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The Strategic Rationale Behind The Left’s Criticism Of President Obama: FEAR

by on Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 12:17 pm EDT in Politics

Photo by Pete Souza

There are essentially two major camps left-of-center in American politics, and the divisions between the two are often as deep and wide as the rifts between the two major parties.

One camp is composed of Democratic partisans — a group that goes to great ends to stifle any and all criticism of President Obama and other Democratic politicians.

Commonly referred to as ‘Democratic loyalists’, ‘Obamabots’, ‘Obama Loyalists’ ‘Obama apologists’, ‘sheeple’ … they are fueled by a deep conviction that the Democratic Party — no matter what they do and how far to the right they swing — must have our full unflinching support to ensure their eventual reelection.

Anytime the Left criticizes Obama’s initiatives or policies, or calls for primaries or third party options, Partisans immediately condemn them as “helping to elect Republicans”.

Partisans have succumbed, fully and completely, to the ‘lesser of two evils’ rationale. 

To fully appreciate how insignificant policies are to the partisan mind, consider that most of them absolutely loathed Ronald Reagan in the 80s, yet now ironically adore President Obama. Never mind that his actual policy record sits to the right of Reagan’s along the left-right political spectrum.

The second camp is composed of progressives — a group whose loyalties lie ONLY with progressive policies. These individuals relentlessly pursue the truth irregardless of which party suffers from their findings. Unlike partisans, they refuse to cherry-pick, or engage in historic revisionism, or even to pull punches as a way of sparing Democratic politicians embarrassment. 

Commonly referred to as ‘the Left’, ‘the populist Left’, ‘truth-tellers’, ‘the professional Left’, ‘non-partisan Left’, ‘ideological purists’, … they tend to vote Democratic, but will at times — depending on the options available to them — consider voting for Greens and independents.

The Left has been especially critical of President Obama over the last three years. He won a decisive victory in 2008 having campaigned on the following progressive platform: a public option as the vital component to any health care reform legislation; allowing the re-importation of prescription drugs; ending Bush tax cuts; scrapping the Patriot Act, which he deemed ‘shoddy and dangerous’; ending the warring policies of the neocons; closing GITMO; ending ‘Too Big to Fail’ on Wall Street (so as to avoid future TARPS); rewriting job-killing NAFTA-like trade policies, etc. etc. Once elected, he instantly turned his back on all these campaign promises, instead cutting back-room deals with the wealthy entrenched interest groups who profit from the very deep structural problems he vowed to reform.

All this begs the following question: Whose Strategy (Partisan or Progressive) Is Most Likely To Yield Meaningful Progressive Change?

Again, Partisans preach that within the confines of a two-party system, you MUST ALWAYS support and defend the ‘lesser of two evil’ parties. And so as an extension of this belief, they view the Left — always shining a light on Obama’s betrayals and pro-corporate, non-progressive policies — as merely sabotaging his 2012 reelection prospects, thereby ensuring we get stuck with a Tea Partier President.

But this partisan assessment is both simplistic and naive.

To fully appreciate the strategy of Progressives, one must focus entirely on what motivates politicians to legislate the policies they do: FEAR. If politicians don’t fear you, they are free to ignore you. 

Like all Americans, politicians fear losing their jobs. The two major competing groups that directly impact their reelection prospects are the powerful entrenched entities who fill either their or their opponents’ political coffers with millions of dollars, and the constituents who will actually cast the votes.

Why Politicians Fear Entrenched Corporate Entities Far More Than Voters

Deep pocketed special interest groups have only one objective: to ensure that all legislation passed and signed into law continues to enrich them and advance their own narrow self-interests (often to the detriment of the American public).

Of great significance, is their mercenary approach to influencing the legislative process. Their loyalty lies with whatever party legislates their agenda. One wrong vote and they will reroute tens of thousands of dollars slotted for one politician directly into his opponent’s war chest. Similar to Progressives, their loyalties lie with the policies being legislated. 

Voting constituents, conversely, are largely too timid to provoke this same level of fear in their politicians, and this is a direct result of our deeply-flawed two-party political system. By punishing or even criticizing Democrats, partisans fear they risk empowering Republicans.

