Tomasky, while certainly not the typical elite (born and educated in West Virginia, for one thing), is in the inner circles of liberalism (he writes for the Prospect, The Guardian, the NY Review of Books, etc.) and I think that insulates him from the urgent economic terror so many of us feel. But have at it, tell me what you think:
If we insist on thinking of Obama–and in our personality-driven political culture, it’s so hard not to do this–as liberalism’s redeemer, he will always disappoint, as redeemers usually do. But if we think of him as one piece on a vexing historical chess board in a match that will take years to play out, we can exhale, and see the true shape of the tasks ahead of us. I don’t mean to say here that people should just be quiet. Quite the opposite: Progressive pressure is a better guarantor of progressive governance than hoping that governors will follow their most compassionate instincts. And liberals shouldn’t declare themselves entirely satisfied with an outcome unless they actually are (something that probably won’t happen too often). But I do very much mean to say that liberals should avoid the seductive temptation of wallowing in disappointment, and letting that turn into fury and then resignation–branding decisions one disagrees with as “betrayals” and “sell-outs,” retiring inward, pushing away from civic life. Those responses only help conservatism, which has quite enough power as it is.
The use or misuse of history as a blunt weapon is a trope that guarantees despair. If this Administration’s moments are always to be compared with liberalism’s greatest hits, it will never measure up, and the effect will be to signal to rank-and-file progressives that their values are constantly being sold short (I notice no one compares Obama outright with the segregationist-coddling FDR or the Vietnam-bombing LBJ, comparisons from which he would emerge favorably). But this is about something more important and lasting than any single president. We are in a pitched ideological battle that seems virtually certain to continue for many years. In that battle, despair will produce only defeat.