If Obama had been a Progressive…

julio 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm (Commentary, Stuff, Wherein I question what I know) (, , , )

In a recent post titled “lolsob” , the always-awesome Melissa McEwan quotes Peter Daou, who says:

“Does ANYONE think that if Obama had been a tough, principled, unabashed progressive, he’d be worse off than he is now?”

Title aside, McEwan adds nothing else to the blog post, and I sort of wish she had, since the idea that things would have been different (read: better) if Obama held progressive beliefs and fought for them is one I grapple with constantly.  I’ve heard progressives make the claim with differing amounts of certainty, which is something I’ve never felt when it comes to the matter. A world in which Obama–or any other Democrat elected as President in 2008–is a Progressive is so far removed from the actual world, charting an accurate alternate history would be as fruitless as finding a soul in Governor Luis Fortuño. About the only thing I would be able to say for certain is that progressives would be happy with him/hir, and that Fox News Coverage would hardly change at all.

Yes, the country would almost certainly be better if we had more progressive policies in place.  Would those progressive policies have passed, though, if Obama or a hypothetical other president, had pursued them while Democrats had control of the legislature? My (limited) understanding of the political situation leads me to believe that the answer is “no”, as best evidenced by the whole Health Care Bill debate.  Was the Public Option necessary in order for the bill to be as effective as possible?  As I understand it, yes–although I also understand that the health care bill we got is considerably better than doing nothing at all.  Were progressives right in feeling betrayed when Democrats abandoned it? Sure.  Would it have passed if Democrats had been more uncompromising in its inclusion?  Like I said, probably not.  Would a consistently pro-public option stance on a failed Health Care bill have helped Democrats in 2010?  I don’t see how.

Now, there are certain other things which Obama does have control over, which do not require Congress in order to be enacted–say, Guantanamo bay–and where it comes to those, Obama has no excuse for following through other than a) a lack of belief in progressive policies are the best solution, b) or cowardice.  Would taking the progressive option, in this case, have harmed him?  I don’t see how.  Would it have helped him with his base?  Yes.  Would it have helped with the election?  I don’t know, but I’d say that probably not, if we accept that most low-information voters don’t really care about things like that, given they tend not to affect their livelyhoods.  A swift withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq would similarly help him with his base, but it’s unclear how that would help congress during the election.   That, however, does not change the fact that closing down Guantanamo and ending the wars were the right thing to do, even if they drew no advantage from it.

Moving on to the present day, it’s clear that Obama and the Democrats are now in a much more weakened position, at both the state and the federal level: in many states, Republicans take advantage of their majorities to roll back basic human rights, and Democrats are left with no option but to publicly complain, which they often don’t.  At the Federal level, Congress has taken up destroying the economy as a hobby, taking it as a hostage by suddenly refusing to do something that they once did without a thought.   Democrats, in response, have taken to promising everything and anything–even measures that go against everything they stand for and help no one–in order to try to get them to stop, a move that a) hasn’t worked, so far b) destroys the Democratic brand in the process, c) moves the center of American politics ever more to the right, as the unthinkable suddenly becomes plausible.

Still, what else could they do?  Sticking to their guns would help with the base–it’d certainly reassure me–but doesn’t help unless it turns out that Republicans are actually bluffing about the debt ceiling.  If they aren’t bluffing, though–and I don’t believe they are–then you end up with two immobile coalitions and a ruined economy.  There’s the argument that Obama would be able to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling anyway, but my understanding of things is that he would not be able to do so until things were already in the crapper.  And the same goes for pretty much everything else.  All the while, Obama loses his bases’ support.

So to turn back to the main topic: the belief that things wouldn’t be as bad if Obama stuck to his party’s core beliefs.  People who believe this must be seeing something I’m not, and I would like to know what that is, because certainty sounds so good right about now.

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