Of Course Obama’s Progressive! Give Him More Democrats, See What Happens

I am continuously amazed by the sheer number of self-described liberals who constantly describe Barack Obama as a “moderate Republican,” which is a concept as extinct as a dodo bird. They sometimes even compare Obama with Ronald Reagan. Some have even suggested that Obama is to the right of Saint Reagan.  It’s really difficult to take that level of silliness seriously, but the fact of the matter is, a lot of the people who say this kind of thing have a very high profile within the progressive media/blogosphere. Unfortunately, because people who say this have no political skills or knowledge to speak of, we have to spend a lot of our time refuting this nonsense, so that we can get the Republican Party out of the majority, and give progressives a bit more power, as part of the majority. Democrats have to win elections and win a majority in all governmental bodies we can manage, and we can’t do that if a significant number of voices on what is supposed to be the smart ideological side are screaming that both parties are the same, or that progressives like Obama are actually not progressive, but rather, very conservative. That kind of rhetoric will not get lots of people out to the polls, and it certainly won’t encourage people who already can’t stand Republicans to come out and vote for Democrats. 

It’s also a load of crap. Obama is not a “moderate Republican,” by the current definition of Republican, and you have to be enormously forgetful (ignorant) of politics to think he’s to the right of Saint Reagan. The fact is, we are talking about two completely different times. At the time Reagan took office, the country had just emerged from one of the most progressive periods in our history, followed by an inflationary period unlike any in our history, as well. In 1981, our economy was still largely based on manufacturing. We weren’t at war, and the Soviet Union was already beginning to collapse.

Compare that to the world now, 33 years later. After 33 years of neocon (NOT “conservative”) political domination, the United States is a completely different place, politically. In order to compare Reagan’s politics with Obama’s, you have to define “conservative” using a static definition of the term, which is absurdly simplistic; almost as absurdly simplistic as claiming liberalism as expressed in 1968 is the same as liberalism as expressed today. If FDR or JFK, LBJ or even RFK were around today, they’d do completely different things than they did way back when. If nothing else, the fact that they’re dealing with a country that’s been under neocon rule for 33 years would require significant moderation. They were all master politicians, which means they would realize that winning a majority was the most important thing, followed by getting as much as they possibly could through a Congress that was amenable to as much as possible.

See, the one thing many of these folks don’t seem to understand is the concept that you have to “dance with them what brung ya.” A President Chomsky would be no more successful than President Obama at getting his agenda through the current Congress. And let’s be clear; those in charge of this country are not able to bend the public to their will, period. You can’t do anything without a law, and every law has to pass Congress and be signed.  One reason why Reagan seems moderate compared to Bush is because he had to deal with a Democratic House and a Republican Senate that wasn’t filibuster-proof. It’s also why Obama sometimes seems a little conservative. Got that? Everyone who’s ever taken a basic civics course should understand this reality. To get the government you want, you have to deal with all of its elements. Electing Elizabeth Warren was nice and feels good. But unless you get her 59 more Democratic votes and a Democratic House majority, she really won’t make much of a difference.  Sorry, but that’s the truth.

The comparison of Obama to any Republican, even a “moderate” one usually requires one to revise history, and wallow into Fox News territory in order to make their point. There are no “moderate Republicans” in office at the moment. The entire party votes in unison on more than 95% of the bills that are presented to them. What’s moderate about a party with 144 members willing to let the country default on its debt, as they did about six weeks ago? Is it moderate to vote as a bloc to kill a universal background check on guns that has the support of 90% of the public?

What is a moderate Republican these days? For that matter, what was a moderate Republican 33 years ago? How about 40 years ago? Forty year ago, there were three different types of Republicans; there were liberal Republicans, who were socially as liberal as any Democrat, but they tended to be somewhat fiscally conservative, although they’re nothing like the “fiscal conservatives” that occupy the GOP today. There was the Taft wing of the party, which was the very right wing of the party, and there were a few moderate conservatives, who were conservative on most issues, but cared about the direction of the country. Even the Taft Republicans are disgusted by the shenanigans of the current GOP, so what would constitute a “moderate” Republican in today’s terms?

And what about Obama is anything like Reagan? The “liberals” who posit this nonsense keep using the same examples, including Reagan’s move to give amnesty to undocumented immigrants, which he didn’t. The Democratic House did that, as part of a comprehensive immigration bill that also put a whole lot of restrictions on them in order to pass them. Have you ever filled out that ridiculous I-9 form? That was in that bill, too. In order to get amnesty through, basically, we all have to prove we’re citizens every time we look for a job and many other times.  They also note that Reagan raised taxes four times, without mentioning that he only raised them on the middle class, and that he cut taxes for the rich so low that George H. W. Bush and Clinton had to raise them a bit.

