Progressives should use valuable media opportunities to provide a balanced view of President Obama and attack the GOP, not to tear our President down. (More)
Back in August, psychologist, neurologist, and purported progressive Drew Westen published a piece in the New York Times titled What Happened to Obama’s Passion, which attacked the President for his purported failure to fight for progressive policies and for allegedly creating a situation in which it is impossible to know what he stands for on virtually any issue. While the piece won praise from some progressives, it was also roundly criticized by many including by us here at Winning Progressive as being unfair to President Obama.
Unfortunately, Westen is at it again, with a new New York Times piece titled Decision 2013 which chides our President for his recent decisions to delay the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and smog reduction standards decisions until 2013. From those two examples, Westen returns to his misguided theme that President Obama allegedly does not know what he believes in, stating:
The question is why a president who likes to talk about being the “adult in the room” with Congressional Democrats and Republicans so frequently employs delaying tactics that look remarkably like the ones employed by my 7-year-old at bedtime. She’s happy to go to bed – just after another glass of water, another chocolate milk (okay, I’m a lousy parent, but she really likes it), or another light turned on or off.
No modern American president has ever managed to make it through nearly three years in the White House with so few people really having any idea what he believes on so many key issues – let alone what his vision for the country is.
While the smog decision was undeniably wrong, Westen’s overall claims are unfair and destructive to the progressive movement, for much the same reasons as we gave in our previous post on Westen, the relevant parts of which we have pasted below.
In addition, Westen’s most recent article is especially troublesome given that it entirely ignores President Obama’s recent efforts to take the fight to the Republicans. For example, over the past three months, the Obama Administration has been aggressively pushing his Americans Jobs Act and calling out Republicans for refusing to take action to create jobs. Yet Westen’s article does not even mention this newly aggressive approach, and a Google search turned up no writings by Westen about the American Jobs Act or President Obama’s efforts to support it.
In fact, a review of Westen’s writings reveals someone who appears to be obsessed with attacking President Obama since mid-2009. For example, here is a list of Westen’s writings for the Huffington Post. Many of them criticize (sometimes validly) perceived shortcomings in President Obama’s leadership style and policy positions. But not a single one of the articles since mid-2009 discusses or highlights any of the significant progressive policy victories that the President and Congressional Democrats have achieved, and only one-and-a-half of those articles focuses on challenging Republicans.
Westen’s obsession with attacking President Obama matters because he is one of only a relative few progressives whose voice is included in our media today. Yet when given prime media real estate in the New York Times, Huffington Post, CNN, etc., Westen chooses to use it to attack President Obama, rather than to highlight victories achieved by the Democrats, attacking the Republicans, or promoting progressive policies. Given such poor use of limited media opportunities by our purported progressive friends, it is little wonder that the public does not seem to be knowledgeable about the significant progress that President Obama and Congressional Democrats have made in fighting for our progressive values.
None of this is to suggest that we progressives should blindly praise President Obama for everything he does. But as progressives, it is our duty to provide the balanced view of President Obama that no one else in the media does, and to spend at least as much time praising good things our President does and attacking the GOP as we do calling our President and the Democrats out when they make a bad decision. Unfortunately, that is a lesson that Mr. Westen has apparently not learned.
Excerpts From Winning Progressive’s previous post about Drew Westen
There are three other problems with the critique put forth by Westen and other progressive critics of President Obama that we’d like to discuss here.
* Results Matter – Any fair analysis of President Obama must address not only the shortcomings, but also the successes, none of which Westen mentions. Yet the list of progressive victories is long, as we’ve previously laid out in this post from late December 2010. Additional victories since then have included finalization of air pollution regulations that will save 13,000+ lives per year, requiring insurance companies to provide birth control with no co-pays, urging federal courts to find the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, and proposing to increase fuel efficiency standards for cars to 54 miles per gallon. There are certainly issues in which President Obama has been disappointing, but this overall track record is easily the most progressive of any President since Lyndon Johnson and belies the contention that it is hard to know what our President is fighting for.
* Don’t Ignore the True Political Enemy – The obsessive focus of some progressives on criticizing our President is also misguided because it distracts attention from conservatives, who are the real political enemy. For example, on health care reform the debate with President Obama is over the best ways to achieve universal coverage. Meanwhile, Republicans oppose government doing anything to increase access to health care and want individuals to incur more of the costs of care. Similarly, for Medicare, the debate with President Obama is over the best ways to ensure the long term fiscal solvency of the program. Meanwhile, Republicans have voted to abolish Medicare. Also, on LGBT rights, the debate with President Obama focused on the best ways to end DADT and DOMA. Meanwhile, with only a few exceptions, Republicans are unequivocally opposed to repealing either of those discriminatory laws. If we want to be spending 2013 and 2014 debating how to expand health care coverage and increase LGBT equality, rather than desperately fighting attempts to turn back the clock on both of those issues, we progressives should be focusing our energies on attacking these Republican plans and explaining to the public why progressive views are right and conservative proposals are wrong, rather than devoting most of our energy on pretending that President Obama is a failed capitulator who is little better than the GOP.
* Voter Enthusiasm Is Critical to Winning Elections – In an interesting article in the New York Review of Books, Andrew Hacker discussed the critical role that voter enthusiasm plays in deciding elections, with the 2008 versus 2010 elections results serving as a good example:
The 2010 turnout was in the usual midterm range, about twenty points below the preceding presidential figure. But the dip was not at all the same for both parties . . . the sharp GOP gains in the House were due to “a drastically lower Democratic turnout.” Surveys show that of those who voted in 2008, Democrats were almost twice as likely not to do so in 2010. So the voters in 2010 had a markedly different profile: they were older, whiter, more ideological on economic and social issues, and more firmly Republican. Had they been the electorate in 2008, John McCain would now be president.
In short, Democrats lost in 2010 because a different electorate showed up in 2010 than in 2008. Yet the purist progressive critique threatens to cause this exact same result in 2012.
We already know that, contrary to the evidence, conservatives will portray President Obama as an ineffective radical. If we progressives fight back against that message by highlighting both the progress made under President Obama and the pathological intransigence that the GOP has engaged in to try to undermine the Obama Administration, then we have a good chance that the 2012 electorate will re-elect President Obama and a Democratic Congress so that we can continue the progress. If, however, we progressives spend the vast majority of our time erroneously portraying the President as ineffective and little better than the GOP, then the voters will not realize why they should vote for the Democrats and, instead, we will end up with President Perry, Speaker Boehner, and Senate Majority Leader McConnell. Unfortunately, the approach taken by Drew Westen and his ilk threaten to lead to exactly that result, rather than to a political atmosphere in which we can be once again advancing the progressive agenda.