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Wed Apr 11, 2012, 08:55 AM

Why Progressives Should Support Obama (Review of "The Obama Question")

Why Progressives Should Support Obama (Review of "The Obama Question"

by Ian Reifowitz

I've just finished reading Gary Dorrien's new book: The Obama Question: A Progressive Perspective. First, I'm happy to report that his book covers very different ground than mine, Obama's America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity, which comes out in July. Whew.

But back to the subject at hand. The book includes a relatively brief but interesting look at Obama's pre-White House career and life as well as some discussion of the intellectual context from which the president's political worldview emerged. For the most part, however, Dorrien focuses on the policy challenges Obama has faced in the White House, and comes to the conclusion that his is a presidency that progressives can and should get behind. The author has chapters on TARP and the financial crisis, health care, foreign policy, and one that looks at the battles over budgets and regulating the banks, before a final chapter that examines "What Kind of Country" Obama and his Republican opponents envision respectively.

Dorrien is disappointed, without question, in some of the things that Obama has done rhetorically and strategically, and offers some strong criticisms of the President from his left. The author is particularly critical of Obama's handling of the debt ceiling crisis.

Nevertheless, Dorrien believes that progressives make a mistake if they write Obama off as having not accomplished very much, or if they allow themselves to feel so "betrayed" by the direction they see the administration having taken, compared to where they thought Obama would go when he first took office, that they decide his reelection isn't worth fighting for.

On the second point, Dorrien does an excellent job cataloguing just how radical the Republican party has been on policy grounds during the Obama presidency. He also explores in detail the smear campaigns waged by various figures on the right (a familar litany, but one worth being reminded of).

On Obama himself, Dorrien characterizes him as:

"a pragmatic, liberal-leaning centrist who prizes collaboration and accommodation....(snip) He advocates, and exemplifies, the communitarian approach of pulling people together to advance the common good."

Dorrien is well aware of the criticisms leveled at Obama by those to his left, and even agrees with some of them to a degree. But he reminds his progressive readers, the people at whom this book's argument is aimed, of exactly what Obama has already accomplished in the first three years of his presidency (just after the jump):

1) The U.S. no longer tortures those in its custody, nor does the CIA continue to operate secret prisons.

2) Obama traded Bush's unilateralism for multilateralism in foreign affairs.

3) Obama reached out to the Muslim world in a manner that that Dorrien calls "historic."

4) Obama put a floor under an economy headed into a depression and a deflationary spiral.

5) Obama passed a middle-class tax cut bigger than any since the 1980s, which included an increase in the earned income tax credit, and significantly increased spending on infrastructure, housing, job training, renewable/clean energy, education, and scientific research.

6) The U.S. automobile industry, thriving today, would likely not exist were it not for Obama's actions to put government money into GM and Chrysler.

7) Obama increased the reach of S-CHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

8) Also on health care: insurance companies can no longer deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions nor can they drop people from coverage after they fall ill or need care. Additionally, the ACA (assuming it is allowed to take effect) will drastically decrease the number of uninsured Americans. And those are just the biggest points.

9) Obama signed new regulations on the financial industry (Dodd-Frank) which, among other things, made transparent most trades of derivatives, mandating that they be traded on an open exchange that is subject to real regulation. And, the law created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a tremendous step forward for consumers.

10) American troops have left Iraq.

11) Obama "helped to inspire, and adeptly responded to" the Arab Spring.

12) Obama got Bin Laden and helped the Libyan rebels overthrow Qaddafi.

13) Obama ended "Don't Ask Don't Tell," and now gays and lesbians can serve openly in the U.S. military.

14) Obama ordered the Justice Department to stop defending in court the Defense of Marriage Act.

15) Obama blocked numerous Republican attempts to end all federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

16) Obama changed immigration policy so that the federal government no longer deports illegal immigrants who have no criminal record, and has taken steps to make immigration policy more friendly to LGBT immigrants and their partners.

Not bad. Off the top of my head, one more thing Obama has done since Dorrien's book went to press was to ensure that virtually all American women will have insurance coverage for contraception. Much to Rush Limbaugh's chagrin.

Dorrien's list certainly makes one think. He makes an excellent point when he reminds us that the stimulus bill actually contained seven different elements (see #5 in the list above) that in and of themselves represent a package of progressive legislation more impressive than that passed by any other president save FDR and LBJ. The author argues that this package of legislation "did more to help the working poor than any bill in two decades."

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Reply Why Progressives Should Support Obama (Review of "The Obama Question") (Original post)
ProSense Apr 2012 OP
Enrique Apr 2012 #1
ProSense Apr 2012 #2
ProSense Apr 2012 #3
K Gardner Apr 2012 #4
ProSense Apr 2012 #5

Response to ProSense (Original post)

Wed Apr 11, 2012, 09:15 AM

1. progressives should support Obama

we should support any centrist president. Bill Clinton was a centrist president and he certainly has a "list" of accomplishments. If Joe Lieberman were president, he would have a substantial "list" of accomplishments. I would even go so far as to say we should support Republican presidents, and that they too accomplish some good things.

But progressives should not believe centrism is the best we can do, that presidents like Obama are the most progressive we can hope for. We keep getting told that. I don't know if this book is telling us that, but if it is, then it's wrong.

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Response to Enrique (Reply #1)

Wed Apr 11, 2012, 09:20 AM

2. Yeah

"I would even go so far as to say we should support Republican presidents, and that they too accomplish some good things."

...that's the point, right?

When we get President as good or better than Obama, I will support him/her and I will do so without ridiculously dimissive comments.

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Response to ProSense (Original post)

Wed Apr 11, 2012, 10:18 AM

3. Kick! n/t

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Response to ProSense (Original post)

Wed Apr 11, 2012, 11:11 AM

4. Excellent.. K&R

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Response to K Gardner (Reply #4)

Wed Apr 11, 2012, 12:23 PM

5. Thanks.

One of the most overlooked aspects of the health care law is that it expanded Medicaid to 16 million Americans. That is huge!

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