Barack Obama: The Progressives’ Dilemma

The ideas of “consensus” and “compromise” and ones that I have struggled with all my life. I attended Quaker high school and college, and for those of you who don’t know, consensus is the way things are decided in those institutions. But consensus is not compromise. Consensus means “general agreement.” Compromise means agreement by mutual concessions. In other words, compromise means nobody ever gets 100 percent of they really want. Consensus means we’re all pretty happy with the outcome. (And I remember in high school sitting through many long and arduous meetings as that consensus was finally reached.)

And to be a person who — I like to think, anyway — has strong moral convictions, it’s hard to accept compromise. Because when you truly believe something is wrong, how can you concede on any part of it? In the current political environment, compromise on some of the stands Barack Obama has taken in the past month or two appears to clash with my most basic beliefs. Yet on the other hand, politics is politics. I was a political science major a bajillion years ago, and I have studied more elections and administrations than you would believe.

Norman Soloman of Truthout wrote an essay that shows he too is struggling with this dilemma. And he’s an Obama delegate.

We can set aside the plot line that touts Obama as a visionary pragmatist who has earned the complete trust of progressives. The belief has diminished in recent months – in the wake of numerous Obama pronouncements on foreign policy, his FISA vote to damage the Fourth Amendment and the like – but such belief was never really grounded in his record as a politician or his policy positions.

A more substantial narrative concedes Obama has “compromised” on numerous fronts, but assumes he has done so in order to get elected president, after which time his real self will emerge. This kind of dubious projection is as old as the political hills, and inevitably becomes a kind of murky exercise in armchair psychology. All in all, projection is not useful for assessing where political leaders are and where they’re headed.

In contrast, quite a few on the left – some from the outset of his presidential race, others beginning more recently – express appreciable disdain for the Obama campaign. The critiques of Obama’s positions on issues are often on the mark. Overall, the fact that Obama brings civility and intelligence to public discourse that would be a welcome change in the White House, does not alter the corporate centrist core of his espoused policies.

Please read the entire essay here.



  1. The FISA vote was nearly a deal-breaker for me, and his waffling on the war is almost as bad. I am sure that within the next 48 hours, he will choose a milquetoast neo-con like Tim Kaine as his running mate, which undermines his supposedly pro-choice position on abortion, or a neo-con like Evan Bayh, who is an unabashed chickenhawk.

    But he’s still NOT John McCain.

    So once again, progressive voters like us have to make a choice: Hold our noses and vote for a seriously compromised candidate, or stay home.

    Because voting for a truly bad man like John McCain isn’t an option.

    But for me, NOT voting is NOT an option, either.

    So do I vote for Nader? Do I throw my vote away to make a point?

    I’ve got time to decide. And to see what else Obama says and does.

  2. Great post!

    I guess I’m one of those people who just cannot accept Obama as a compromise because I truly do believe the man is not what he has been made out to be. I saw it early on and if you look at his record in the Illinois Senate, I mean really look at it, it’s obvious. Much of his records have “come up missing” and many think that Obama’s name on much of the legislation is because he actually worked on it…when it fact, his name was added right before he ran for U.S. Senate in order to pad his resume. When I vote for someone, they have to earn my vote and he hasn’t. In fact, in my eyes, he is as phony and as much a liar as George Bush.

    Oh, and this idea that he will “change back” once in office, don’t bet on it, the man only looks out for himself, not his country, not his party, not his voters. That should have been obvious in the way he told his voters that he would do every thing he could to strip the telecom immunity from that bill and then didn’t even show up to vote on the amendments to do just that. It should have been obvious when, not until he felt he cinched the nomination, that he made the announcement that he would increase the faith based initiatives, even higher than what Bush did. I hear about “wooing” voters…isn’t that just another word for “bamaboozling” the voters?

    It may be too late to do anything about this now…so we all have to choose how to deal with this election, but I certainly won’t vote for a man that I find to be so dishonest, corrupt and narcissistic.

  3. QuakerDave, I hope you got a chance to read the entire essay over at Truthout. I thought this paragraph was especially on target:

    “To some, who evidently see voting as an act of moral witness rather than pragmatic choice (even in a general election), forces such as corporate power or militarism are binary – like a toggle switch – either totally on or totally off. This outlook says: either we reject entirely or we’re complicit.”

    I guess so many of us do view voting as an extension of our values, and that’s why “compromising” on a vote is of painful. I agree with you, I personally would never vote for John McCain, but it saddens me that it’s so painful to vote for the Democratic nominee.

  4. Mary Ellen, I certainly thought of you when I first the read this essay! If only more of America has listened to our resident Nun! Now all good liberals must come to their own personal decision on this very difficult election.

    Maybe Hillary will win the floor vote next week!

  5. Sue J- Yeah…a lesson learned…the nun is always right and if you don’t think so, I’ll whack you with my ruler. 😉

    Personally, I just can’t “hold my nose” to vote for any candidate. If I do end up voting for McCain, and that’s not decided yet, it will be because I think he can actually do the job. I can’t agree with every candidate on every issue, but I will not vote for a candidate who I feel puts their own ego and hunger for power in front of love for country or loyalty to his voters. Bush did the same thing, he was an ego maniac who only cared about himself and his cronies.

    Oh..and Obama’s vote for Cheney’s energy bill sure doesn’t get much play, but I know Hillary didn’t vote for that bill and neither did McCain. That has to show you something about how little Obama cares about those who have been saddled with high costs of fuel. Not to mention, the way he through his Illinois constituents under the bus after he promised them (another broken campaign promise) that he would pass legislation to force Exelon and other nuclear facilities to report any leaks, no matter how small, to the public. After he received a very generous chunk of change for his U.S. Senate campaign..all bets were off, he watered down the legislation to give Exelon the ability to police itself, to hell with his constituents who trusted him for help.

    And doesn’t it concern his supporters that after he chose not to fight the telecom immunity on the FISA Bill that AT&T suddenly came up with a ton of money to sponsor the DNC Convention…right after the FISA vote?

    Like I said, I just can’t hold my nose and vote for that guy and I don’t think he’s any better than McCain, I think he’s a lot worse…very sneaky and underhanded.

  6. the way he through his Illinois constituents under the bus

    Obviously that should have been “the way he threw his Illinois constituents under the bus.

  7. Oh, and I thought you might like to see this, Sue. I found it after I wrote my last comment. It seems that there is some information is Chicago that Obama or the DNC does NOT want to come out. Check it out for yourself, information that should be available to the public is being withheld. Reminds me an awful lot about how we couldn’t get information on George Bush when he was running for President.

    Read this.

  8. Never thought I’d say this a few months ago, but Hillary is starting to look pretty darn good to me. Never thought I’d be leaning toward a Clinton revolution in Denver.
    (sigh) Whoever runs against McCain. That’s who I’m voting for.

  9. What Border Explorer said..

    This was a great essay- thanks for directing us to it and for your own very wise words.

    I hate feeling this way.

    But I will not vote for McCain and I can’t imagine not voting.

  10. I know I ALWAYS trust everything I read at the National Review. Thoroughly unbiased, no-dog-in-that-hunt, always objective and accurate reporting.

    People like Jonah Goldberg, for example…


  11. Fran,
    But I will not vote for McCain and I can’t imagine not voting.

    That’s it in a nutshell.

    QuakerDave, yah. Intellectual giant, that Goldberg. NOT!

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