Keeping Obama on his toes

Obam Dancing with EllenMatt Taibbi has been taking some flack for a scathing article he wrote about Obama’s economic team & policy. Taibbi has taken time to respond to individual criticisms, but his thoughts on the broader issue of criticizing Obama is more interesting:

I’ve gotten some letters lately from people complaining about this whole concept of “purity,” i.e. critics of Obama (like me) slapping him with some unrealistic “purity test.” According to these letter-writers, such demands are unfair and journalists and politicians who are critical of Obama should recognize that a president sometimes has to make tough political decisions and is often forced to “work with” unsavory characters in order to “get things done.”

First of all, we should get one thing out of the way — it’s not any citizen’s job to give a politician credit for his political calculations. In fact, that should rightly be part of the calculus of any political calculation; a politician should have to weigh the benefits of making, say, an unsavory insider alliance against the negative of public criticism for that move. If a leader doesn’t have to earn the admiration you give him, then a) that admiration doesn’t mean anything, and b) he will surely spend all his political capital on the people who do make him earn it.

Anyone who wonders why the Obama administration seems to be bending over so far backwards to appease conservatives and industry leaders in the health care debate and Wall Street in the financial regulatory reform debate can find their answer there: those groups make Obama pay for their financial/political support with real actions and policy concessions, while Obama’s “base” will continue their feverish support in exchange for mere gestures and marketing hocus-pocus, for news about the new family puppy or an appearance on Jay Leno.

This seems exactly right to me. Liberals/progressives are perpetually disappointed with their leaders because they don’t demand anything of them, and so their causes are ignored. Obama is certainly an improvement over Bush and is a better president than McCain or Palin could ever have been, but he hasn’t delivered anything significant to the liberal base that got him elected. Why then should continue to support him unconditionally? Let him know you’re pissed. He might get worried about his political chances and start working his butt off to get your support!


  1. Ian

    A few things:

    1) Obama is not a dictator. He doesn’t write the laws. Sure, he can influence the law making, but it ultimately comes down to the people in Congress. You want a more progressive health care legislation? Call your representatives.

    2) Obama’s “base” was not the only group who voted for him, and it is not the only group he now represents. A primary criticism of Bush was that he acted only in his party’s and his own apparent interest. Obama doesn’t do this, and you criticize him. He can’t win.

    3) He isn’t even done with his first year in his first term. He does have to be concerned with re-election, and thus he needs to be concerned with broader appeal. He is President during a bad economic period (not of his making), which typically does not bode well for re-election.

    4) Be realistic. He hasn’t lost your vote yet, and you likely will still choose him in 2012, unless you go third party.

    5) Obama is only semi-responsible for the handling of Wall St. He isn’t the head of the Fed (nor should he be).

    6) Taibbi is wrong. Money wins elections, not admiration. Admiration can be purchased.

  2. Chris


    1) Sure, Obama can’t usher in a new stimulus package by himself, nor can he pass health care reform. but even in areas where he has near dictatorial control, like foreign policy and Federal appointments, he has been disappointing to say the least.

    2) He needs to keep in mind the well being of the entire country, but he was also elected with a mildly liberal platform by Democrats. Can’t I demand follow-through on at least his mildly liberal promises?

    3) The economic downturn, or his short time in office, are not good excuses for actively making bad decisions.

    4) It depends on who runs against him, of course.

    5) Obama appointed the head of Fed and the Treasury.

  3. Ian

    1&2&3) Obama has inherited two wars and a terrible economy from the previous administration. He is also bogged down in trying to pass through some sort of health care reform. He is a little hamstrung right now in regards to passing his agenda. Again, its not even the end of his first year. I say give him some time before you damn him for not keeping his promises. Judge him come election time. Your usage of the word “bad” and “disappointing” are certainly subjective opinions.

    5) Precisely why I said “semi-responsible”.