Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Revolt of the Aging Left?

Yesterday I commented on the surprising vehemence with which liberal opinion-makers like Frank Rich and Dan Rather are starting to denounce Obama. I’m still inclined to dismiss such talk as the usual grumbling you hear from the doctrinaire ideologues in the party of a sitting president, not the early signs of a revolt like the one Ted Kennedy led against Jimmy Carter in 1980. On the face of things, it seems awfully unlikely that liberals would really turn their backs on the first African-American president, the guy who led us out of the political wilderness two short years ago and courageously staked his presidency on health care reform when people around him were losing their nerve.

Yet it’s hard not to be impressed by the rhetorical inflections of some disaffected liberals. It’s one thing to be disappointed by a president for not measuring up to rigorous ideological standards. Presidents obliged to govern never do. It’s something else, however, to shower an ideologically sympathetic president with contempt for betraying shared ideals. There’s more than a little of that coming lately from the Democratic left.

This column by Katrina vanden Heuvel is a case in point (my emphasis):
“Ronald Reagan famously quipped that the Democratic Party left him before he left the party. Like many progressive supporters of Barack Obama, I'm beginning to have the same feeling about this president. . . .

This president has a historic mandate. Just as Abraham Lincoln had to lead the nation from slavery and Franklin Roosevelt from the Depression, this president must lead the nation from the calamitous failures of three decades of conservative dominance. This requires beginning to reverse the perverse tax policies that have contributed to gilded-age inequality and starved the government of resources needed for vital investments. This demands correcting destabilizing global imbalances, laying a new foundation for reviving American manufacturing and shackling financial speculation. It means ensuring the United States leads rather than lags in the green industrial revolution. And it requires unwinding the self-destructive military adventures abroad. The president must strengthen America's basic social contract in a global economy, not weaken it.

This daunting project is not a matter of ambition or appetite - or even unconscious Kenyan socialism. It is the necessary function of a progressive president elected in the wake of calamitous conservative misrule.”
What, exactly, does vanden Heuvel mean by Obama’s “historic mandate”? Not the “electoral mandate” conferred on Obama at the ballot box in 2008 by a mostly unideological electorate. And not imperatives that flow from Obama's thoughts about this historical moment.  She’s imputing an obligation to Obama to fulfill the festering ideological aspirations of progressives of her generation.

Being a member of that generation myself, I can feel some of vanden Heuvel's pain. We came of age politically in the 1970s and early 80s with grandiose progressive ambitions left over from 1960s, only to be reduced to political impotence by the Reagan revolution. Our side has won a few national elections in the last thirty years, but only by watering down those ambitions. Obama’s election was supposed to be a shot of ideological Viagra that would get liberal boomers back in the game while we could still remember the sensuous bloom of ideological youth.  We were counting on him to pick up where our ideological ancestors left off in 1966.

That’s a lot to ask of any president.

3 comments:

Anon said...

Excuse me? "... ideological Viagra that would get liberal boomers back in the game while we could still remember the sensuous bloom of ideological youth." Did liberals really think this? If so, they deserve to be disappointed.

Mean Voter said...

So let me get this straight. Obama couldn't get what he wanted which was to raise taxes on the rich and leave those making under $250K alone, so therefore, according to left-wingers, everyone should suffer by letting the tax cuts expire on 12/31. Sort of like cutting off your nose to spite your face, or throwing the baby out with the bath water. This makes no sense. The likes of Rather, Rich and vanden Heuvel just say this to rev up their readers. No one can really believe them, and they do more to harm their liberal cause than help it.

poindexter said...

vanden Heuvel's piece is the clearest statetment of reactionary liberalism--the desire to recover a long lost political--world that I've seen. And she calls herself a "progressive."