Obama's Progressive Mirage Has Faded

The left is disillusioned.

Progressive America is crestfallen. It had hoped for better things from President Obama, and he has not delivered.

Obama is the “Inaction Hero,” writes John Dickerson in Slate, who detects a “lack of ardor” in the Oval Office. He laments that “the president seems content with tending the store.” In The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne looks plaintively for “More Hope in Year Six?” In National Journal, Norman Ornstein explains “How Obama Can Save His Presidency (Or Not).” In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf writes about “The Decline and Fall of ‘Hope and Change.’ ”

The disillusionment extends beyond the punditocracy: In Chicago, community activist Mark Carter advises Obama to “just quit. Because if this is what you call helping us, then just stop helping us.”

How times change.

Six years ago Obama was greeted as a messiah. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer described him as “the country’s hope, the kind of promising, intelligent leader who comes along perhaps once in a generation.” To the Toledo Blade, he was comparable to Lincoln, JFK, and FDR. The Los Angeles Times described him as “a constitutional scholar” who “has articulated a respect for the rule of law and the limited power of the executive.” The Detroit Free Press considered him “a disciple of the pay-as-you-go approach to federal spending that helped produce a budget surplus in the ’90s.” NBC’s Tom Brokaw compared his inauguration to the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, when “the streets were filled with joy. … People have been waiting for this moment.”

Obama did not exactly try to modulate expectations with humility. His coronation as Democratic nominee, he said at the time, marked the moment “when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

Honeymoons fade, and every hero becomes a bore at last. Obama has fallen to Earth with a harder thump than most.

Granted, between the botched rollout of Healthcare.gov and the Edward Snowden revelations, the president had a rough year in 2013. But this gloss treats Obama like the poor schlimazel who goes to a restaurant and gets a lapful of soup from the waiter. It ignores his complicity in his own misfortune. The Obamacare website was his administration’s handiwork — as were other failed aspects of the law. Edward Snowden would have had much less to leak if the president had put an end to dragnet domestic surveillance, as he had promised to do.

Some of the president’s defenders have tried to portray him as the victim of an intransigent Republican Congress. Republicans have indeed been unhelpful. Yet the president can do a great deal without Congress. The NSA is an executive agency, after all. It answers to him — or ought to. By the same token, it is not Republicans’ fault that Obama has created the most secretive administration in memory and prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined. It is not Republicans’ fault that he has violated his own expressed standards for military intervention abroad. It is not their fault he became what a writer for Salon has called “a civil libertarian’s nightmare: a supposedly liberal president who instead has expanded and fortified many of the Bush administration’s worst policies.”

In any event, Obama was supposed to transcend partisanship: “More than any other candidate, I could bridge some of the partisan, racial and religious divides in this country that prevent us from getting things done,” he told the Houston Chronicle in 2007. “Washington is broken,” he said the next year. “My whole campaign has been premised from the start on the idea that we have to fundamentally change how Washington works.”

That certainly went well, didn’t it?

The exospheric expectations for Obama seem odd for progressives, who tend to prefer “people’s history” — history as the tide of mass movements, history as “history from below” — over great-man theories in which transcendent individuals steer the course of the world.

The dashing of those expectations also ought to serve as a cautionary tale. The vast gulf between the imagined Obama presidency and the actual Obama presidency should leave progressives wondering what a future Democrat might do in the Oval Office. Do they really expect another president to govern more liberally? To show more regard for the Constitution, for civil liberties, for executive restraint? Do they think some other Democrat could surpass Obama?

Apparently so. Though for now she says she will not run, Elizabeth Warren has become the new Obama. “Liberals are fawning over Warren,” observes The Washington Post. According to The New Republic, she inspires “an almost evangelical passion.” The Daily Beast says she is “a candidate who can inspire passion and embody fundamental change.” And so on.

Like a mirage in the desert, the great liberal hope always lies just over the horizon. Yes, this one has been a great disappointment. But next time! Next time …

This column originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  • WTF||

    Do you really think that Progressives have any regard for the Constitution, for civil liberties, for executive restraint? The evidence weighs heavily against such a proposition.

