Tuesday, September 27, 2011

David Sirota on Disaffection of Obama's Base: Centrism Not Suited to 21st-Century Problems

David Sirota

David Sirota gets it right at Salon this morning, I think.  He argues that the reason many people from all demographic groups in the president's base are highly critical of Mr. Obama and, in many cases are outright abandoning him, is that the game of triangulating progressives that he adopted from the Clinton playbook is an absolutely disastrous response to the serious economic problems the nation now faces.

As Sirota points out, many of us assumed when Obama was elected that he and the Democratic-majority Congress we elected understood how acute the situation now facing the country was, and he (and they) would spring to action immediately to address problems that needed an immediate solution.  We assumed that the new president would act in a way akin to how FDR acted in the not dissimilar situation facing the nation when he was president.

And so the disaffection from the president stems from his failure to seize the opportunity given him by the mandate he received in 2008, and to hit the ground running with an agenda designed to address the country's serious economic crisis:

The truth is that some liberals may be holding President Obama "to a higher standard" than previous Democratic presidents like Bill Clinton -- not because they are racist, but because the times have so momentously changed. With the Wall Street collapse and the economic emergency -- combined with Obama's FDR-like rhetoric and much bigger margin of victory and electoral mandate than Clinton -- many were rightly expecting a more FDR-ish posture from the new president, especially because he himself had explicitly promised that kind of posture on the campaign.

Many of us are also exasperated with Mr. Obama because we learned to understand exactly what the the centrist game is all about when Mr. Clinton played it.  We learned that it is a game, and a destructive one, one designed to shield and promote the interests of power elites over against the interests of average Americans.  And so we're having none of it this time around, when the Obama administration keeps trying to serve a dish of warmed-over Clintonian centrist triangulation of the Democratic base: 

For their part, many liberals have learned the painful lesson of meekly accepting so-called centrism (read: neoliberal deregulation and GOP appeasement) from the Clinton years, and took Obama at his own word when he told America that the nation would be getting a different, higher standard with his presidency (anyone remember Obama chastising Clintonian triangulation?). Additionally, though Harris-Perry would have us forget this, we shouldn't ignore the now unmentionable fact that Obama had historic congressional majorities in his first two years -- majorities that were bigger than those Clinton had.

Sirota engages (and, to my mind, very effectively counters) Melissa Harris-Perry's recent argument that white liberals are holding the president to a racist double standard, and are expecting more of him than they would of a white president because he's African-American.  As Sirota notes, a drop in support for the president is occurring among all groups in his base, African Americans included.  

He also maintains that Harris-Perry's uncritical, defensive response to progressive critique of the president seeks to undercut the progressive positions held by these critics.  And he notes that the real racism that ought to be engaging the attention of folks like Harris-Perry is the overt, toxic racism of the Republican right--not the imaginary racism of white liberals.

For many of us, it has been precisely the white guys with whom Mr. Obama has chosen to surround himself in his "guyist" White House who have been the biggest disappointment of all in this administration.  It's the Geithners, Summers, Emanuels, Gibbs, et al., with their Clintonian playbook and infatuation with Wall Street and the bankers, who first signaled to us the real intentions of this administration, and who have elicited continuous exasperation at Mr. Obama's betrayal of his campaign promises.

We have sorely needed to be beyond the centrist game from day one of the Obama administration.  The mandate and time to enact effective changes that this administration squandered after the 2008 elections were a precious window of opportunity that will not return.  And our nation is in far worse shape now, due to what the administration chose to squander, as it has served the interests of ruling economic elites over against the interests of ordinary Americans.

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