Obama, is that they seem to think there's some mystical perfect lib out there who could actually win an election.

People like Glen Greenwald et al, who think it would be worth four years of a GOP president to show America how bad the GOP is, are missing the fucking point. For the most part Americans are dumb,

I'm talking mouth breathing levels of idiocy. It took 8 FUCKING YEARS of Bush to get the country to move a tiny bit back towards the left. Two years after that the electorate decided that THE FUCKING TEA PARTY was a good idea.

People won't seek out the great "Liberal Hope" if the GOP gets the White House back, they'll just do what their told. But hey the good news is FireDogLake and DailyKos will get more hits because they hate the GOP.

Chris said...

@Chez, I totally agree with your reply.

Also - people seem to think the President deserves blame or praise for everything, but a major problem is that Obama is hamstrung by Congress. Further, Democrats in Congress are to blame for letting the GOP railroad them - even when Democrats had the majority! Hamstrung by constant threats of filibuster? Make those GOP a*holes stay up for weeks reading Dickens or the Bible and see how much longer they want to threaten a filibuster over every little thing.

Anonymous said...

Granted, Obama has had to compromise, and been hamstrung, because of the recalcitrance and interference from the Republican right. And he has done everything possible on the legislative front. No worries, no doubts. But that is only one small tool in his toolbox.
As commander-in-chief, wars end when he says so. If he was serious about ending any wars, he can issue an order to the chain of command, and the soldiers come home. No muss, no fuss, no bother. It would take less than five minutes of his time. This should have happened the day after he took office, not the end of 2011.
As head of the executive branch, he can order Guantanamo bay closed. Even faster than ending the wars.
The power of the 'bully pulpit' is not to be underestimated. He could say something in support of the OWS protestors. Something. Anything. Any sort of condemnation at all for the police that brutalize people. Five minutes out of his day, that's all it would take for him to be on the right side of this issue. Ditto the union workers last year. Just five minutes. He could not give the people that much.
If the bully pulpit wasn't enough, there is a lot else he could do. What would send a powerful message? Presidential pardons for all 4,000 protesters arrested. He can do that. It's his power, his authority, and frankly it's his duty. And it would not cost him his legislative battles, he would not need to compromise with the Republican right or cut deals. No veto, no second-guessing, no filibuster.
These are things he could do, but has not done. These are things that he should have done, but has not done. And it's not too much to ask.

Chez said...

Wow. Incredible. Just incredible.

Let me translate that entire diatribe into one sentence for you: "He's done a lot of good things but it's not enough for me."

And that's exactly what Chait's piece was about. Exactly.

Thanks for playing.

Claude Weaver said...

Wait, wait, wait.

Did Anonymous 9:21 PM just say that the president can just end a war with "no muss, no fuss, no bother"?

Um, really? You sure you want to go with that? Because you are ignoring a LOT of factors here. You are talking about leaving allies high and dry, removing thousands of troops and associated support staff in a massive withdrawal, throwing the logistics of such a move into Limbo, and giving his opponents the very ammo they need to paint him as a cut-and-run coward who doesn't consider his ramifications of his actions.

And that seems to be the OTHER common fault with these leftist complainers: they don't even consider the effects of their demands. They want what they want right bow, and don't care if it screws everything up.

As far as the OWS pardoning thing, considering that most, if not all, the arrests can be thrown out by a halfway decent public defender, there is really no need, and will only come off as bullying tactics to the right and pathetic pandering to the left.

And did any of you purified liberals ever consider that, with a secured second term and no more worrying about re-election, Obama might be in an even better position to establish some real change? Huh? Did ya?

VOTAR said...

I want a Golden Goose, daddy! And I want it NOW!!!

smitmaul said...

I must be old. I remember learning, at some point, that politics is the art of the possible. Ideological purity has no place in the people's forum. It can't work.

Mart said...