  • Ace Sullivan||

    enough of the buzzwords already.

  • WTF||

    Tell it to Hinkle.

  • Loki||

    Only on paper. To them those are just buzzwords to dupe ignorant rubes into voting for them. Because if they were honest and upfront about how they really feel about those things, no one outside of other hardcore progs would vote for them, and there's not enough of them to win a presidential election. So their electoral hopes fall in persuading enough independant voters that they're marginally better than Republicans in those areas, just as the Repoublicans hopes lie in convincing enough independant voters who care more about taxes, spending, and the size of government that they're marginally better than Dems. In reality they're both just different ends of the same shit sandwhich.

  • Volren||

    They do when a Republican is in power.

    Once one of their own is in the big chair, the rulebook goes out the window.

  • Will Nonya||

    I think you've misread that. It's not a matter of who is in power but how they can use those things to expand their own power.

  • DUTCHMAN67||

    Google Santorum. Self Portrait?

  • Eggs Benedict Cumberbund||

    Progressives are fundamentally evil, meddling douche bags.

  • MSimon||

    As opposed to Conservatives who are fundamentally evil, meddling douche bags.

  • triclops||

    All the progressive ideas are right, he just didn't try hard enough and rethuglikkkans were too mean to him. Also, racism.

  • Ronny Paulino||

    *TeathugliKKKans

  • Mr.Krinkle||

    When I hear that someone still supports Barack Obama I question their intellect and their morality. It's a pretty good measuring device.

  • albo||

    They're like the Left's version of a creationist.

  • Volren||

    All progressives are as fanatical as evangelicals. The only difference is that their unquestioning faith is in the state.

  • Will Nonya||

    The only difference is that they can switch the face of their deity when a more politically attractive option comes along.

  • Pulseguy||

    What is to question? If they still support him, there is no question.

    I saw a great man in the street interview before the last election. The interviewer asked Obama supporters what they thought of Mitt's proposals if he were to be elected. The O supporters were then read an actual list of what Obama had already done. To a person they were appalled at Romney. One woman said, 'he is a psychopath, there is no other explanation'. She was adamant about it. Then, it was pointed out these weren't Mitt's policies, in fact he was against them. They were things Obama had already done.

    It didn't change her support for Obama.

    In fact, I think she was right. He is a psychopath, and I don't think there is any other explanation.

  • ||

    Are you kidding?
    They liberated millions of people from the need to work to get healthcare, food, clothing, and shelter. The progressives should be ecstatic. More people on the dole!

  • Sevo||

    "The progressives should be ecstatic. More people on the dole!"

    How many more votes were bought with taxpayer money?
    I'm sure they could adapt the old Mickey D tag line to suit: "Millions Bought!"

  • SusanM||

    Or, "Over 30 million sold (to the insurance companies)"

  • ||

    This is about changing the narrative. Obama has been the most progressive president since FDR.

    The progressives now just don't want to let word get out that progressive policies actually fuck everything up...thus the narrative that Obama's policies are actually not progressive.

  • Tony||

    He's the most progressive president since Nixon, maybe.

  • ||

    I wonder, do you see your change of heart from "Obama is great" to "Obama is not a progressive" as a personal improvement or a failure?

    Did you personally fail to see Obama's true nature or did you succeed in seeing through his lies?

  • Sevo||

    "Did you personally fail to see Obama's true nature or did you succeed in seeing through his lies?"

    You could just as well ask a fundy if they know the bible isn't factual.
    Tony isn't capable of such knowledge.

  • Tony||

    Do I win any points for having been against Obama up until the point when he won the nomination?

    Obama has repeatedly described himself as nonideological, and he has walked that talk repeatedly by being willing to sign laws that represented a compromise between squishy liberals and fire-breathing conservatives. I can respect that. A little improvement is better than nothing. An ideologue would refuse to sign anything that didn't give him everything he wanted.

