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August 21, 2013 8:52 AM Confessions of an Obamabot

By Mark Kleiman

Since Atrios’s post about “emo-progs v. Obamabots,” and Kevin Drum’s comment on it, are attracting some attention, and since if you look up “Obamabot” in the Pictionary my headshot shows up, perhaps a comment from me is called for. Anyway, here it is.

Yes, I’m a fervent admirer of Barack Obama: his policies, his politics, and his persona. He is, as far as I can tell, far saner - less sociopathic - than most people who get to the top of either politics or business. He’s thoughtful. He’s funny. He’s not mean. He’s not a hater. Of all the people who have been President in my lifetime, he’s the one I think I would most enjoy spending time with and be able to communicate to most directly, and I don’t really expect to live to see some future White House resident who would change that.

Politically, I wish he were more partisan and more insistent on the threat plutocracy poses to democracy and to social solidarity. In policy terms, he’s been pretty “meh” on the issues I know best: crime and drugs. And the failure to prosecute the torturers of the Bush-Cheney years - including Bush and Cheney - while politically understandable, wasn’t really morally defensible.

But the ACA is a huge accomplishment - and a huge downward redistribution of income - and the Administration has been blessedly scandal-free. On gay-rights issues, I thought from the beginning that Obama’s slow-walking - the opposite of Bill Clinton’s “stroke-of-the-pen” approach - was strategically sound and would wind up in the right place, and I think the record now amply supports that view.

So, yes, I’ve been Obama’s strong defender against some “emo-prog” complaints. (The indictment reads “hippie-punching.”) And yes, I’d rather think well of him than ill. But that’s not the same as thinking of him as inerrant.

My support hasn’t stopped me from being bitterly critical at times. The pre-trial maltreatment of Bradley Manning was a crime, a disgrace, and a blunder, and if it wasn’t ordered from the White House it still should have been stopped from the White House. The obsession with leaks strikes me as both misplaced and weird. And both seem more surprising from Obama than they would have from, say, Bill Clinton. And while I understand the political landmines surrounding drugs and crime, the President could have done - could now be doing - more to make the public aware how stupidly evil it is to keep 1% of the adult population behind bars.

On surveillance, I’d be happy to see a clampdown on what the NSA is allowed to vacuum up and whom it’s allowed to share it with. (And I don’t sense that Obama would be especially unhappy, though he’s clearly not going to lead the charge.)

What the emo-progs refuse to remember - now, and in the run-up to the 2010 election - that I never for a moment forget is that, whatever the failings of Barack Obama the human being, “Barack Obama” the political persona is the leader of the Democratic Party (and thus, effectively, of the entire progressive coalition) in a battle with a well-organized, well-funded, and utterly dedicated plutocrat-theocrat-racist-misogynist-obscurantist-ecocidal Red Team, whose lunatic extremism is now actually a threat to republican governance. If I’m reluctant to help Rand Paul and Glenn Greenwald add NSA! to Benghazi! and IRS! and Solyndra! and all the other b.s. pseudo-scandals designed to make Obama into Richard Nixon, it’s not because I’m in love with “The One:” it’s because, for good or ill, the political fortunes of the cause I care about are now tied to Obama’s political fortunes.

One thing I like about Obama is that I have exactly zero concerns about finding that he has a Monica Lewinsky. But - and here I part company with Al Gore - Democrats and progressives owed it to one another to defend Bill Clinton forthrightly back then. And I expect to be equally firm in support of the next President Clinton, though I don’t expect to have to do so under such distasteful circumstances.

Again, this isn’t hero-worship, though Obama is, in fact, one of my heroes; it’s just practical politics. As Churchill said,

The loyalties which centre upon Number One are enormous. If he trips, he must be sustained. If he makes mistakes, they must be covered. If he sleeps, he must not be wantonly disturbed. If he is no good he must be pole-axed. But this last extreme process cannot be carried out every day.

What makes me want to punch the occasional hippie or emo-prog is their tendency to carry pole-axes with them at all times. The catastrophes of 1994 and 2010 resulted in part from that tendency, and the resulting depressed Democratic turnout.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

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Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the University of California Los Angeles.

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