When comparing Obama to Reagan, they like to note his so-called “conservative” moves, such has his decision to “escalated” the Afghanistan war, meaning he increased the number of troops. They fail to note that he changed the mission over there from fighting to training and rebuilding, and he ordered the troops to not shoot at Afghans except in self-defense. Yeah, that sounds like a Republican move, doesn’t it? They also love to talk about his approval of drilling and fracking for oil and gas as a sign that he’s just like Reagan or like some sort of “moderate Republican,” while conveniently ignoring the fact that Obama has also made record investments in alternative energy sources, as well. They also tend to point to the bank bailouts as an example of Obama’s “moderate Republican” leanings, but besides the fact that most of the money was given out before he took office, the fact of the matter is, even President Chomsky would have done the same. Whose money do these people imagine is in those banks? Besides, unlike the previous Republican administration, Obama made them pay the money back, and signed a bill that requires banks to put money aside to bail them out should it happen again. And no Republicans in the House and only three Republicans in the Senate voted for Dodd-Frank. And of those three, two are gone. Is Charles Grassley (the only one left) a “moderate Republican”? Even if so, I’m confident in saying Obama is way to the left of him.

Obama is a progressive. Period. In fact, he’s so progressive, he’s getting progressive things done in spite of the fact that the Republican Party is blocking anything and everything that has even one Democratic fingerprint on it. It is especially against anything for which Obama shows approval. And now you know why he’s not always enthusiastic about many things we think he should be. See how complicated politics is? If he gushes over a proposal or a bill, it actually solidifies the opposition. Therefore, when you claim Obama’s “not a progressive” because he doesn’t jump up and down in favor of programs you think he should adopt, you’re missing the fact that he’s actually trying not to kill them and you’re actually proposing to kill them faster.  The “bully pulpit” can work both ways, especially when you have a GOP with a majority in the House and enough votes to block anything in the Senate, who doesn’t give a damn what the people think.

And then take a good look at what he’s accomplished, despite the incredible road blocks that have been put in his way. If you want him to propose everything the far left wants and watch it go down in flames, great. But he’s too progressive to let that happen. You should thank him for that.


Of Course Obama’s Progressive! Give Him More Democrats, See What Happens — 1 Comment

  1. There is an unfortunate tendency among liberals to look back fondly on Reagan and Nixon. And indeed, on domestic issues, Nixon was pretty good. What I think people forget is that these men existed in a political environment. Nixon could not act like Ted Cruz does now. What’s more, if Nixon were alive and in politics today, he would be as extreme as any of them. Ditto (even more so) for Reagan.

    However, Obama is the result of a 50 year assault on the political Overton Window. Republicans do not need to win elections; they have already pushed the political battle ground so far to the right that what now passes as liberal, is at best what passes as center or even center right in most countries. I’ve been preparing an article on the political compass, getting as many of my peers and readers to take it as possible. Most of the numbers come out around -7 on both axes, indicating leftist-libertarian (as opposed to rightist-authoritarian). Obama got a score of +6. Romney got a score of +7. I don’t think that’s wrong. I don’t think Romney’s nearly as conservative as he tried to be while running for president. Still, I think I’d give Obama something more along the lines of a +2.

    I like Obama and in general, he is leading the country better than any president during my lifetime. But he is constrained by the neoliberal ideology of the New Democratic movement that he is very much a part of. The Republican Party may have been taken over by the Tea Party base. But the Democratic Party has been taken over by the New Democrats. They aren’t all bad, but they believe in a lot of economic policy that is just wrong. Still, I support them because they continue to believe in facts and they are at base practical.

    The bottom line is that we need to destroy the Republican Party. Then we can fight about liberalism. I believe that the modern Democratic Party would make an excellent set of parties. One liberal (the New Deal/Great Society part that I am proud to include myself in) and one conservative (the New Democrats with their “free” trade agreements and ending welfare as we know it).

    Regardless: good blog! I hadn’t noticed you before. And you are right, the GOP is not conservative. I have written about this various places. Here is my contrarian take on Thomas Frank’s book:

    Pity the Billionaire

    If Reagan were president today, he’d be calling for the top marginal income tax rate to be reduced to 10%. But I don’t quite think that if Obama had his way, he’d raise it to 50%, where it ought to be. Still, that’s a very big difference!