Beware anything simple, because it will probably be too simplistic. Having said that, let me propose a simple explanation of a broad subject.
It’s occurred to me that there’s a concise yet fairly comprehensive description of the differing priorities of ardent liberals and progressives who view Obama’s presidency favorably and those who view Obama’s presidency unfavorably:
- Liberals and progressives who view Obama favorably place more emphasis on the economic triage and long-term investment in the 2009 stimulus, on getting US troops out of Iraq, and on passing health care reform. The place less emphasis on due process/government transparency, on the decision to not pursue legal actions against those responsible for the 2008 fiscal crisis, and on not completely rescinding the Bush tax cuts. [Disclosure: I consider myself in this camp]
- Liberals and progressives who view Obama unfavorably place greater emphasis on due process/government transparency, on the decision to not pursue legal actions against those responsible for the 2008 fiscal crisis, and on not completely rescinding the Bush tax cuts. They place less emphasis on the economic triage and long-term investment in the 2009 stimulus, on getting US troops out of Iraq, and on passing health care reform.
Of course some liberal critics of Obama are insincere, are still nursing grievances from the Democratic nominating campaign, or aren’t really Democrats as much as they are ideological lefties who do not really identify with the Democratic party. It’s also worth noting people like this are a much smaller portion of the Democratic voting coalition than one might think if you spend a lot of time reading liberal blogs, watching cable pundits and following people on Twitter.
And on the other side, there are those who will laud everything Obama does and see every compromise, every decision, and every choice on whether to take an action as unassailable, as immune to valid criticism. People who will not accept that there’s anything Obama might have done wrong, or could have done better, are also not a big part of the electorate.
But among liberals and progressives, is there a simple ideological schematic that better describes the opposing policy priorities of Obama’s liberal fans and his liberal critics?
As alluded to in the post, I align with those who have the first set of priorities. But I don’t think this schematic depends on either substantive disagreement on the six policy areas in isolation; I agree with much of what the critics say about Obama’s performance in those three areas, they’re just not what I think is most important in judging the Obama presidency. And lest anyone miss what I think is clearly implied, because due process/transparency, financial industry malfeasance and taxes are not my priorities, it does not follow that I don’t care about those issues, nor does it mean people with other priorities don’t care about mine.
Finally, there are responsible and good faith arguments in favor of prioritizing the latter three issues in assessing the Obama presidency. For instance, one could argue that the two sets of priorities are separated not by the relative importance of the policy and it’s impact on the country, but on the necessity and the integrity of Obama’s policy choices. Iraq, the stimulus and health care reform could be considered “necessary,” in that one was required to prevent a depression and the other two were the two policy centerpieces of Obama’s campaign, and not pursuing them would have been a political disaster.
Due process/transparency, taxes and banking reform and justice are different. Whereas the first set of policy actions were consistent with what candidate Obama promised voters, the latter three have not lived up to the campaign promises (and in the case of due process/transparency are in many ways voluntary decisions to act opposite of what Obama promised). I think the material effects of the first three override the disappointments of the latter three, so I’m not persuaded by this argument. There are other arguments to make that I think would have merit, but still not persuade me. But I offer this up just to show that it’s possible for a liberal to fairly and reasonably have legitimate and defensible priorities that lead her to view Obama’s presidency unfavorably.