Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My journey from purist to Obamabot

Over the last couple of months, I've spent a fair amount of time reading Glenn Greenwald's columns at the Guardian and hanging out in comments threads talking to his followers. Many of my pragmatic friends have questioned why I bother and that makes sense. I know I haven't gone there to convince anyone. But it seemed like there were some questions I was asking myself in the process that needed answering. And I think I've finally figured them out.

To understand, you have to put it in the context of some political history and my own trajectory. I've mentioned before that since I was in my 20's, my movement in politics and religion has all been leftward as I rejected the rightwing christian fundamentalism of my past.

That direction was aided by movements in the Democratic Party following their reaction to the landslide victory of the Republicans in 1984. The Democratic establishment in this country made the calculation that unless they made some changes, they were facing what some people were then calling a "permanent Republican majority." Their answer was to form the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).

On the outside, this looked like an attempt by the Democrats to moderate their leftward swing in terms of policies. But it was a cynical political attempt to do so rather than one grounded in the pragmatism of what works.

Behind the scenes, the DLC was much more than that though. Democrats feared the onslaught of money in politics and had seen how the Republicans were positioned to win that game handily with their ties to corporate America. The real focus of the DLC was to position the Democratic Party to be able to compete in that arena. We saw the fruits of that during the Clinton years with all the fundraising scandals highlighted by selling access to the Lincoln bedroom. Democratic policies were set to encourage corporate support and folks like Bill Clinton were very adept at doing so. In other words, little "d" democracy was for sale not only by the Republicans, but the Democrats were showing how they could play that game too.

It worked...the result was two terms for President Bill Clinton. But in 2004, along came Howard Dean and his "people powered" campaign. When he adopted Sen. Paul Wellstone's (HUGE critic of the DLC) line about representing the "democratic wing of the Democratic Party," this is exactly what he was talking about. He was making a direct challenge to the DLC way.

It was for those reasons that I got on board - big time - with the Dean campaign. Perhaps it sounds overly dramatic, but it felt to me like a last stand for democracy.

And then I watched as the Democratic establishment (as represented by those most entwined with the Clintons and the DLC) joined with the Republicans to take Howard Dean's candidacy down. They were ultimately successful.

The core of what I thought at the time was that money ruled politics and I doubted that the people really had any say in these matters at all. It was the culmination of power and money at the top that ruled - when it came to both parties.

That's where I find the purists to be today. They might rail about infractions they observe in the Obama administration about civil liberties and a failure to adequately prosecute Wall Street - but at the heart of things, they believe there is some evil cabal of rich powerful people that control politics and the workings of our government. So they write off President Obama as simply the tool that is doing their bidding.

As I said, that's pretty much where I was too coming in to the 2008 election  So much so that I figured Hillary Clinton had a lock on the nomination due to her backing from "the establishment." I wasn't really paying much attention because I figured any real insurgent candidate would be easily dismissed in the same way Howard Dean was.

And then along came the Iowa caucus and this guy Barack Obama. What a shocker! I decided it was time to actually pay attention. What I found was someone who took what Howard Dean had done to a whole new level. I started studying his small donor grassroots fundraising and how he was implementing community organizing principles into his campaign. That's when I officially became an Obamabot - and why. These weren't empty promises - he was truly implementing small "d" democracy and beating the DLCers to boot!

And so I can sympathize with the purists. I was there once. I just think that they're making a big mistake by not noticing this incredible opportunity President Obama is offering. It doesn't mean always getting our way on every policy - that's not how democracy works.

As I see it - the battle of our times is between the influence of big money and our franchise as citizens. President Obama is showing us how we win that one.


  1. Good Morning SP,
    Your posts of the last few days have been thoughtful and intelligent and informative. It makes me sad that the American voter does not get access to your wonderful content.

    You are correct - PBO is the personification of what actually BEING a democracy means!

    Thanks for all you do. I distribute your posts as far and as wide as possible.

    1. Thanks Smilingl8dy!

      I really appreciate your support.

  2. Exactly - something different is happening here. And even though it isn't as perfectly different as we would like it to be, that's no reason to not realize that it is still qualitatively different. And really, all these Greenwald-esque critics of Obama - who do they want in the presidency instead? As Frank Schaeffer argues, they just don't understand how amazing it is that Obama is where he is at all, considering the incredible money-backed power of the far right.

  3. I would like to see some of the president's critics from the left take the small-donor grassroots model and start vying for local and statewide offices. I mean that sincerely. It would be good to bolster the "farm team" for the Dems moving forward (as the GOP did for many years by focusing on downticket races, esp. for state government) and it would also give them an appreciation of what it means to actually run -- and, if they win, what it takes to legislate, reach consensus, etc.

    And even Obama got his butt kicked by Bobby Rush when he ran for Congress -- so losing isn't the end of the world.

  4. I think there is an additional element happening with the purists. The inability to handle the ambivalence, the confusion and the randomness of human interaction. Democracies are messy. It's easier to believe in the control of a cabal of rich and powerful people, however hurtful, then personally getting in the mix. And I say this as a recovering purist. Pragmatism requires toughness and the only way to get tough is to engage.