So naturally Democratic politicians factor their supporters’ reluctance to punish them into their decision-making process anytime their campaign promises meet resistance from the powerful entrenched-interest groups. It is precisely this ‘lesser of two-evils’ mindset that all but ensures Democratic politicians put entrenched corporate interests above their own supporters’ interests.

The Media’s Role in Ensuring America Remains Partisan

The main-stream-media (owned by these same entrenched corporate interests) helps to do its part to solidify a public partisan mindset by largely replacing serious news coverage and thoughtful policy discussions with a focus on partisan gamesmanship and the most extreme elements of the ‘other’ party. This blatant distraction — a refocusing of the public attention away from the issues that matter — lulls each side’s voters into complacency. It grants a non-principled President even more leeway to betray the interests of his own supporters. He can quietly serve the entrenched interests, in exchange for millions in campaign contributions, and yet still remain confident his constituents — shocked by the nightly broadcasting of extreme Tea Party and Rush Limbaugh rhetoric — will continue to support him.

Is it a mere coincidence that Fox News Chairman Roger Aisles — who serves as the Republican Party’s propagandist-in-chief — decided to cancel Glenn Beck just before the 2012 Election cycle? Aisles understood better than anyone that Beck provokes fear and disgust in Centrists and Leftists alike. And that fear has a way of overshadowing the deep-seated feelings of betrayal shared by MANY who campaigned for Obama in 2008. Aisles knew that MSNBC and CNN would continue to devote an exorbitant amount of time each night focused on Beck’s crazy conspiratorial rants, and that this could only frighten and energize a largely disenchanted electorate to vote Democratic.

Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, et al actually steal the spotlight away from Obama’s right-of-center policies. Obama’s Milton Friedmanesque initiatives have failed to spark outrage amongst many Democrats, because they are completely captivated by the circus clowns on the far-Right. When liberal pundits roll clip after clip after clip of antics from the fringe-right, they divert their viewers’ attention from things such as the NAFTA-like ‘free trade’ deals Obama is quietly pushing through — gifts to multi-national corporations which will result in the exportation of hundreds of thousands more American jobs, and during one of the biggest unemployment crises since the Great Depression. They neglect to remind their viewer that Obama routinely slammed these very NAFTA-like trade deals during his campaign, promising his supporters he’d rewrite NAFTA if they elected him.

Why The Progressive Strategy Is Our Only Hope For Change

Progressives are of the mindset that the only way to transform this country into a more progressive one, is to heighten politicians’ FEAR of their own constituents in a way that rivals the fear instilled by deep-pocketed interest groups. Progressives know that politicians strategically move towards their ideological base, whenever confronted with political insecurity. 

When the Left calls Obama out in a way that penetrates the inner-beltway bubble — and becomes quantifiable by corresponding poll numbers — the President’s political advisers interpret this as voter repudiation. They realize his policy pendulum has swung too far Right in favor of entrenched interests and to the detriment of his own political stability. And it’s at this moment he begins to fear his supporters — the ones who elected him, and who will actually cast the votes in 2012. This leaves him with little choice, but to pivot towards his base and attempt to diffuse rising populist dissent.

Therein lies the key crucial difference between the two camps:

Progressives understand that when a President’s poll numbers drop he is more likely to push progressive priorities to appease his supporters. As such, the Left doesn’t believe its criticism of Obama in any way threatens the ends it hopes to achieve: progressive policies. If Obama stubbornly refuses to pivot to the Left then he has only himself to blame for a disenchanted, unenergized base come election time.

Partisans are always in campaign mode — viewing actual governing as little more than the muddy tracks of a perpetual horse race — and thus equate lowering poll numbers as a precursor to defeat. Therefore, as a group, they are incapable of ever pressuring their politicians to champion progressive causes or to promote meaningful change.

The message partisans continue to send to their Democratic representatives is this: “Just ignore me and everything I want, because I intend to campaign for you and vote for you regardless of what you do. I’ll even lie for you and cover up how you’ve screwed me every which way til Sunday — anything to ensure those scary Republicans don’t win.”