    In another time Obama would be allowed to pass more liberal laws, and he most likely would. To describe his tenure as anywhere near as liberal as FDR's is simply to be factually inaccurate.

  • Yet another Kevin||

    He may describe himself as "nonideological". But. like so many other things he's said that have turned out not to be the case, what does it really matter?

    Americans who pay attention can see for themselves just what he's been.

  • Brian||

    Tony:

    Do I win any points for having been against Obama up until the point when he won the nomination?

    You win democrat loyalty reward points, which you can redeem for feelings of inclusion, along with a false sense of determining outcomes beyond your control.

  • Sevo||

    "In another time Obama would be allowed to pass more liberal laws, and he most likely would."

    Yeah, 1917, in Russia.

  • John C. Randolph||

    Do I win any points for having been against Obama up until the point when he won the nomination?

    Oh, like the way Obama was against everything Bush stood for until he got the chance to wield usurped power himself?

    No, rent-boy. You get no points because you're still a boot-licking sycophant.

    -jcr

  • DUTCHMAN67||

    Actually, Progressives have the Courage, Intellect, and Honesty to reassess, evaluate, and change their minds based on new evidence, in contrast to Conservatives who's minds are stuck in buzz words, racism, hatred and the pride of being.....uninformed.
    Show me ONE Democratic Politician as Ignorant as George Bush, as Felony Stupid as Michelle Bachmann, or as Malicious as Darryl Issa....and as corrupt as Issa.

  • James Taggart||

    As brain dead as Shiela Jackson Lee, as obtuse as Nancy Pelosi, as mendacious as Barak Obama, as just plain goofy as Joe "Shotgun" Biden, as sleazy as Bill Clinton, as purchasable as Mary Landrieu, as larcenous as Barney Frank, as deadly as Hillary Clinton.

  • John C. Randolph||

    Rent-boy is on the verge of a revelation.

    -jcr

  • Pulseguy||

    He's just re-positioning himself for Hilary.

  • Pulseguy||

    He's just re-positioning himself for Hilary.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    A. Barton Hinkle asks: Do they really expect another president to govern more liberally? To show more regard for the Constitution, for civil liberties, for executive restraint?

    Jeepers, Hinkle, lay off the paint thinner.

  • Eric Bana||

    I wonder if Elizabeth Warren would actually curtail the NSA if she were president. If she criticizes Obama (a fellow Democrat) for his actions with the NSA, I think that demonstrates something fundamentally different than when Obama criticized big bad Bush for it. Consider other dems who DON'T criticize Obama for what he does/doesn't do with the NSA--those are the dems who would not lift a finger to reduce the NSA's scope.

  • Loki||

    She's only criticizing Obama on the NSA because it plays well in the sticks, and because she needs to distance herself from him in at least some way. Just as McCain had to distance himself from Bush by coming out against torture, she has to find some area where she can say "I'll be better than the previous guy" even though she's really exactly the same.

  • ||

    It has affected neither her confirmation votes or her congressional testimony/questioning. Absent random acts of empty rhetoric she's just another Democrat.

  • UCrawford||

    A less-bright Democrat than Obama.

    If you listen to the content of her speeches, she's an absolute imbecile.

  • Tonio||

    Eric, I'm not sure that would be possible for any president even if that person wanted to.

  • Pulseguy||

    Tony....Of course it is. The guy has some power.

  • John C. Randolph||

    I wonder if Elizabeth Warren would actually curtail the NSA if she were president.

    Not a chance. Bitchez love power, yo.

    -jcr

  • albo||

    But next time! Next time …

    Yep. Just like the leftist conceit that communism works if you do it right and put the proper people in charge.

    Plus, there's a pony somewhere in that pile of crap, as long as you keep on digging.

  • The Critics' Critic||

    An Elizabeth Warren presidency should excite us all. Think of the opportunity to finally bind up the great open wound between the U.S. and Native American nations!

  • The Last American Hero||

    Kind of like Obama healed the black/white racial divide?

