Monday, February 11, 2013

The great emo lie (updated)

Bob Cesca does a good job of taking down the great emo lie: Obama = Bush. Or even more egregious, Obama is worse than Bush. I'd just like to add my thoughts.

Of course any direct comparison is impossible because we are talking about two different times in history. As we all know, many of President Obama's biggest challenges since coming to office have been to try to clean up the messes made by the Bush administration. When it comes to the kind of issues emos are usually referring to with this lie, one of the most vexing is the question of what to do with the small group of detainees at Gitmo who are the most dangerous but can't be tried in a court of law due to the torture they were subjected to by the Bush administration. I could go on with tons of examples like this, but lets let that one suffice.

The other way of making a comparison is to think about what the Bush administration would have done with the issues faced by President Obama. Since the former president has taken himself off the national stage, we don't have much of a read on what he thinks about current events. But we all know that it was actually Bush's vice-president who was calling the shots when it comes to this discussion.

Right on cue comes Dick Cheney's speech in Wyoming over the weekend. According to reports, he not only called President Obama's national security nominees "second rate," he criticized the president's reduction in defense spending and lamented the lack of military intervention in Iran (as well as the countries involved in the Arab Spring).

Bush's would-be successor John McCain talked way back in 2008 about his desires to "bomb-bomb-bomb Iran." In addition, McCain is now terribly disappointed that we haven't gotten ourselves involved in another war in Syria. 

If these are any indications, it doesn't take much imagination to think about how different a Bush/Cheney administration would have been over these last 4 years from the one we've witnessed with President Obama. They took us to the brink of an apocalypse financially and might have sent us over the edge in a war against Iran/Syria with at least the covert alignment of Russia and China against us.

But perhaps our emo friends would want to limit the comparison to Bush/Cheney's war on terror. You have to wonder if they'd really buy the idea that Dick Cheney would have engaged in a discussion about how to actually limit executive power in a way that could lead to the end of that particular war.
An administration official who spoke of the White House deliberations on the condition of anonymity said President Obama had asked his security and legal advisers a year ago “to see how you could have an independent review” of planned strikes. “That includes possible judicial review.”
Yeah, right. It would require nothing short of magical thinking to assume Cheney would go there given that consolidating executive power was his raison d'ĂȘtre.

Yes, President Obama made the decision to wage a war on al Qaeda (a complete re-focus from the war on terror). And due to the mess Bush/Cheney made of things, along with the spinelessness of Congress, he hasn't closed Gitmo. Those are things that reasonable people could have a discussion about.

But the reason we call them emos in the first place is that they say really ignorant stuff like Obama = Bush. That kind of stupid has no place in a reality-based conversation.

UPDATE: If you think I'm overstating the prevalence of this argument amongst the emos, Glenn Greenwald has done us the favor today of rounding up many of the quotes from people who are spouting this kind of nonsense.

I am once again reminded about how much the arguments of Greenwald and other emos about this are dependent on their belief that President Obama has accepted the idea that this is a perpetual war. Of course that is what they see because that is what they want to believe. A reality-based look at the evidence would suggest otherwise.


  1. The best argument against Obama that I can see from a sensible left perspective is that he's too cautious and too ready to compromise. I.e., he should have pressed his advantage harder and gotten a bigger stimulus or single payer, or closed Guantanamo Bay by simple executive order.

    These are arguments I can listen to, but they would necessarily require that one take the focus off the President and put it onto Congress and the press to examine how ready, in 2009, people were to be pushed.

    There's a reason that emoprogs tend to focus on what they imagine to be the President's personal failings (incompetent, naive, wolf in sheep's clothing), and that's because if you look at those other two institutions, it's fairly clear that the people in Congress who would have needed to be pushed farther weren't ready to be, and that the press was very ready to run with the "he's a radical" (and then some) narrative. On the latter, they did anyway, but if you would have put in a small number of Democratic Senators on Meet the Press saying, "the Black man in the White House" is an unamerican bully, it would have been lethal, very possibly in a literal sense.

    People also explain the Holocaust by referencing Hitler's personal qualities or myths about his life (Jewish ancestry, e.g.). That saves one the trouble of having to examine a wide range of people in different positions with different motivations to try to understand why things went down the way they did. That's a lot of work and often upends one's preconceptions in an uncomfortable way.

