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!

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