  • newshutz||

    tend to prefer “people’s history” ... over "great-man" theories

    They may prefer "people's history", but always go for the "great-man" present.

    And some only prefer "people's history", when their is no progressive "great-man" like FDR or Mao

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    That's one of the ironies of progressivism--for all their fetishizing of "people's" this or that, their concept of leadership seems to revolve primarily around glorifying cults of personality.

  • Yet another Kevin||

    They love movements of the people as long as those movements are leftward and statist. That's why they sooooo hate the teaparty movement which is truly grassroots but essentially seeks to reign in government. It's a people's movement the Left is not part of. So, they just pretend it's nothing but a group of "racists/homophobes/whatever" and move on.

    Another of their many headgames.

  • Tony||

    Republicans have indeed been unhelpful.

    Understatement of the decade.

  • UCrawford||

    They've been helpful to everyone who thinks Obama's ideas are a pile of intellectually fraudulent horseshit.

  • ||

    Err..

    We are talking about Republicans here. They have fucked it up at least as much as they have blocked Obama.

    I mean remember Cruz's bullshit? Just before Obamacare imploded in on itself.

    He was right at exactly the worst possible moment. Only a republican can fail so miserably.

  • MJBinAL||

    The thing that puzzles me is why anyone would expect the Republicans to help make the Democrats policies work.

    ObamaCare is a great example. The Republicans opposed it, universally. It got not one vote from them. The Democrats did not compromise with the Republicans in any way. The famous quote from Obama was "You lost, I won".

    So when all the problems that the Republicans predicted began to become visible. It amazes me that Democrats expected the Republicans to help them bail it out.

    If anything, the Republicans has not been as difficult as they might have been, mostly because they are divided themselves.

    I'm sorry Tony. But compromise with conservatives, and I am not one, is not one of the hallmarks of Obama. His problems are largely because he, more than any president in recent history, got things his way.

  • Tony||

    The overwhelming story of Obama's presidency is the radicalization of the Republican party, not that it wasn't radical before, but that it ceased even caring about governing. The fact is the healthcare law is moderate-to-conservative policy, regardless of who voted for it. They didn't vote for it for political reasons, not because they care about healthcare reform.

  • Pulseguy||

    No one should vote for something that can't work. Tony, seriously, if you could read yourself with an open mind you'd be embarrassed.

  • BunkerBill||

    Leftists have been looking for an Enlightened Despot since Plato, their disappointment and frustration will continue till the end of time.

  • Acosmist||

    Plato a leftist?

  • Killaz||

    Plato was a time traveler. Sat on the left side of the French: Assemblée nationale in 1789, thereabouts.

  • Killaz||

    Hey, the search term was suppose to be stricken!

  • Tonio||

    Photos, or it didn't happen, bro.

  • Pulseguy||

    You're right. That is exactly what they want. Good comment.

    And, you are equally right they will never succeed. The enlightened man does not want to become a dictator.

  • ||

    To the Toledo Blade, he was comparable to Lincoln, JFK, and FDR.

    I still find those comparisons very apt. Just not in the way the sycophants at the Blade meant.

  • Jan S.||

    ^This.

  • MJBinAL||

    Like Lincoln having Militia shoot anti-war demonstrators in the streets of NY.

    Like JFK funding the Bay of Pigs then backing out and leaving his allies to die.

    Like FDR packing the Supreme Court to get his way no matter the consequences.

    Those paragons of virtue, mercy, and tolerance. Yep, I can see the similarities.

  • Pulseguy||

    JFKs comment: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" is fascism on July 4th.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Some of the president’s defenders have tried to portray him as the victim of an intransigent Republican Congress. Republicans have indeed been unhelpful.

    Only in the sense that a parent who won't let their kid play with the kitchen stove is "unhelpful" to the child.

  • Number 2||

    And I am correct the Obama had filibuster-proof control of Congress for his first two years in office? The Republican "obstruction" was a direct voter response to him.

  • Adam.||

    I'm getting a schadenfreude boner just reading the first paragraph

  • Herpes Trismegistus||

    The progs should have seen this coming when he received his Participation Nobel Prize.

