Yesterday, Marshall Ganz wrote a column for the Los Angeles Times yesterday, entitled, “How Obama lost his voice, and how he can get it back.”
Ganz was a chief architect of the Obama campaign’s organizing strategy, and before that, he had a long career of organizing for progressive causes. Considering Ganz’ eminent respectability, he makes some sharp points about the president’s failure to push forward on campaign promises and the disastrous decision to dismantle progressive infrastructure and coalition groups from the 2008 elections onward.
I’d pass it along with an unreserved thumbs up, except … the fundamental premise, that Obama’s come down with political laryngitis, or maybe some other affliction, makes a hash of the rest of it.
Before Ganz even gets to the substantive part, he’s already humming a chorus of ‘you have a secret friend in Obama.’ And I hate that song.
My friend in politics wouldn’t, for example, …
- … call up the chair of the appropriations committee and ask him to pay for a jobs bill by cutting food stamps in a year where 20% of US children now live in households that have to skimp on food.
- … have gone on television yesterday and agreed with Republicans that government had gotten too big, too intrusive, or that it spent too much.
- … have held a press conference the day after a major electoral loss to apologize for what liberal policies he did manage to pass by explaining them away as responses to a crisis instead of a governing philosophy.
And, forget friends, a few years ago, I wouldn’t have even thought a Democrat would do all that.
So Ganz is wrong from the headline, from the first few paragraphs. He wants to explain all this as a screw up, a wavering of courage, a tactical error. I don’t buy that argument and I’m tired of watching people waste time trying to encourage the president to have an epiphany on the error of his ways.
Obama the president acts with the genderpolitik nuance of an easily squicked, anxiously masculine, teenage libertarian. He expresses more concern for markets than people. He doesn’t like progressives and he surrounds himself with other people who don’t like them, either. Youth unemployment is sky high, over-50 unemployment is sky high, and his most vaunted solution for all of that seems to be tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts. Also, [your favorite Obama complaint from the left, here.]
Obama’s are such consistently conservative behaviors, even as measured against the Democratic Party’s own 2008 platform, that explaining them as the lapses of a basically liberal or progressive person seems more outlandish by the day.
No one should have to spell out that a man in his late 40s not suffering from illness or trauma didn’t get to be as he is overnight. Anyone looking to the words spoken by candidate Obama to excuse the actions of President Obama is someone who won’t deal with the fact that people’s words are, charitably, more changeable than their actions.
Obama the president would have gone down in flames in the 2008 primary. He would have looked like the Lieberman clone he is (More Joe, less whining!) without this smokescreen of buyer’s remorse denialism.
But Ganz can’t seem to admit he’s been had, that Obama isn’t a progressive and this isn’t the West Wing episode where they figure out they can fix everything by ‘letting Bartlet be Bartlet.’
Obama boldly stole the party out from under the liberal coalition that built power during the Bush years and swung to elect him. He then boldly worked to dismantle that coalition while incrementally undoing their credibility and incrementally shifting the Democratic Party to the right. If this has all been an unknowing misstep, then it’s an amazing one, undertaken as it was with such enthusiasm and persistence.
The worst tactical error of the last two years was the one made by liberal coalition groups who believed, probably sincerely, that Obama was their friend and had their constituencies’ best interests at heart, then voluntarily stood down, disarmed, went quiet. The error of courage is ours (self-inclusive) in every case where he did something we believed in our hearts was wrong and we said nothing.
No matter how good an organizer a person is, goals matter. Focusing efforts on the hope of bringing Obama back to values you can’t prove he ever had just seems wasteful, and I think we should stop compounding our mistakes by moving on to do other things with our time.