Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Compare and Contrast: Froomkin v Giordano

First of all, here's what Dan Froomkin has to say about the Obama presidency.
In a lot of ways, we’re worse off today than we were under George W. Bush...

There will be no snapping back to a pre-Bush-era respect for basic human dignity and civil rights. Thanks to Obama, it’s going to be a hard, long fight.

In some cases, Obama has set even darker precedents than his predecessor. Massively invasive bulk surveillance of Americans and others has been expanded, not constrained. This president secretly condemns people to death without any checks or balances, and shrugs as his errant drones massacre innocent civilians. Whistleblowers and journalists who expose national security wrongdoing face unprecedented criminal prosecution...

In retrospect, what the country needed was a radical break from the Bush/Cheney national security policies: A reestablishment of American moral integrity; a rejection of decision-making based on fear (of terrorism, or of political blowback); a reassertion of the international laws of war; and a national reckoning.
There are a lot of inaccuracies in those few paragraphs (i.e., on checks and balances for drone strikes, members of Congress have been briefed on Every.Single.One.), but I'm going to try to look at the big picture rather than focus on the specifics.

In contrast, take a look at what Al Giordano wrote on the Obama legacy today in an article about potential challengers to Hillary Clinton.
And maybe it will be a candidate who can spark a “generational election” and have a shot at enough voter turnout in November 2016 to not lose the baby steps of progress – not long or fast enough steps by far, but at least the motion has been forward – that have been made over the past six years in the United States. After all, for its many and grievous faults, the US does finally have health care for so many more of its people, did measurably ratchet down two wars, did change the tone so that people who organized for LGBT rights, nonviolent marijuana and drug users and patients, immigrants and dreamers, grassroots XL pipeline opponents, among others, have finally started making progress on the level of law and policy. These are among the only things governments can do that help, or stop harming, the lives of real people.

When, in 2007, Obama’s campaign began recruiting volunteers to attend three-day community organizer trainings (called “Camp Obama”) that were designed by United Farmworkers Union organizer Marshall Ganz, it didn’t just built an army with a huge advantage over its rivals. It also trained a new generation in the forgotten skills of how change is really made at the most grassroots level. Many of the aforementioned tens of thousands of new organizers then went on, after the campaign, to organize with non-electoral social movements: LBGT and immigrants rights, drug policy referenda, and stopping climate change mega-projects like the pipeline. (“Activist” complaints that “nothing has changed” under Obama only indicate that the complainer still doesn’t get the profound qualitative difference between organizing and protesting.)
We can learn two things from these contrasting views:
  1. While Froomkin is focused on the need for a "radical break" and therefore sees no change, Giordano sees "baby steps of progress" towards forward motion. In a nutshell, this is the difference between what we might call the "purists" and the "pragmatists."
  2. From the outset its obvious that Froomkin is focused completely on what President Obama has/hasn't done while in office. On the other hand, Giordano is paying attention to what is happening at the grassroots level. He sees a new generation of organizers "starting to make progress on the level of law and policy."
This is not a difference about the "issues." As a matter of fact, if we were to place Froomkin and Giordano on a continuum of their own personal preferences, I suspect Giordano would be to the left of Froomkin (Giordano identifies himself as an anarcho-syndicalist). This is about a difference in views on how change happens. For the pragmatic organizers, it all rests on a truly radical notion...


  1. This is why I'm so glad that Al Giordano has returned to commenting on US politics. For far too long, the Froomkins of the world have been the lefty reporters of record during the Obama years. They simply are unable to see the forest for the trees, and I for one am glad that they are now getting a run for their money from the voices of reason like Nancy and Al. I love it.

  2. Shorthand for Froomkin and friends: We don't have the White House portrayed by Sorkin therefore Obama is a failure.

  3. Inoculation against lazy trolls: Please see:

    Just in case.

  4. I'll take Al G any day of the week.