Monday, July 7, 2008

Gordon Gartrelle says: Obama's turn to the right?

Field Negro and Glenn Greenwald have motivated me to think a lot about political orthodoxy in recent days (so has Chauncey, but from a slightly different angle).

What brilliant left bloggers like Field and Greenwald have been saying about left ideology and policy is unsettling. Obama, many on the left argue, is pandering to the right with a series of public policy positions over the last couple of weeks. The assertion that Obama is strategically moving to the right or the center has gone largely unchallenged in the mainstream media. No big surprise there. That few in the popular blogosphere (which is said to foster a higher level of political discourse) have challenged the supposed “Obama is moving to the center” truism is more serious—it highlights one of the major problems with self-identified “liberals”: they are driven by uncritical attachment to ideological orthodoxy, so, in effect, they are not considerably different from the conservatives they loathe.

Just to be clear: I agree that Obama is trying to preemptively combat the right’s ridiculous charges that he’s a radical liberal. These left critics have every right to call out Obama on matters of principle and consistency. What’s bothering me is that they take for granted that Obama’s recent policy positions are undeniably right-leaning (or at least antithetical to progressive causes).

I’m willing to admit that the left has some inherent base principles—respect for legitimate difference; advocacy for the relatively disadvantaged, for instance. However, aside from supporting gay legal rights, there is no major current policy position that characterizes left principles. All others—pro-affirmative action measures, pro-choice policies, pacifism—don’t cut it. My problem with the Obama-as-ideological-turncoat meme is that Obama’s recent policy positions don’t actually undermine any fundamental left principles. I don’t think his positions are conservative; I think they’re practical. Big difference.

Let’s have a look at some of these positions over which Obama’s taking heat from the left:

1.) On Father’s Day, Obama blasted “cum droppers” who fail to take responsibility for their children. And what do negroes do? Run him down for criticizing black men in earshot of white folks. “He’s become Cosby.” Shit, I hope so! Everybody with sense (including Dyson) knows that The Cos’ was right. Yet, many on the left are content to let people claim personal responsibility and fatherhood as conservative values (but only in public), while the majority of kids in the most vulnerable neighborhoods languish without fathers. No wonder “liberal” is such a dirty word.

2.) After years of support for gun control laws, Obama recently stated that the recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision overturning D.C.’s ban on handguns would “provide much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions across the country” and suggested that he had always backed the individual rights view of gun ownership. That’s all fine with me, but I wonder how many of the liberals condemning him (well, the black ones anyway) valorize the Panthers and the Deacons for Defense?

3.) While we’re on the subject of the Supreme Court and 5-4 decisions, Obama disagreed with their recent 5-4 decision that a State nay not impose the death penalty for child rapists (and, more broadly, for criminals whose victims did not die). So, Obama supports the death penalty for child rapists? What a callous monster!

4.) Obama declares that he would like to reform and expand Bush’s program to send government funds to religious charities and is catching hell from the left. I am certainly no fan of the erosion of the separation of church and state, but segments of this country are seriously fucked up. There are areas within our borders that resemble mini failed states, and given our spending habits, government cannot fix this mess by itself. I don’t even fuck with religion, but that sounds practical to me, especially since he’s against these faith-based programs discriminating based on creed.

5.) Obama panders to AIPAC, gives his full support to Israel, and talks tough toward Iran, and all of a sudden, he’s a spineless neocon. Uh, how many prominent politicians in the U.S., progressive or otherwise, fail to publicly profess full support for Israel?

6.) Obama gives a speech on his patriotism, and he’s a Reaganite. Hey, I don’t understand any form of collectivist ideology, especially those of the flag-waving variety, but why should Obama be criticized for holding these Mr. Smith goes to Washington ideals? Didn’t the whole flag pin nonsense reveal that Obama’s was a more critical brand of patriotism?

7.) Obama states that he may need to “refine” his policy on Iraq, and the response to this non-story is swift. Is he backtracking? Is he pandering? Will he keep us in Iraq as long as McCain would? Whatever. Don’t we rail against Bush for his stubborn refusal to change his policies in light of new information?

8.) Obama supports the FISA compromise. In all fairness, the left is correct to criticize Obama for this position. No good can come from expansive government spying Greenwald has done great work on Democrat's FISA capitulation.

Again, it’s healthy to criticize Obama’s recent positions; it’s troubling, though, to take away his progressive card for taking these particular positions. By ostracizing anyone who doesn’t toe the ideological line, I fear that those on the left are conceding that the mark of progressive thought is not critical thinking—challenging the status quo, and seeking to overturn unjust traditional power relations—but simply being against conservatives.

That is called groupthink.


All-Mi-T [Thought Crime] Rawdawgbuffalo said...

truth b told
he has always been rather conservative

Lester Spence said...

"Call him a Tom for criticizing black men in earshot of white folks."

Show me where I did this?

gordon gartrelle said...

You didn't.

Apologies. The last thing I want to do is mischaracterize peoples' positions.

Lester Spence said...

Thanks for the apologies. Now if you want to trip out on me for what I did say... feel free. : )

gordon gartrelle said...

Oh, I will.

I think that you and the other intelligent left negroes criticizing Obama for calling out absentee fathers are doing more harm than good. It is a demonstrable fact that "too many black fathers are AWOL/MIA."

A big reason that it's so hard to have a nuanced discussion is that progressives, esp. black ones, are too worried about what white people and conservatives will say if black people emphasize shitty parenting and bad choices.

The idea that Cosby or Obama (or anyone else who tells the truth about people's lack of responsibility) is demonizing black people to appease white folks is offensive, quite frankly, no matter what color your wife is.