Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It's Obama, the Centrist, vs. the Left

The Commander-in-Chief makes a point

Tomorrow, President Obama will give a major speech on national security issues in which he is expected to hit back against criticism from former Veep Dick Cheney and also try to "quiet the ire aimed at him from the political left" over many recent decisions on war and counter-terrorism policies that have infuriated the left wing of his own party.

As I wrote back in November, Obama's choices of people to fill key national security posts pointed to his intention to shape national security policies that are " 'centrist' but, even more to the point, non-political, professional and pragmatic." And that has certainly proved to be true. Obama may attempt in his speech to mollify some of the bruised feelings among his supporters on the left or use Cheney's continued opposition as a foil to score some rhetorical points. But he may have already have crossed the Rubicon on a host of issues, guaranteeing distrust or even hostility in some left-wing quarters.

Writing in The New Republic, former Bush Administration lawyer Jack Goldsmith laid out 11 key elements of counter-terrorism policies where Obama has "copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit." On detention, rendition, surveillance and even Guantanamo and interrogation, Goldsmith argues, Obama's programs are much the same as Bush's with some changes in emphasis and "packaging." By any reasonable standard, Goldsmith is right -- and that's the problem for the left, which is already, gradually but inexorably, moving into opposition to Obama. In fact, the tone of the language used by some left-leaning pundits and bloggers is already getting eerily similar to anti-Bush tirades.

Take Salon's Glenn Greenwald as an example. Essentially, Greenwald uses Bushie Goldsmith's testimony as proof positive that Obama is a veritable Bush III, not a "centrist." In a way, Obama could be worse than Bush:

What is most damaging about all of this is exactly what Goldsmith celebrated: that Obama's political skills, combined with his status as a Democrat, is strengthening Bush/Cheney terrorism policies and solidifying them further. For the last eight years, roughly half the country -- Republicans, Bush followers -- was trained to cheer for indefinite detention, presidential secrecy, military commissions, warrantless eavesdropping, denial of due process, a blind acceptance of any presidential assertion that these policies are necessary to Keep Us Safe, and the claim that only fringe Far Leftist Purists -- civil liberties extremists -- could possibly object to any of that.

Now, much of the other half of the country, the one that once opposed those policies -- Democrats, Obama supporters -- are now reciting the same lines, adopting the same mentality, because doing so is necessary to justify what Obama is doing.
Greenwald is a smart guy. He recognizes that it's one thing for the left to oppose the tough counter-terrorism policies of a conservative Republican Administration whose leader is not especially liked for many reasons by a wide range of voters who are not Republicans. It's quite another for the left to get any traction in opposing the same kind of policies of a liberal Democratic Administration whose leader is idolized by most Democratic voters.

The way out for lefties who want desperately to avoid conflict with Obama is to keep attacking Bush and Cheney -- and Cheney's front and center vocal opposition to Obama (he's giving a speech tomorrow too!) makes this an irresistible approach. Look for Obama to say something -- anything -- that will clearly distinguish him from Cheney and then watch left-leaning commenters sublimate their disappointment with Obama by having another go at Cheney. The always clever and inventive Maureen Dowd has an interesting twist on this fire-at-Cheney-not-Obama tactic. In her latest column, she imagines Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld hatching Machiavellian schemes to maneuver "the Boy Wonder" (Obama) into backing their policies, just as they supposedly did "Junior."

But the left's disappointment runs deep, and Obama would have to make sweeping changes in policies to satisfy them. He is simply not going to do that. And if Robert Gibbs' apparent cat-out-of-the-bag comment today pans out, the left will go berserk.

What do you think? Post a comment.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know what the extremes on either side are thinking. Clearly they just heard what they wanted to hear during the election. Obama has, for the most part, done what he said he would during the campaign.

    In the ed policy circles I hear a lot of people saying Obama has broken promises and not progressive on education like he said he would be. Wrong, he is doing most of what he said he would so far.

    My grandmother used to say a little rhyme that makes a great deal of sense in this situation. I see said the blind man, who could not see at all.