The liberal case against Obama


In The Boston Globe piece, The liberal case against Obama, Neal Gabler makes some points that I have been struggling with for many years.

[Ted] Kennedy believed that principles compromised might very well be principles destroyed, and while he wound up dutifully campaigning for Carter, one sensed that he suspected Reagan’s election might actually revivify liberalism – stiffen its back.
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As his own campaign neared its end, he began calling it a “cause,’’ by which he meant the cause of sustaining the forces of liberalism and buttressing the last remaining liberal institution: the Democratic Party. In short, he seemed less worried about Reagan destroying liberalism temporarily than he was about Carter sapping it permanently.
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But if you believe in the vitality of a robust Rooseveltian liberalism that can stand up to the right wing, then you might worry that Obama, by transforming the Democratic Party from an instrument for change into an instrument of compromise, and by legitimizing Republican talking points like deficit reduction over job creation, has fatally damaged progressivism – something far more important than the election prospects of any particular candidate.

The one thing that gives me pause in reading this is to wonder what Ted Kennedy thought in later life about the rise of Ronald Reagan and Reaganism.  Eight years of Ronald Reagan did nothing to revivify liberalism or stiffen its back. If anything, the Reagan era revivified and emboldened the far, far, far, right.  Or perhaps it was the softening of the damage done by Reagan/Bush/Bush by the terms of Clinton and Obama, that prevented the good effect and brought on the bad one.

The one thing that has seemed to change the terms of debate in recent years is the efforts of the Occupy movement.  The conditions have been bad enough to get large numbers of people taking to the streets in protest.  The Reagan/Bush years were not enough to do it. It took the collapse of the Bush the younger’s term to start the protests rolling. If the Occupy movement does not revive this spring, then maybe it is a sign that we do need to get conditions much worse before there will be a critical mass for a self-sustaining movement.  One of the points of the OWS movement is that you won’t find the solution to our problems in electoral politics.

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