Perhaps I shouldn't have been, but I was frankly surprised by the response to the piece I cross-posted last week to my Huffington Post site. It was called, if you remember, "When Do We All Grow Up?" and its subject was the kind of foot-stamping impatience with which progressives of all persuasions seem to be greeting Obama's first six months in office. Responses to my thoughts ranged from "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" to angry resentment and rebuttal.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that Obama is--or should be--above criticism. Don't count me among those who believe he can do no wrong. I am equally skeptical of those who invest the man with messianic qualities. But I do believe that criticism can be productive and supportive, if offered in the context of the bigger picture I was attempting to invoke.
When the critic allows his or her particular point of disagreement to become central and exclusive, though, the criticism soon becomes narrow-minded, parochial, and destructive. Thus, if I allow Obama's immediate resolution of the extremely delicate Guantanamo problem to become the exclusive yardstick by which I judge his performance, the sine qua non, I risk trying to bathe the baby while I watch the bath water drain away--to pervert an already overused metaphor. If I disagree with him on one, or two, or three issues, must I give up on him altogether and, worse, descend into dismissive vitriol?
The problem is that all-or-nothing progressivism plays into the hands of those who would destroy Obama at any cost--as they attempted to destroy Bill Clinton in the 1990s. While Clinton was able to hang on by the skin of his teeth, remember, it was at the cost of being elbowed further and further to the right in his political agenda. The divisiveness that results not from honest argument, but from anger, resentment, and bitter accusations of betrayal, lends both credibility and power to vitriol from the other side.
One of my respondents suggested the analogy of someone we'd hired to do a job and who should now be taken to task for failing to do our bidding. I prefer a different analogy: I see the President less as a hireling, and more as the captain of a sports team, to whom we've chosen to delegate the responsibility to make decisions in an ongoing series of ever-changing, unpredictable situations. In this analogy, we risk being the complacent armchair quarterbacks.
Then, too, the history of our recent decades should remind us that it's easy to sit back and whine about "the government," as though it were some evil, alien entity separate from ourselves. In doing so, we forget that the government is us. It's a compact between ourselves and those we have chosen to represent us. My point, to put it in a slightly different way, is that in each furiously riding the hobby-horse of our individual freedoms and in demanding that our individual needs be met, we fail on our side of the compact: we become, in effect, ungovernable, even as we blame it on the government.
I realize that my readers may not do so, but I still count myself a progressive. If I had been able--had the society in which I live made it even halfway possible--I would surely have voted for Kucinich. Given the realities of who we are as a society, my question is this: Do we really want to nitpick our current Democratic President to shreds, and clear the path for another right-wing ideologue to follow him--whether in four years, or eight? We complained quite bitterly about the ideological rectitude demanded by the other side. Do we want to sacrifice our own ultimate goals to another brand of ideological rectitude?
I think it's possible not to abandon our ideals and to exercise our right--our duty--to question policies we judge to be wrong-headed, all without losing sight of the big picture. I voted for Obama because I believe him to be a thoughtful man with all the right intentions; because I believe that he does have a firm grasp of the big picture--what Bush Senior dismissively called the "vision thing." I did not vote for him because I thought he could fix every problem in our society within six months, no matter how pressing; or that he would say nothing that I disagreed with; or so that he would take uncompromising stands on every issue. I voted for a man I thought would work, with whatever circumspection might be necessary, to achieve a more just society for us all.