The Left hopes to send them the exact opposite message.

The US founding fathers, like today’s Progressives, understood that the one vital ingredient for maintaining a robust democracy is nothing less than FEAR itself:

“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

~Thomas Jefferson

Well, today, we find ourselves living in a state of corporate tyranny, where change has become nothing more than a campaign slogan. Partisans have no one but themselves to blame for this sorry state of affairs.

Watch: How Obama Lost His Grass Roots Supporters – In A Nutshell

by on Friday, November 5, 2010 at 12:51 am EDT in Politics

Here is a CAN’T MISS discussion between Dylan Ratigan, Glenn Greenwald and Cenk Uygur on the contentious divisions which now exist between Progressives and the President (and the Democratic Party).  The three identify Obama’s ultimate betrayal — which underlies a series of more easily identifiable ones, including his deliberate undermining of meaningful health care reform, financial reform, political reform, etc.

They articulate how his chosen methods of governance conflict so fundamentally with his former populist campaign promises as to literally obliterate his credibility and his former identity as a change agent.  Herein lies the impetus for the Democratic Party’s midterm losses: their overnight transformation from change agents — ushered into power with a populist mandate — to status-quo agents.

Here’s some highlights of the discussion:

Glenn Greenwald: You can complain and object to all sorts of things, but if at the end of the day politicians know that you’re going to give them your undying and unconditional support, because the other side is just mildly worse, what you’re doing is you’re ensuring that you’ll be ignored.   But I think this election actually revealed some leverage, which is one of the reasons why the Democrats got destroyed, is because the base of the party — the people who put Democrats in power in the last two elections — didn’t bother to go and vote.  And the reason they didn’t bother to go and vote is because they weren’t given a reason why they thought it was worthwhile.  That is leverage.  That is telling the Democrats you will be out of power.  Not just in the House of Representatives, but in the Senate and the White House if you continue on this path.


Glenn Greenwald: [Obama’s] whole campaign was based upon subverting that very system — namely that no matter who wins, Democrats or Republicans, the same special interests continue to prosper, while ordinary Americans suffer.  And the plan was that by assembling this highly energized, activated citizenry behind him — this army of people who believed in the change that he would bring — he could circumvent all of those power structures.  He could tell them that they could no longer have their way, because they couldn’t do anything to him, because he had this army of highly energized young voters, first time voters, and the like.  And they squandered that.  Instead of becoming the voice of populist rage, they became the target of it, because they became the agents of the status-quo rather than the agents of change.

Cenk Uygur: [Obama’s] fundamental error was — we didn’t ask you to do change on the specific issues.  That’s great, health care reform, etc. that’s lovely, ok.  And there was some good wins in Pell Grants, etc. right?  We asked you to change the system.  That’s what you missed. […]

Glenn Greenwald: … the real tragedy of the Obama Presidency is there are millions of people who had believed that the political process had nothing to offer them, who were turned away from it and wallowing in cynicism.  And they got convinced to put aside their cynicism for the first time ever — that there was really hope that they would be able to realize by investing themselves in the political process.  And that has come crashing down.  And I don’t see how it can be re-engaged, and the irony of the Obama Presidency —

Dylan Ratigan: Why not?  Why not?

Glenn Greenwald: — because people concluded that: “this , I thought, was the real chance that something would be making a difference, and if not even this worked, then I don’t ever believe anything will.”

Cenk Uygur: … I’m with Glenn.  There’s a great irony here, that the guy who sold us “HOPE” ultimately wound up robbing us of hope, and why?  Because this was our one chance.  Because the money power is so overwhelming, it is such a hard thing to fight, but he had amassed the army to fight it.  He had that army.  Let’s go, let’s do campaign finance reform, let’s change the way things are done so the lobbyists don’t own our politicians.  And he squandered it, so what hope do we have?  […]

Glenn Greenwald: … I guarantee there are lots of people who are watching who are thinking “Oh, look at how impatient they are.  What did they think, that he was going to come in and fundamentally and radically change and improve Washington in two years?”  I don’t think anybody thought that.  I certainly didn’t.  I think everybody was in it for the long haul, was willing to have patience.  But the reason people are disappointed isn’t because he hasn’t succeeded yet, it’s because he’s not trying.  He’s doing the opposite.  Everything he accomplishes is by meeting in secret with the very lobbyists who he said he was going to dis-empower.   Everything that he does is intended to entrench the system rather than to subvert and undermine it.  So if he were actually fighting, everybody, including everyone at this table, would have all the patience in the world […]

WATCH (in its entirety):

How rare it is to see candid discussions like this one, in the main stream media, giving an honest account for the recent Democratic losses — low progressive turnout — and then to expand on the WHY.