  • doomstay||

    OT, but important. Hotair has open registration for commenters tomorrow.
    Hotair, the most popular conservative blog in the US, is having open registration for new commenters tomorrow from 9am to 4pm eastern time. After that, registration is closed again. They haven’t allowed any new commenters since a single day in 2011. So tomorrow will be your only opportunity to join hotair in perhaps years.

    It would be great to have more of us from reason on board hotair. Here is the hotair post on it: http://hotair.com/archives/201.....t-hot-air/

  • american socialist||

    can i comment on how libertarians are itching to sign up on michelle malkin's website-- her enthusiasm for locking up japanese-americans notwithstanding

  • doomstay||

    Um... no!

    But sign up for hotair. We need more libertarians at hotair! We can really make a difference in overall Republican opinion.

    And tomorrow is your ONLY day that you can sign up.

  • Sevo||

    ..."But sign up for hotair. We need more libertarians at hotair! We can really make a difference in overall Republican opinion."...

    Uh, a.s. is not a libertarian. a.s. is a brain dead fucking socialist.

  • Number 2||

    The Los Angeles Times described him as “a constitutional scholar” who “has articulated a respect for the rule of law and the limited power of the executive.” The Detroit Free Press considered him “a disciple of the pay-as-you-go approach to federal spending that helped produce a budget surplus in the 90s."

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  • Libertarius||

    Wow, Goebbels and Lenin are spinning in their graves.

    Except Goebbels and Lenin knew themselves to be liars. Modern Western leftoids are mindless parrots who just repeat what all the other leftoids say, never bothering to look at reality or think for themselves.

  • Tonio||

    Bart, the self-identified progressives I know have always been ambivalent about Barack Obama. Sure they supported him, if for no other reason than fear of being branded racist, but their hearts were never in it. Many of them have confided in me that he was a "centrist" or "corporate" or "machine" candidate, but not one of them.

    Those same people love them some Elizabeth Warren. She's their standard bearer.

    Just as the conservative movement is having its own internal struggle, so are the leftists.

  • american socialist||

    i know its because i'm in the thrall of messiah obama, but-- gee-- i'm just not that dissappointed. i would make some of the same arguments made by "libertarian" writers here at Reason about rand paul (political reality, an intransigent opposition, etc.) but, you know, without making me look like i'm a total hypocrite water-carrier.

    one thing... maybe i'll lose my membership in the Cool and Hip Edward Snowden Appreciation Club but i remain a fan of detective work done by the fbi and cia. if filtering calls through a sql database is part of that then i'm not willing to don my tin-foil hat quite yet. i know, i know... first they came for the islamic militant who made hundreds of calls to yemen and iraq then they came for me.

  • Spawn of Nyarlathotep||

    Of *course* you're a fan of intrusive government agencies -- you're a self-proclaimed socialist, or, more accurately, a statist.

  • american socialist||

    what's a socialist utopia without a reeducation camp for peter schiff? i take it, given your principled stance that you won't be voting republican in 2014.

  • Sevo||

    american socialist|2.5.14 @ 5:28PM|#
    'what's a socialist utopia without mass executions?'

    Fixed.

  • american socialist||

    The Kulak parasites aren't going to organize themselves

  • MikeyMikey||

    One would've thought it impossible the feat of matching the utter disaster that was the G.W. Bush presidency, but Barack Obama is giving it the ol' college try.

    Bush wasn't even a good Republican, never mind a good President, given his penchant for spending like a drunken sailor, both at home and abroad (Medicare Part D, two bogus wars). Similarly, Obama isn't even a good Democrat: NSA; incoherent foreign policy (e.g. Syria); continuing the drug war (which hurts young black men the most); following Biden on gay marriage rather than leading the conversation.

    Thank goodness for Libertarians like Gary Johnson. I'd rather be deemed irrelevant than a sell-out on my principles. Especially when the key principle is freedom.

  • Yet another Kevin||

    One of the standard features of the left is their insatiable appetite for belief.

