When President Obama was elected, he used the words “Armenia” and “genocide” in the same sentence because words are important. He was right to do so. He is wrong now for not using them in the same sentence. While I understand why not — Turkey is a critical American ally in a tough region — understanding a thing is not the same as approving it.
The White House has also been far too free with cuts to energy assistance programs for low-income households. Because I have an intimate understanding of American poverty, I’ve actively opposed this trend for two years in a row. These cuts erode economic recovery by reducing an important stabilizer for the working poor at wintertime. That shouldn’t happen.
The president also came into office promising to do something about the college bowl system; Josh Levin even called him obsessed with the subject. Yet President Obama has made zero progress on the issue, even with our season of intense public attention to the dark downside of college football programs.
Now look through those three ‘graffs and tell me which part is the obotomapology.
I have never seen my “job” at this blog to be about apologizing for, or rationalizing away, presidential decisions. There are lots of policy areas where I don’t agree with Obama, and I’m not enamored of every decision he’s made even in policy areas where I generally agree. That’s more or less how I expected things to stand when I supported him all the way back in 2007.
For no matter how receptive and helpful a president is, any broad agenda (and what could be broader than the progressive agenda?) will find itself stymied at some points by even the friendliest of presidents. No president can be 100% of what any American or group of Americans want; that is not how politics in America have ever worked.
Moreover, it isn’t just one individual politician: both presidency and parties have barriers to complete participation in an agenda. Remember, Bush did not fully satisfy abortion opponents with his stem cell policy, either. All the teapublicanism, you’ll recall, was about putting “real conservatives” in office.
One example of a progressive policy area that suffers under the Obama administration is marijuana legalization efforts, medicinal and otherwise. The way through the War on Drugs (as opposed to simply ending that war) is to divide and conquer rather than continue pretending marijuana and heroin are the same.
Democrats generally don’t push these issues, however, as no one in the party can speak about them coherently. (That’s a problem with Democrats on many issues — there is no common set of talking points.) Issues like marijuana legislation are perceived as coming from the “dirty hippy” wing, of course, and that makes it hard for Democratic officeholders to participate. But that may change.
Marijuana has a large, highly-engaged following that enjoys crossover political support from libertarians and some conservatives. Marijuana is an example of a highly-engaged demographic, then, but not a broad constituency. That is, few voters care enough to turn out for the issue, but those who do care will turn out in droves, even for Ron Paul. They can’t get him nominated, however, because the issue isn’t a winner in the broader electorate.
Obama has nixed any hope of sane marijuana policy on his watch, and it’s not hard to understand why. What president wants to be “soft on crime”? You can see that in Obama’s pardon policy: the White House has issued very few pardons, and only to a rigorously-selected tranche of applicants. (Note the anger at Haley Barbour in Mississippi over the issue.)
Obama did sign the Fair Sentencing Act with bipartisan support, however, and that is what drives the hyperengaged to distraction: where there is no consensus, there is no forward progress. That’s not just a problem for this particular president, either.
With no consensus for single-payer, you get an inefficient form of single-payer by enforced market participation and Medicaid enlargement. With no consensus for the American Jobs Act, it doesn’t matter that the White House writes the legislation the way it didn’t with health care, or that the president’s advisers talk it up on TV, or that the president uses his bully pulpit with a speech to Congress and a tour of decaying bridges.
No consensus of Congress, no law. That’s how the American system works; no one can make it work against its will. If marijuana policy voters put Ron Paul in the Oval Office, he still wouldn’t be able to legalize it with this Congress. In fact, the great failure of progressive movement politics is that issue hawks invested far too much expectation in a president. The laws are written by Congress and legislatures. That isn’t apologetics, it’s basic civics.
Progressives must avoid fixating on any one office or branch of government; they are all integral to problems and solutions. The government is larger than one man, and so a progressive agenda must always seek a broader base of progress than one man. My objection to firebagging is not about defending the administration, then, but defending the cause.
“We” are the change we have waited for. “He” isn’t — and can’t be. That’s not how things work, and I don’t say so because I like him or want someone’s approval. Moreover, I have no problem recognizing his imperfections. Many of them are common to Democrats and the progressive movement. As I keep saying, look where he comes from.