Bill Moyers Journal: Why Robert Kuttner’s ‘Party Line’ Mindset Ensures The Status Quo

by on Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 12:03 pm EDT in Healthcare, Politics

On Friday night Bill Moyers hosted a fascinating debate on the Senate’s health care bill between Matt Taibbi, contributing editor for Rolling Stone, and Robert Kuttner, co-editor of the American Prospect.  (The video can be viewed here:  Bill Moyers Journal).  Taibbi and Kuttner both describe the just-passed health care bill as disastrous.  They outline how it is a complete giveaway to the health insurance industry, how it will do nothing to lower costs, and how it will be extremely unpopular to the American public once it’s implemented.

The following highlights some key points in their discussion:

BILL MOYERS: So are you saying that this, what some call a sweetheart deal between the pharmaceutical industry and the White House, done many months ago before this fight really began, was because the drug company money in the Democratic Party?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, it’s two things. Part of it was we need to do whatever it takes to get a bill. Never mind whether it’s a really good bill, let’s get a bill passed so we can claim that we solved health insurance. Secondly, let’s get the drug industry and the insurance industry either supporting us or not actively opposing us. So that there was some skirmishing around the details, but the deal going in was that the administration, drug companies, insurance companies are on the same team. Now, that’s one way to get legislation, it’s not a way to transform the health system. Once the White House made this deal with the insurance companies, the public option was never going to be anything more than a fig leaf. And over the summer and the fall, it got whittled down, whittled down, whittled down to almost nothing and now it’s really nothing.

MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, and this was Howard Dean’s point this week was that this individual mandate that’s going to force people to become customers of private health insurance companies, the Democrats are going to end up owning that policy and it’s going to be extremely unpopular and it’s going to be theirs for a generation. It’s going to be an albatross around the neck of this party.

ROBERT KUTTNER: Think about it, the difference between social insurance and an individual mandate is this. Social insurance everybody pays for it through their taxes, so you don’t think of Social Security as a compulsory individual mandate. You think of it as a benefit, as a protection that your government provides. But an individual mandate is an order to you to go out and buy some product from some private profit-making company, that in the case of a lot of moderate income people, you can’t afford to buy. And the shell game here is that the affordable policies are either very high deductibles and co-pays, so you can afford the monthly premiums but then when you get sick, you have to pay a small fortune out of pocket before the coverage kicks in. Or if the coverage is decent, the premiums are unaffordable. And so here’s the government doing the bidding of the private industry coercing people to buy profit-making products that maybe they can’t afford and they call it health reform.

As you can see, everyone is on the same page here — they both HATE this horrible insurance industry giveaway — to be awarded off the backs of struggling Americans. Both believe the bill does more harm than good.

And then Moyers asks them this simple question, and you quickly see where the real debate here will lie:

BILL MOYERS: Yes or no. If you were a senator, would you vote for this Senate health care bill?




Did you get that? Robert Kuttner would vote for this Senate health care bill that he had just described as disastrous.  An astounded Moyers confronts Kuttner:

BILL MOYERS: Why? You just said it’s designed to enhance the fortunes of the industry.

ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, it’s so far from what I think is necessary that I don’t think it’s a good bill. But I think if it goes down, just because of the optics of the situation and the way the Republicans have framed this as a make or break moment for President Obama, it will make it easier for the Republicans to take control of Congress in 2010. It will make Obama even more gun-shy about promoting reform. It will create even more political paralysis. It will embolden the republicans to block what this President is trying to do, some of which is good, at every turn. So I would hold my nose and vote for it.  […]

BILL MOYERS: Aren’t you saying that in order to save the Democratic President and the Democratic Party in 2010 and 2012 you have to have a really rotten health insurance bill?

ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, when you come down to one pivotal moment where a bill is before Congress and the administration has staked the entire presidency on this bill and you’re a progressive Democrat are you going to vote for it or not? Let me put it this way, if I were literally in the position that Joe Lieberman is in and it was up to me to determine whether this bill live or die, I would hold my nose and vote for it even though I have been a fierce critic of the path this administration has taken. […]

Matt Taibbi gets it absolutely right in this exchange with Kuttner:

ROBERT KUTTNER: I mean, I was making the same criticisms that you were at the time. But now we’re down to a moment of final passage. And maybe my views are very ambivalent. But I would still vote for it because I think the defeat would be absolutely crushing in terms of the way the press played it, in terms of the way it would give encouragement to the far right in this country that we can block this guy if we just fight hard enough, if we just demagogue it.

MATT TAIBBI: But couldn’t that defeat turn into- that crushing defeat, couldn’t that be good for the Democrats? Couldn’t it teach them a lesson that, you know, maybe they have to pursue a different course in the future?

Kuttner’s mindset is precisely why politicians continue to undermine their constituents at every turn.  Politicians believe that their party members and constituents — even those further to the Left (like Kuttner) who routinely criticize their actions — will ultimately hold their noses and walk the party line.  It is exactly why Rahm Emanuel confidently asserted to the Wall Street Journal they need not worry about the Left.  It is why real meaningful change will never occur in Washington, because politicians — a crafty bunch — are banking that Kuttner’s mentality is prevalent amongst their constituency.

Politicians respond to one very simple and primal motivator: FEAR.

  1. FEAR that entrenched interests will stop funding their campaigns, and instead will begin to fund their opponents.
  2. FEAR that their constituency will suddenly turn on them, and vote them out of office.

In a legislative initiative such as health care reform, entrenched interests would have to take a serious hit to their profits in order to stop the needless suffering of the American public.  These companies reap incredible profit from their government-protected monopoly/oligopoly status (no competition), and by denying claims and coverage.  There is no way around this.  Either Obama protects their profits at the expense of the public, or he pushes legislation that harms their profits.

Emanuel and Obama very astutely calculated that entrenched interests would be unforgiving — mercenary, in fact — if their profits were in any way threatened.  But they suspected Kuttner’s ‘party line’ mindset would ultimately prevail amongst their liberal colleagues in the House and in the electorate; that they would ultimately walk the party line, given a two party system where choosing between the lesser of two evils is the name of the game.

This ‘party line’ mindset — exemplified perfectly by Kuttner — is one that not only enables the status quo, it guarantees its perpetuity.  The entrenched interests’ stranglehold over our government will continue as long as people mechanically support whatever policies their party leaders have decided to push, even if it’s something they themselves believe to be disastrous, a giveaway to interest groups, and harmful to Americans.  Kuttner is essentially saying he would support a terrible, harmful policy only for the sake of denying a political victory to the opposition.  That’s the entire crux of his explanation.

Kuttner’s message is exactly the wrong one to be sending to our political representatives.  It plays right into the strategic calculations these politicians make whenever they must choose between pursuing something exceedingly difficult — like meaningful change — or pursuing something far easier, and more predictable — like status quo.  Observing Kuttner’s quick capitulation should help us to better understand why Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama have chosen to serve special interests at the expense of the public interest.  They really only FEAR the special interests, because special interests are the only ones certain to hold them to account.  After all, the Left — as Kuttner demonstrated — would never do anything that might inadvertently help to put a Republican back in power.  Right?

As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently put it:  “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

Obama’s Betrayal Of The Left Spells Problems For The Democratic Party

by on Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 4:44 pm EDT in Healthcare, Politics

Back when Candidate Obama was working the campaign trail across the country, his message of hope — of overcoming entrenched interests in pursuit of meaningful and necessary change — inspired and stirred a nation.  He marketed his message in an ingenious mantra, “Yes we can,” that conjured up the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.; […]