Read the Ezra Klein WaPo blog. He said if the Dems hold the line, the GOP brain trust has engineered two triggers after the 2012 election that will (1) defund the Pentagon while leaving Medicare & SS alone; and (2) drop the Bush tax cuts for the rich. $6 trillion in progressive deficit reduction. If this comes to pass I believe Obama will go down as one of the greats, equal to FDR. Three dimensional chess and all.

Trouble is there will likely be a great compromise where a few lobbyists will defeat these highly voter popular programs. Obama has my money and vote over the insane clowns. I knew he was a blue dog Democratic going in (essentially the same as Hillary) and he has performed as expected. A little pressure from the left of conventional wisdom may help shape outcomes. To be a hall of fame lefty of FDR proportions (almost as cool as Reagan)he will need to stand up against war profiteers, along with healthcare and financial industry lobbyists. Do not see it happening, but there is always hope.

Eric said...

My response to Chait's apologia: meh. Look, I don't disagree with his assertion that liberals can't be satisfied with a Democratic president, I just think his conclusions are based on the faulty premise that the Democrats remain a liberal party, assuming for the sake of argument they ever were (if Chait's argument has any legs at all--some of his claims, I think, are debatable--what he does then is make the case that progressives have been settling for less ever since Teddy Roosevelt).

I also continue to resent the claim by Chait and his ilk that the Clintons are now lionized by people like me. The only thing that pushed Bill Clinton into the plus column for me was that his successor fucked the bottom of the curve and drove everybody else's grades up.

I'll vote for the President in 2012 because he beats the alternatives. I'll agree he's had a lot of quiet accomplishments in his first term and I'll concede a lot of the "failures" held against him really belong to Congress. But I'm not going to stop whining about the changes I believe in just because it discomfits a Democrat like Chait. I'm not a Democrat. As long as they're the slightly-right-but-still-left-of-the-GOP party, I probably never will be. If that means I never get to dance in the streets, well, guess that's my cross to bear; I'm not, however, about to redefine my values to fit one political party's redefinition of liberalism.

My two cents, probably worth a tenth of that at today's exchange rate.

Chez said...

Neither Chait's comments nor mine are aimed at people like you, Eric. You have every right to disagree with Obama on a bunch of issues and you're right to say that the Democrats aren't in any way a truly "liberal" party. The criticism is directed toward the people who seem to have made a career -- and a really nice one, it should be added -- out of constantly hectoring Obama as not delivering and being no better than, say, Bush, which is just horseshit of the highest order. For fuck's sake, yesterday was Thanksgiving and Greenwald, that pissy little drama queen, was tweeting about how thankful he was for all the terror plots the FBI and Obama administration stopped that they themselves had engineered. Again, at this point it's just to perpetuate his position as a dissatisfied baby (what he mistakenly calls intellectual honesty and integrity) as opposed to actually accomplishing anything of substance for the progressive movement.

Anonymous said...

Chez, I don't think anyone, anywhere is arguing that Obama, on the whole is "no better than Bush." When people like Greenwald compare Obama to Bush, they are (rightfully so) arguing that Obama's foreign policy goals and methods are, in many cases, similar, if not exactly the same, as Bush's. Any reasonable personable should find it hard to argue against that idea, given all the evidence there is to support it. More generally, Chait's attitude is emblematic of the way that Democratic media elites reflect the most pressing, deepest-cutting (and, often times, most valid) criticisms of presidents they support. Just because Obama is "better" than any GOP candidate (fucking big accomplishment that is, right?), doesn't mean that we can't strive to hold him accountable for everything he does. And, let's be real, man, Glenn Greenwald graduated from NYU law, he had a career long before Obama was in office. Oh, and I'm not Glenn Greenwald, but if cracking a joke about him and "anonymous" comments really makes you feel better, please do. You're kind of the one that sounds like a "pissy baby" when you try to make fun of him. Just sayin'.

Eric said...

Fair enough, Chez, and certainly bag on Greenwald as much as you want--he really is a douche.

