Thoughts on Left criticism of Obama:
The Left press and blogosphere is rife with analyses on the mistakes of the Obama administration that allegedly 'caused' the Republican resurgence in the mid-term elections. Chiefly Obama's stimulus effort is scored as half-hearted, less than half the amount needed using the most precise Keynesian calculations. And from the perspective of Hyman Minsky's Post-Keynesian followers, the absence of a strong employer of last resort strategy gravely threatens a country's ability to recover stability or sustainable growth from the chaos of a 'government-constrained great depression' (the more accurate term for this crisis than 'the great recession').
On the social safety net front, increasing the economic rights of the American people, Obama's (and Pelosi's and Harry Reid's, Chris Dodd's and Barney Frank's) accomplished reforms in health care and finance are seen as compromised by excessive concessions to corporate interests. It has shocked some to discover, or re-discover, some of the basics of class politics in this era of giant transnational corporations. To left and even most liberal thinking forces, the ideological arguments for universal health care and for more constrained and sustainable financial markets disciplined to more useful investment strategies seem unassailable, stronger than ever from an historical perspective. The uneven but nonetheless unmistakable worldwide advance of objective socialization processes in the global economy and national economies are strongly reflected in the ever increasing degree and sophistication of regulation in markets, and in the advancing sector of public and quasi public goods, including infrastructure, in advanced economies. More and more these processes have the tinge of inevitability, though we should have learned to be careful of such appearances. They are grounded in both technological and interconnected social evolution, especially the division and re-division of labor. Given the vast transformations in the class and occupational diversification since the 18th century dawn of capitalism, it's likely a longstanding idealist tendency on the left that seeks to reduce them by referring to capitalism as single system throughout, even though certain features certainly persist.
The socialization tendency, for example, regardless how inevitable it may be, paradoxically makes corporations and the rich ever more dependent upon the public sector for essential services and infrastructure, and thus in proportion, ever more -- not less -- fierce in their efforts to manipulate and dominate public institutions This is obviously an inherently corrupting process however and thus compels --- again, and not for the first time -- a no less fierce defense of democracy and democratic institutions. The expansion of democratic rights -- i.e. entitlements -- inherently challenges unjustified wealth inequality. Yet some on the left draw a different conclusion, namely, that democratic struggle in all state and public institutions is a dead end, and the president's departure from the ideal an illustration of this, rather than simply a testimony to its difficulties, and importance.
In foreign policy, Obama's efforts to "draw down" wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been excoriated as false and dishonest and, indeed, simply a continuation of 20th Century imperial policies.
In most cases critics decline to place the president's 'defects' in context of what is politically possible given the balance of forces in and between Congress, state legislatures and governors, the Supreme Court, and not least -- the armed forces and their institutions and vast economic clientele. "Out Now!", "Jobs Now", "nationalize the banks" are slogans that epitomize these tendencies. They prefer instead to measure his performance ideological standards. Even the most trenchant and credible critics of the president's 'compromises' -- such as Paul Krugman -- frequently preface their objections with "....it's unknown if a better bill was politically feasible, but.....". The "but" usually includes the argument that its better to hold a more pure, but failed, position, than legislate a piece of sausage which most folks would prefer not to inspect too closely.
The problem with the hatred or disgust of sausage making is that all legislation, in fact all governing, is really like sausage making. The problem with primarily ideological objections to the president is that they are too often distractions from the harder mobilizing and organizing activity that's at the heart of the challenges to move the democratic restructuring agenda forward, and send its enemies to the dustbin of history. To expect any elected president to fall on his or her sword is, well, foolish.
More sober analysis, it seems to this writer, points out that the weaknesses in the stimulus response, the reforms, and the setbacks in the mid-term elections are, more than ever, calls to arms at the grass roots. Overcoming the corrupting forces of monopoly corporations and their owners on the political process needs exponentially more horsepower from the bottom up. The failure and nullification of existing democratic institutions, the spread of ungovernability, are the greatest threat posed by both the current assaults from the Right, the arrogance of the military, and especially the failure of existing institutions to effectively counter the economic crisis. It's an opportunity for the Left, broadly speaking, that has not presented itself since at least the Sixties, and perhaps even the Great Depression. But seizing the opportunity means a strategic re-focus on breaking out of its electoral and governing isolation, breaking out of the political sidelines.
Local power is the chief link the chain of tactics I think we need to grasp, to borrow Lenin's famous metaphor. It's not the only link, but the one most accessible to us given the organizational chaos on the Left. And the essence of the challenge in local electoral battles is how to galvanize, neighborhood by neighborhood, workplace by workplace, majority coalitions of workers, nationally and racially oppressed, women, youth, seniors, small business, democratically minded intellectuals and liberal corporate interests that expand the mandate of local government to take aggressive action on the immediate needs of the people, AND become much more foundations on which to force state-wide and, in turn, national institutions to turn back demagogic and corrupted attacks and address the key problems.
In some ways I am convinced that the organizational chaos is largely a product of our relative electoral isolation -- and thus isolation from the real vicissitudes of exercising working people's great power.
Harpers Ferry, WV