It’s no secret that Barack Obama frustrates the hell out of me. At a time when we need bold transformational leadership, he gives us cautious incrementalism. Where we need moral courage, he gives us compromise and expedience.
Ironically, the character trait that makes him so infuriating is the same one that makes him the opposite of George W. Bush. Where Bush made political decisions based on his distorted sense of Right vs. Wrong and Good vs. Evil, Obama makes them based on Easy vs. Hard. Dubya’s moral compass pointed due South, while Obama’s points to the path of least resistance.
As John Odum puts it:
[M]ore progressives have come to realize (based not only on the health care struggle, but virtually every other political hot potato from the Afghan War and civil liberties to Presidential appointments): that this administration will seriously consider no policy to the left of the Senate’s most conservative Democrats.
Or, alternatively, as I put it back in August:
Need to slash greenhouse emissions to prevent the ice caps from melting? You have to do it without hurting the energy companies.
Need to rescue the economy and reform the financial system? You have to do it without hurting Wall Street.
Need to make healthcare affordable and available to everyone? You have to do it without hurting the insurance companies.
It’s not that Obama doesn’t want to do good, but if doing the right thing involves taking on corporations or the religious right (in the always-helpful guise of their Rahmocrat proxies), he’ll happily settle for doing good enough, and sometimes not even that.
Assuming I haven’t misoverestimated Obama and he’s not a misogynistic corporatist homophobe at heart, he’s probably rationalized his conflict avoidance as a Very Pragmatic Strategy to woo corporate money and fundie manpower so that he and the Democrats can keep winning elections and continue to do… good enough. And who knows, maybe a few hundred years of good enough would eventually add up to something meaningful.
But we don’t have a few hundred years. People are getting sick and dying now, our financial system is out of control now, the climate is heating up now, women and gays are seeing their rights rolled back now. And that’s without mentioning how absurd it is to expect that any agenda that corporations and fundies have veto power over would stay even good enough for very long.
Sadly, it’s not just Obama who consistently takes the easy road; large chunks of the Democratic and progressive worlds have adopted the same approach. Harry Reid doesn’t want to take on Obama or the Lieberman Caucus by pushing the public option through reconciliation. The progressive orgs in the Veal Pen don’t want to oppose Obama because he might choke off their donations. The unions don’t want to oppose him because they’re afraid he won’t back EFCA (although why they think he’ll lift a finger for EFCA based on his track record so far is beyond me).
So not only do we have a president who always follows the path of least resistance, but we have a Democratic/progressive establishment that’s willing to cave in where Republicans and Rahmocrats are not, thus ensuring that the path of least resistance will always bend to the right.
And that, in a nutshell, is why Jane and FDL continue to fight, kicking and screaming, even enlisting unlikely allies like Grover Norquist: We are trying to move the path of least resistance back to the left, by making corporatist corruption and religious intolerance politically painful, by pressuring progressive politicians to use their power – because it’s the only way to make Obama and the Democrats do the right thing instead of the good enough thing.