Anonymous said...

Also, anyone who's a fan of Chait's piece should read this deconstruction of it:

Chez said...

Not really pissy, anonymous -- although certainly pissed on occasion.

By the way, one of the reasons I jokingly referred to you as Greenwald is that I have an open door to do that when you can't even bother to come up with a made-up name to post a comment under. I've been through this since the dawn of this site: yes, I allow anonymous comments, but if you're going to take a shot it makes it undeniably cheaper if you do it from a position of complete anonymity.

As for your defense of Greenwald and your arguments against Obama, as I said, I'm not running through my counterpoints in detail yet again. I'm tired of talking about smart accountability, and about how the president can't wave a magic wand and give you everything you want even if he felt the need to do so every time you demanded it, and how I too would like to see some things done differently but I'm not willing to allow it to blind me to the myriad things being done correctly or exceptionally, and how my issue with Greenwald is exactly that -- that he harps on four subjects and beats them to death at the exclusion of all else, always doing it from a position of self-anointed incorruptible piety (which flies in the face of the truth when you look at his overall views and the morality of them). I'm also not talking yet again about how I genuinely don't concern myself with a lot of the supposed injustices Greenwald spends every second of his professional life accusing the United States of from his laptop in Brazil. Yes, while I think that war and the general use of military force can be horrible, which is why it should always be a last resort, I also understand that innocent people dying and sovereignty being violated on occasion is just the way it is. No, I don't think Bradley Manning is a hero; I think he's a traitor and an asshole who shouldn't have joined the army if he had an issue with what he was going to be ordered to do. Yes, I actually do think that Obama has prosecuted the "war on terror" (a misnomer, but a term I'll use for the sake of brevity) in an infinitely smarter and more controlled way than his predecessor and I think that actually has made us safer. And no, I don't think Obama is a bad president in the least. I may disagree with some of the things he's done and hasn't done, but overall I think constantly hectoring and berating him is juvenile, stupid, often smacks of opportunism and, yes, shows a lack of willingness to consider the big picture dangers to the country posed by enabling his challengers in the GOP clown car.

You can denigrate Chait as being a member of the "Democratic elite" all you want -- it doesn't make him any less right about how its ingrained in the liberal DNA to never be satisfied and to constantly be arguing among themselves, because anything else would show a robotic fealty to authority.

Obviously you've put some thought into your views, anonymous, so I honestly don't mean to simply dismiss them, but feel free to dig back through the archive if you're interested in anything more on this than my little Reader's Digest version here.

Eric said...

I thought I was finished, except David Atkins wrote the response I largely wish I had and I wanted to offer it up in case Chez or anyone still following this comment thread had missed it. I don't necessarily want to perpetuate arguments that I'm getting as fatigued with as anyone is, nor am I interested in getting a last word in; Atkins' response is simply one I find fair and thoughtful and I wanted to share the link, is all.

Chez said...

Two things: First of all, no, while many Americans were ready for change following the 2008 economic collapse, just as many would've flipped their shit if Obama had "overreached." The man is assailed by the left for being too friendly with business and yet the right continues to call him a socialist; what that tells you is that there's still a large group out there -- a group that does in fact have some political muscle, whether we like it or not -- that won't let him do every single thing we'd like to see him do. And as much as you may dislike him for this -- God knows I have on occasion -- he's trying to govern in the name of as many Americans as he can. The best response to that kind of thinking came from a comment posted over at Balloon Juice that I published in its entirety back in November -- it attempted to smack the left in the face with the unavoidable fact that there are vast swaths of America where people simply don't think progressively at all. Not even a little -- and a minor amount of compromise is the best you're ever gonna get out of them and their representatives.

Second, there's nothing I enjoy more than watching Angry Black Lady torment the shit out of David Atkins on Twitter.

Ajlounyinjurylaw said...

Yes, why hide your bad feelings behind annonymity. It's best to show yourself, even though a first name still will not link you to exposure.