You're right when you say that when President Obama engages in compromise, "it doesn't mean that we can afford not to insist that the specific quality and content of his compromises with the rightwing opposition in Congress maintain a fundamental clarity, commitment, toughness, independence, and integrity with respect to his general agenda and what he and it 'stands for.' Staying vigilant and fighting for real principle in the face of the ideological coercion and bullying tactics of the opposition is not only necessary but essential." We started this conversation in response to an Obama critic [the reference here is to Dr. Boyce Watkins--ed.] who seems not to know, exactly, what it is Obama stands for. I was concerned about a kind of political ventriloquism I detected among some of the President's critics of the left.
What interests me right now is how different Obama's tactics in his struggle with Congress seem to be in this period, when compared with those that brought us the "Grand Bargain" of December 2010. I think he has, as of this moment, exceeded my expectations with regard to how far he's willing to go to press his point. Of course, things may change at any moment. The thing to consider, however, is how much Obama seems to be banking on the fact that whatever else the people may think politically, they returned him to office with a comfortable — even historic, in some ways, — victory margin. The speeches I've heard the President give lately, and especially his March 1 press conference, seem as clear an exposition of his agenda as I've heard. In general, though, I don't think Obama can fairly be charged with not stating clearly his fundamental agenda at any point while he's been in office. But that does not mean that he carries out that agenda in ways that will always find agreement among many of his progressive partisans, let alone his critics.
For example, like many people, I'd hoped Obama might have appointed more progressive people to his economic and (okay, I'll admit this is a stretch) his national security teams. While I get it that most economists these days seem more like people with certificates in banker management than intellectuals who understand how the capitalist system works, the apparent lack of diverse voices in the President's inner circle on economics can't but have been a contributory factor to the difficulty we're having in getting out of this depression. Likewise, I misjudged his commitment (and the commitment of the political class as a whole) to the "War on Terror" policy. (I don't join those who use criticisms of this or that tactic as a substitute for criticizing the policy as such. I have always been impressed with how some progressives enthusiastically pounce on tactics while leaving the policy alone. Meanwhile the policy enjoys a strange, and dangerously high, level of popular support.) The failure of the contemporary antiwar movement is singularly historic in this regard. It's a failure that comes, in part from not really understanding exactly what the President stands for and where he's coming from politically. But it is also, and more fundamentally, a failure to understand very well the circumstances that led to the current "War on Terror" policy. I still hear little conversation in antiwar circles about the fundamentals of that policy, not to mention related foreign policy issues, and this, in my view, leads to a striking incoherence all around.
To return to something I tried to say at the beginning of this conversation, we are better served if we listen closely to what Obama has to say for himself, and base our critique on the policies and views he actually holds. Finally, our own critique will be stronger, and our view about what needs to be done will be clearer, if we respond to this complex moment by correctly calibrating the relationship between the desires in our hearts and the intelligence in our heads.
On Mar 3, 2013 Kofi Natambu wrote:
My entire point (and I strongly submit that "in the end" it is and will be by far the most significant point about the meaning of what has transpired since the summer of 2010 between the Obama administration and the House Republican majority, and what is going to happen between now and the midterms of November 2014) can be contained quite clearly and neatly in the following pithy and on target quote: "The question is not whether Obama makes compromises. The question is what kind of compromises will he make." My simple direct response is you can say THAT again! Further, to say that I emphatically agree with every single word of your quote is understating it by half. And I, like you, certainly don't need ANYONE to tell me that "compromise is unavoidable" or that white progressives generally tend to lose their nerve, heart, and guts when it comes to "talking politics with their folks" or that "Obama has to deal with these people" in the House majority. Or that "political developments outside the beltway of D.C." one way or the other will play a major role in what occurs at the end of the process. All these things and more are painfully obvious and crystal clear to anyone paying any attention at all to what has been going on since Obama took the oath in January, 2009 (for starters it's crucial to remember in this larger context that McCain won 55% of the white vote in 2008 and Romney won 60% of this vote in 2012 and tallied 18 million more white votes nationwide than Obama--it's absolutely sobering and disturbing to realize that even in New York and California, a majority of white voters pulled the lever for Romney!).
So again, like you, I'm not unaware of what the President is up against for a second. But that still doesn't mean that we can afford not to insist that the specific quality and content of his compromises with the rightwing opposition in Congress maintain a fundamental clarity, commitment, toughness, independence, and integrity with respect to his general agenda and what he and it "stands for." Staying vigilant and fighting for real principle in the face of the ideological coercion and bullying tactics of the opposition is not only necessary but essential. That's not political "confusion" brother, nor is it a "workaround". It's what is required of any political tendency worth its weight who claims that what it is indeed fighting for at any given time is actually worth the battle no matter how long it takes or what must be confronted and endured to prevail now and in the future...And that's "pretty clear" to me...