There’s a fine line that separates civil discourse and constructive criticism from sniping and undermining. I’d be hard pressed to map that, but I know it when I see it. My tolerance for poo-flinging is reaching an unprecedented low-mark.
Here’s my current working theory about all of this. We spent eight years building up a wildly outspoken snark machine concerning the egregious misdeeds of GWB and company. We had to, went the reasoning, because the media were not doing their job. Most weren’t. Sometimes, we snarked reflexively. As time passed, snark became the default and civil discourse fell by the wayside. And yes, along with sticks and stones, words do immeasurable harm sometimes.
Then, along came the most unlikely of candidates and, ultimately, our new POTUS. He speaks eloquently. He made a boatload of promises that even I knew would be difficult to keep. Even if he had the full backing of his party, which he doesn’t. There’s the matter of the fractious, barely Democratic Blue Dogs Americans voted into office in the interest of pandering to, well, to everyone. And good luck with that. You get what you vote for if you don’t vet your candidates thoroughly.
I don’t know from personal experience whether Barack Obama knows his butt from his elbow. But I have known all along the way that he’s definitely smarter about politics than I am, and likely smarter than the majority of his most outspoken critics. Critics who, for the most part, sit on their elbows much of the day, pounding out merciless attacks on pretty much anything that crosses their line of sight or can be heard.
I do understand that it could be dangerous to let the leash play out too far, whatever that means. To “allow” the administration to do its thing, to see how it rolls. Who decides when to reel ‘em back in? And what should that look like? When do watch dogs need to become pit pulls? Or do they?
That’s my issue, I guess. Some progressives came off the blocks as pit bulls last fall and ramped up the rhetoric as the months passed. I’m all for accountability. But there are ways and there are ways. I realize that for some, civil discourse rankles. Sounds to them like backing down, making nice, playing dead. I don’t think that’s true. And I absolutely believe that perpetual attack mode undermines all of us. It’s not productive. Is, in fact, counter-productive.
What are we progressives supposed to do when our President, someone who had – as Scarecrow notes – impossibly high hopes attached to him, doesn’t live up to those hopes? It’s a great question.
I remember discussing that very one with Alex Thurston during the election. The progressive blogosphere grew up in opposition to both George Bush and our own party. The Democratic Party of John Kerry lacked a message and a plan to make this country work (and that the country could support). Howard Dean started to change that, and Barack Obama in a lot of ways is the expression of that rhetoric, at least the way he talked during the campaign. It’s been clear for a while that it’s going to be way harder for us progressives to figure out how to keep making change when we’re up against our friends instead of our enemies.
Here are the realities, as I see them. Barack Obama is President. He’s popular, and he’ll likely get re-elected (knock on wood). These are good things, as I’d take him over whatever the Republicans cough up in 2012 any day. So, given that we’ve got Obama until 2016, or at the very least until 2012, where does that leave us?
It seems to me, and some other commenters, that cutting down Obama just for the hell of it isn’t necessarily constructive. Being right isn’t quite the end it was during the Bush years. Maybe, we have to be more surgical, targeting Rahm, as Jane Hamsher suggests, or Members of Congress. No matter what we do, it’s a fine line. And "we" won’t necessarily be all in sync with the strategery, if we ever are or were.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for pressure. I’ll throw out an example: The stimulus was too small. How do we get another one? I say, maybe we applaud the stimulus as a step in the right direction (as Obama himself is doing this weekend), and push for things like health care, green jobs, and a second stimulus as the only way to finish the job and really get this country back on track. And then hit those who oppose such measures as against the economic survival of America.
But what do you all think? What can we do – either collectively or individually – for the next seven years under Obama? I’m sure you all have some ideas…