    "Believe" "Hope" and "Dream" are their mantras. Obama was made for them.

    But the problem with dreaming is that eventually one wakes up and liberals are having that unpleasant moment now. Well, many of them. I think most of them are always somewhat asleep.

    But soon they'll all be deep asleep and dreaming happily again, if not for Obama, it'll be for another of their kind (by which I mean some intellectually dishonest panderer who neither understands economics and the limits of power nor cares. The less they actually know, the more they can "believe" and "hope" that the next one won't be as bad as all the preceding ones.

  • american socialist||

    probably the biggest bunch of hogwash i've ever read. you should ask if you can write for this magazine given your penchant for simplistic, eye-rolling drivel. geesch, stereotype much?

  • Sevo||

    american socialist|2.5.14 @ 7:45PM|#
    "probably the biggest bunch of hogwash i've ever read."

    Hits too close to home.

  • american socialist||

    Dude, why you gotta be such a bee-otch. I just want to be part of your cult group and live in Somalia with all the miniarchists

  • MJBinAL||

    Actually, a analytical look at the polls leads one to the conclusion that outside of racial loyalty, his support among Democrats is pretty thin.

    Obama still has in excess of 90% approval and support among self-identified black americans. Since it appears that this demographic is nearly impossible for Obama to lose, his polling indicates that the balance of his support is extremely thin in the country as a whole, and even among self identified Democrats.

  • MikeyMikey||

    A progressive is one who feels a great debt to society. Which they plan to repay using other people's money.

  • Eggs Benedict Cumberbund||

    "I mean in a way Obama's standing above the country, above - above the world, he's sort of God." Evan Thomas Editor Newsweek

  • JWatts||

    "The Los Angeles Times described him as “a constitutional scholar” who “has articulated a respect for the rule of law and the limited power of the executive.”"

    That is, in retrospect, a fucking hilarious sentence. I'm pretty sure even most of the Left couldn't manage to make that comment anymore and keep a straight face.

  • Mark22||

    You underestimate the left.

  • AdamJ||

    This article describes why I fear a Rand Paul presidency. I know there are limits to what a president can do, but if by slim chance Rand were to win and be as shitty a libertarian as Obama is a progressive, I will lose most hope. By no means is Rand perfect, and I do understand he'd have to play politics as well, but if he continued foreign wars, unconstitutional spying, drones, etc. I would be massively disappointed. I guess the difference is that I would be able to admit his faults. That's the difference between led by principles and by team loyalty.

  • Mark22||

    "It had hoped for better things from President Obama, and he has not delivered."

    Bailouts, energy subsidies, vast new regulations, ACA, drones, and NSA are not enough?

    Seems to me Obama has delivered on progressive policies, it's just that progressives, as usual, don't want to own up to the consequences when their policies fail.

  • Sevo||

    "Seems to me Obama has delivered on progressive policies, it's just that progressives, as usual, don't want to own up to the consequences when their policies fail."

    Yep, all the laws they wanted and all the results others predicted.

  • ibcbet||

    They liberated millions of people from the need to work to get healthcare, food, clothing, and shelter. The progressives should be ecstatic. More people on the dole!

  • MSimon||

    Extra points for schlimazel. Is there a secret yid in the house?

  • DUTCHMAN67||

    We expected him, and rightly so, to live up to his own Hype. He sold himself as a Progressive, Liberal, MOTIVATED, Proud Black Man, with Justice on his side, who would (figuratively, but effectively) Display A Set. Turns out, he is none of those things. As they saying goes in my family...."you'll never be the man your mother was." We expect men and women whom we entrust with our future, to show some Backbone, Determination, and the willingness to stand up to the Enemy. Instead, he showed us Retreat, Cowardice, and Fear. Black Power? hell, Weezie Jefferson had more bravery and guts. Better we should have had Michelle, a woman who displays REAL Power and Determination. Adios, Barry.

  • Vincent Milburn||

    It's all political. If you admit your candidate is imperfect, he might lose.

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