Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

Muting Our Criticism of Obama: If We Don’t Speak Out Who Will?

By Michael Ratner

From the Community Blogs.

At a reception I attended the other day a progressive acquaintance came up to me and said the left “must stop bashing Obama. Keep doing it and he will lose the election. We should be thankful for what we have.” I am not sure he thought that I was one who bashed Obama or he just wanted to get that message out in the community. As it happens I do not “bash Obama” whatever that means; but I am sharply critical of a number of his policies and practices and those of his administration. (This is not to say I would have preferred McCain to win; I would not have and on some issues, mostly very safe ones, Obama has made some difference, e.g. Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, ending the HIV exclusion.) I responded to my acquaintance: “It won’t be the criticism of progressives that will lose him the election—we hardly have that kind of power. It is his own actions especially around economic issues that could make his reelection difficult; actions that have alienated and angered significant segments of the unemployed American population. I don’t do my work by thinking about whether it will help or hurt Obama in the next election. I don’t tailor principles to politics.”

In arguing that we should mute our criticisms of Obama we are being asked to accept administration actions that are unacceptable; practices that will involve the deaths of thousands and the violation of our own constitution and binding treaties. I have always believed we must advocate and act on principle and that is the way to make change. So when we see that Obama will continue the preventive detention scheme that underlies Guantanamo, that he will have detainees tried before military commissions, that he will continue the incommunicado detentions at Bagram and hide detainees from the Red Cross, we cannot and should not stand by in silence. We are seeing the continuation of Bush’s law and the deterioration of fundamental protections of freedom. When we see Obama hide illegal acts behind claims of “state secrets;” when he refuses to have the torture conspirators investigated and prosecuted; and when he even welcomes some of the conspirators into his administration, we must speak up. Granting impunity to officials who torture is to insure that we will again be a nation of torture and that the message heard by every petty dictator around the world is: “The United States can torture in the name of national security and so can we.” When we see officials of this administration attack the Goldstone report which documents war crimes in Gaza, we understand the deep hypocrisy of this government.

Nor can there be any screaming that is too loud in opposition to the wars that Obama is continuing without end. The July 2011 beginning withdrawal date from Afghanistan was shown to be a fiction within an hour of Obama’s speech. Obama like those before him accepts that “We are the United States and war is what we do.” Obama and the Presidents before him are bleeding our country and world. Of course, I do not expect miracles from one man on top of a huge national security establishment that is hard to buck. Rome was not built in a day and neither will it be dismantled in a day. But I don’t see a lot of dismantling going on. What I see is more and more building of a national security state—perhaps with a softer hand—and that is alarming.

As I said when I began this piece I do not think progressive and liberal criticisms on most of these issues or other disappointments such as Obama’s failure to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will have much affect the next Presidential election. Even the war probably won’t have much to do with who is our next President. Obama took a safe course, at least for himself and the next election: he gave the generals roughly what they asked for and the Republican Secretary of Defense, like the cat that ate the canary, is smugly satisfied.

It seems likely to me that the economy will be Obama’s Waterloo. He has shoveled billions and billions into the big banks, and the wars and almost nothing into creating jobs and saving people’s homes. Regarding the jobs meeting he convened to help with ideas about how to reduce unemployment, he said there are “limits to what government can do and should do,“ and that he was open to “responsible” and “demonstrably good” ideas to create jobs. I don’t think that is what the over 15 million unemployed in the country wanted to hear. They need jobs and they especially did not want to hear Obama say there was not going to be enough money to do it. The danger here is not just that Obama will lose the next election; but it’s one we have already begun to see: a right wing populism that often occurs in times of great economic dislocation, income disparities and joblessness.

We are at a time of great economic insecurity; a time when fundamental rights are under threat from our own government and a time when we are the world’s warriors. Silence or passive acquiescence is complicity. Enough already! We can applaud Obama’s actions when they are right; we cannot and should not excuse or explain away his actions when they are wrong. If we don’t speak out, who will?

Photo: Jewel Samad, AFP/Getty Images / December 10, 2009

Use Systems Thinking to Make Lasting Social Change

What can be done when our best intentions create unintended problems—such as temporary shelters increasing homelessness or food aid accelerating starvation?After decades of helping change-makers in the nonprofit, public, and private sectors address tough social problems, systems-thinking expert David Stroh shares the pioneering framework that both demystifies systems thinking and shows how it can lead […] Read More..

Let’s Make Bernie Sanders a Bestseller!

As the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders continues to climb in the polls, crushing online fundraising records and frustrating party insiders and pundits along the way, we’re looking to put Bernie’s message on bestseller lists everywhere in time for the national debates this fall!With the second Democratic debate to be held on November 14th in Des Moines, it’s […] Read More..

Bern Baby Bern!

Feel the Bern, now read the Bern. Chelsea Green is bringing out the first major book chronicling the issues being raised by US Senator Bernie Sanders in his campaign for president of the United States. The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America is the only book that outlines, in Sanders’ own words and […] Read More..

Economic Development is Broken. Here’s How to Fix It

Economic development today is completely broken. That’s the argument of author Michael Shuman in his new book, The Local Economy Solution. The singular focus on attracting global corporations is not just ineffective but counterproductive, Shuman argues, especially given the huge opportunity costs. Indeed, it’s not far-fetched to suggest that the best way most communities can […] Read More..

5 Shareable Strategies for Creating Climate Action

Frustrated about climate change? You’re not alone. Most people in our society find themselves somewhere on the spectrum of depressed about our climate situation to flat-out denying that it exists. In fact, the more information about global warming that piles up, the less we seem to do to combat it. What is the reason for this […] Read More..
Follow us
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By