    I'll go further and say that anyone who thinks you can comprehend the mess that was 2000-2008 by blaming Bush and leaving it at that is the hopelessly naive one in the room. By no means was he the worst of that lot, and I'm certain he conceived of very little in terms of any type of policy.

    1. What's interesting about your comment is that in focusing on Hitler or Obama or Bush, you are accepting an essentially authoritarian view of things. Folks like Greenwald refer negatively to authoritarianism all the time. Its clear they haven't yet worked out exactly all of its implications.

      When it comes to Bush's (or Cheney's) most egregious actions, I put a lot of that on the American public's fear/anger allowing it all post 9/11. Sure, they exploited it. But it was there for the taking.

    2. "in focusing on Hitler or Obama or Bush, you are accepting an essentially authoritarian view of things."

      Absolutely, and more than that, a view of how things work that is totally out of step with the reality of how things work. You might say that this individual or that was a necessary actor in a larger event or dynamic, but no individual can will a larger event into being. It simply does not and cannot happen.

      Moreover, "leaders" more often than not "lead" by soliciting alternatives from subordinates and elevating one above others. All their personal ideas, qualities, and histories elevate the choice, but "leaders" tend not to be the ones to come up with ideas, and very rarely plans.

    3. "elevate the choice" should read "condition the choice."

    4. re: Guantanamo

      he signed an executive order and congress passed legislation to render it useless. from defunding to outlawing actions.

    5. The constant referral to authoritarianism is an interesting tell on the part of Obama's left-leaning critics. They don't so much seem to object to authoritarianism as they object to authoritarianism that doesn't do what they would like it to do.

      Greenwald's first book was all about the Manichean tendencies of the Bush administration, and I still think it is a worthwhile read. But what is fascinating is just how much of a Manichean Greenwald reveals himself to be. It took me a while to understand just what bugged me so much about his writing, until I realized that he was adopting the same "you are either with me or you are against me" attitude that he criticized in others.

    6. Chris,

      I think I've mentioned here before that I spent a fair amount of time reading Greenwald and interacting in his comment section a while ago. The reason I wanted to do that is because I have a gut reaction to him that I wanted to try to understand.

      My conclusion was that he has been steeped in authoritarianism and is now in the stage of rebellion. Most folks I know who took that route don't really escape it - they simply become the mirror image. That's also where I think all his anger comes from.

      It takes years and years of internal investigation to extract yourself from that way of understanding the world. He's got a very long road ahead of him on that.

    7. He seems more to me like a libertarian with a strong narcissist streak. I sincerely doubt his ability to make the transition from authoritarian to reformed.

  2. I believe SP and Bill are onto something here: the acceptance of a authoritarian view of governance is something that has really plagued the left for awhile now, esp. the 'great man' view of politics.


  3. I realized a few years ago that what the emo left really wants is a dictatorship. Just their way. It seems to be a common thread that the extremes on either side of the political spectrum embrace, as long as it's their extreme that's in power.

    It's obvious in their statements "The President should..." or "he could have ..." all of which turn out to be misguided. Apparently they forgot that Congress and the court system exist, or if they happen to remember, assumed that there was a level of lockstep party discipline that no one has ever seen before.

    1. I realized a few years ago that what the emo left really wants is a dictatorship. Just their way. It seems to be a common thread that the extremes on either side of the political spectrum embrace, as long as it's their extreme that's in power.

      Exactly - this has always been the case with Emo-Progressives, its just more glaring in the age of Obama. Most moderates and nominally liberal people are baffled as to how and why so many so-called liberals are riding this man so hard. My parents and in-laws don't get it.

      Other of us who've been in the trenches of politics and activism no better and could see this a mile away. Emo-Progressives all about purity of thought and implementation of their utopia, actually fixing problems, past failures and/or the fallout of their ill-conceived ideas be damned.

      Obama's cool headed approach to fixing issues only highlights the puritanical thinking that has always existed among the Left since the 1970's. The purity of thought and the inability to question one's ideals is the reason Clinton chased them out of the Democratic Party in 1990's.

  4. Hey Anonymous, re: Guantanamo:

    You're absolutely right about that. Memory fades. Thanks.

    That makes it even more laughable, or would if it were a funny subject. Guy passes an exec. order and takes crap for not strongarming Congress sufficiently to get the bill down to a number he could veto. Tools...