in Kulturkampf

On Criticizing the President

by vdaze

There is a myth being perpetuated by some that those who consistently and vocally support the President do not accept criticism of him in any form.


The “beef” that I, and many I identify with most closely, have with much of the criticism being pitched at Barack Obama is simply that it is not constructive. Each time a decision is made that is not whatever enough for The Best Progressives, the knee-jerking, the hysteria, and the hyperbole is *immediately* turned up to eleven. The past week is a perfect example, with ScheduleGate and OzoneNationalAmbientAirQualityStandardsGate. Or whatever we’re calling it.

The Obama Administration provided explanation on both of these items. ScheduleGate is not a big deal. It’s just not. As for OzoneEtcGate, the letter from Cass Sunstein to the EPA on the air quality standards decision is a particularly important read. I’m not a policy wonk, I don’t claim to understand every detail of this issue, but I understand enough to know my hair shouldn’t be on fire over it. The explanation in the letter makes sense to me. Part of my job has me working within the confines of regulatory cycles and individual rule issuance. I can attest wholeheartedly to the confusion and headaches caused by conflicting regulations and rules that are put in place as a result of poor planning and shitty governance.  It makes compliance impossible, it creates unnecessary risk, and more often than not winds up costing a lot of money. Effective planning and governance means making the right decisions at the right times to encourage the right behaviors and appropriate accountability. I repeat: my hair is not on fire over this issue.

So here’s the frustration: stuff happens, and The Best Progressives are immediately thrown into a tizzy. Fueled by a toxic combination of media talking points, visceral outrage, and a deep insecurity that we’ve all been suckered by a Republican plant by the name of Barack Obama, the pitchforks come out.

Obama caved!

Obama is just like Bush!

Obama needs a spine!

Obama needs to act like a real Democrat!

Obama doesn’t deserve to be reelected!

Obama is betraying me personally the base!

Palin was right – Obama doesn’t have any executive experience!

(Oh…sorry about that last one. I don’t know how that made its way in there.)

Those familiar with the IT industry may have heard of the Gartner Hype Cycle. I know, I know – just bear with me on this, I promise I have a point. The Hype Cycle has five phases, and even though it’s supposed to be about new technology, the same shit applies…

Hype Cycle Phase Non-geek version
Technology Trigger Someone catches wind that something is about to happen.
Peak of Inflated Expectations The Media and The Best Progressives quickly detail their wishlists and outline what All-Powerful President Obama should do* (*90% of which is completely unrelated, unrealistic or impossible anyway).
Trough of Disillusionment Reality Happens. The Media and The Best Progressives freak the fuck out and The Rest Of Us are sick with disappointment over Barack Dubya Obama.
Slope of Enlightenment The Rest of Us take time to understand the issue and realize the end of the world is, in fact, not nigh.
Plateau of Productivity The Rest of Us stop paying attention to hysteria on the issue from The Media and The Best Progressives, and move on and refocus on 2012.

I choose not to be sucked in to the hype cycle. I choose to pick my battles. It’s not about excusing and rationalizing away everything the President does or doesn’t do. It’s about keeping my criticism constructive and applicable, and keeping people motivated to vote in 2012. As I said yesterday, Obama is all that’s standing between us and the total cray-cray of the GOP – that’s particularly true if we can’t take back the House and we also lose the Senate.

There’s a big difference between “He still has my vote, but I wish Obama pushed more on [issue]” and “Fucking Obama caved again! He has no fucking spine!”

This hysterical and hyperbolic criticism of the President on every single thing that happens has consequences. Never mind that it does the work of the Right for them. It demotivates Democratic voters, it confuses and discourages independent and swing voters, it fosters a kind of ideological purity that shuts down productive dialogue and limits our ability to develop solutions. We can’t solve all the problems in the way or in the timeframe we’d probably like to, but that shouldn’t stop progress.

And that’s what progressives are about, right?


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  • Anonymous

    Absolutely never before has any President sustained such criticism from his own side- and I can remember a lot of Presidents. The bar was set at a higher standard for this President, and we all know why. I saw it exclusively during the 1970s when Affirmative Action was introduced. It’s worse this time around, because it’s media-led and so obvious that it’s embarrassing. What’s even more embarrassing is that facility which is supposed to reliably inform us hoi-polloi is deliberately misinforming us, and for a purpose. If any good has come from all this wanton criticism, it’s served to show everyone and to prove that racism exists amongst the most extreme Progressives or those who would call themselves such. I am sorry, but anyone who calls the President “Barry” is tantamount to a Teabagger and is not a Progressive.

  • Thanks so much for this, @vdaze:twitter. One reason I wanted to cross-post it is because I think we have a bit of social science at hand: the five stages of the hype cycle correspond to the stages of grief. I’ve hypothesized this before and it’s worth further consideration.