Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Capitol Offense: Calm Down, Have Some Dip

The title of this post today makes reference to an old George Carlin joke. The basic idea is that someone is overreacting, coming up with a response that is out of preportion with the offense presented to them. Today, this is in reference to people's reactions to the early days of the Barack Obama presidency.

Most people reading this are probably familiar with the term Obama Derangement Syndrome, the idea that people are so upset and angry at the election of President Obama and his perceived policies that they go to extreme lengths to express their displeasure through verbal or physical attacks. Think Rush Limbaugh or James Wenneker von Brunn. In direct terms, these people are very dangerous because the type of derangement we're discussing can lead to actual violence like in the latter case or in the assassination of Dr. George Tiller. People like Limbaugh are hugely responsible for these types of activities, because their constant overinflated and factually inaccurate rhetoric leads people to think drastic things and think of even more drastic solutions to those perceived problems. If I thought that Obama was the most evil man in history and he was bent on destroying the U.S. and turning everything over to fascist, communist, Muslims, I might be willing to shoot him, too. Keep in mind, that my hypothetical example her isn't actually hypothetical, these are the actual things that Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and their allies are saying. On the publicly-owned airwaves. Quite a few laws are being broken by these men (and a few women), not the least of which are treason and sedition.

More importantly to the long-term success of the country and the success of the Obama administration, though, are the overreactions coming from the left and from nominal Obama supporters. There are obviously things to criticize with what Obama has done so far and legitimate criticisms should always be brought up. They should, however, be accurate criticisms and they should be brought up in constructive ways. I'll save the legitimate criticisms for another day, and instead I'll focus on several areas of false criticism.

First off is when people criticize Obama for failing to deliver on something he didn't actually promise to do. Take the war in Iraq, for instance. All throughout the campaign, Obama was consistent in stating that he favored ending the war in Iraq, but that he would do it over a year-and-a-half or so and that afterwards, there would still be residiual forces left behind. Now people are saying that he betrayed his supporters or the will of the people by pursuing exactly this plan. In reality, he's doing what he said he would do. If you want to criticize him on this one, do so accurately by pointing out that his plan might not be the best option. Don't go off saying that he's changed, which he hasn't, or that he is betraying anyone, he's not. He told the people this was what he was going to do and they voted for him knowing that. Same things is true with other issues, such as gay marriage. People are upset that he opposes gay marriage. He always said he opposed gay marriage. Nothing has changed. Criticize him for opposing gay marriage, not for going back on his word, which isn't what he did.

People also criticize him a bit much for things he doesn't have the power to do. Keep in mind that our system is one of checks and balances and separation of powers which makes pushing forward with policies quite difficult, particularly if there is opposition from the majority of members of Congress. People complain that he hasn't closed Guantanamo yet. He can't. He issued an executive order to close the prison, but Congress balked at funding that order. Without the money, there's nothing he can do. Sure, he can exert his leadership and do what he can to convince people to follow his policy preferences. But they can say no. And since much of this type of thing is done behind closed doors, who's to say that Obama isn't doing just that. Make sure that when you criticize someone for a policy not being enacted yet, that you criticize those who are actually preventing it from moving forward. And don't skip over Obama and blame "congressional Democrats." Again, many of those people voted the right way or would vote the right way on most issues. Blame the specific Democrats who opposed the policy. Or blame the Republicans who used obstructionist tactics such as the filibuster.

Finally, people are criticizing Obama for things that members of his administration have said or written or done. There is some legitimacy to this, but, in reality, much of what people complain about in these areas are things that Obama was not aware of and that he didn't explicitly approve. Yes, he appointed these people, so he gets some responsibility for that, but with 3000 appointments, it's impossible for there not to be someone who does something that he or we don't like. The key reason to criticize Obama in this area is if he does nothing to fix the situation or allows it to be repeated once he's been alerted to a particular problem.

One last thing I'd like to say is that we really should be giving Obama the benefit of the doubt on a lot of this stuff at this point. What gives us the hubris to think we understand more than he does how best to get something done? This is politics and quite frequently policies can't be enacted in obvious and straightforward methods without doing collateral damage. Sometimes policies have to be brought in gradually or they won't be able to be enacted at all. Sometimes you need to build a groundswell of support in order to have the clout to get something passed. And sometimes you need to test the waters first to see where the opposition is going to attack you. Rushing in to a particular policy proposal can often lead to its defeat because we didn't know where the opposition was going to come from. I'm not saying that we shouldn't criticize Obama, we certainly should, but that criticism should be accurate, constructive and strategic. Probably the best thing we can do is not focus so much on criticism, but spend more time building a groundswell of grassroots public support for our ideas and proposals so that when it comes time for Obama to act upon them, the politically expedient thing to do will also be the right thing to do.

I'm Kenneth Quinnell and I approve this message.

Read more on Florida politics at the Florida Progressive Coalition blog (http://flaprogressives.org) and the Florida Progressive Coalition Wiki (http://quinnell.us/sspb/wiki/).

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