Obama may yet prove smarter than all his critics – right AND left!

Jan 13th, 2012 | By | Category: In Brief

Jackson Lears: “ I don’t see the kind of leadership that Obama had a mandate to provide.”

Jackson Lears “teaches history at Rutgers University, is the editor of Raritan and author of Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920.” In the 5 January 2012 issue of the London Review of Books, he reviews two recent biographies of US President Barack Obama’s father and mother –  The Other Barack by Sally Jacobs and A Singular Woman by Janny Scott.

Lears suggests that these biographies “may help to provide a genealogy of disappointment – a fuller explanation of how [President] Obama came so grievously to disappoint his supporters as well as, perhaps, himself.”

The Rutgers historian spells out this grievous disappointment in the very first paragraph of his review: “To those of us who hoped that Barack Obama’s election marked a departure from right-wing rule, the president’s failure of leadership has been stunning. Seldom have insurgent expectations … been deflated so swiftly … One did not have to be a sentimental utopian to be disappointed.”

This is such a widespread opinion among people I talk with about such things that I feel bound to respect it, and even concede that it contains a few clear grains of plain truth. At the same time, it still seems to me that Jackson Lears’s kind of view on the disappointing Obama presidency also fails to take into account certain undeniable and even more disappointing facts of political life, about the wider parameters of democracy in America today.

Three different sets of Gallup poll statistics do a tidy enough job of illustrating what I am getting at here.  To start with, just yesterday the Gallup organization published its latest annual averages on “US Political Ideology.” And, according to this survey data, in 2011 “40% of Americans … describe their views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal.”

The good news is that this picture is somewhat better than it was in 1992, when 43% of Americans described their views as conservative, 36% as moderate, and only 17% as liberal. The continuing bad news is still that no one is going to win a US national election right now by tilting their public policies and programs very strongly toward the liberal end of the current American political spectrum.

* * * *

This past Monday the Gallup organization reported something similar, if also slightly more encouraging: “The percentage of Americans identifying as political independents increased in 2011, as is common in a non-election year, although the 40% who did so is the highest Gallup has measured, by one percentage point. More Americans continue to identify as Democrats than as Republicans, 31% to 27%.”

Somewhat more Americans, that is to say, still see themselves as Democrats rather than Republicans – and this remains one hopeful enough sign for the prospects of President Obama’s re-election this year. But more Americans than ever before now see themselves as Independents rather than Democrats or Republicans.

Finally, a Gallup poll from this past June reveals some related gloomy news on how “Americans Divided on Taxing the Rich to Redistribute Wealth …  Americans break into two roughly evenly matched camps on the question of whether the government should enact heavy taxes on the rich to redistribute wealth in the US. Forty-seven percent believe the government should redistribute wealth in this way, while 49% disagree, similar to views Gallup found four years ago.”

(Again, this constitutes a slight improvement from the late 1990s, when 51% were against “heavy taxes on the rich to redistribute wealth.” But this is a far cry, eg, from anything suggested by the recent Occupy movement rhetoric about 1% and 99%  – as helpful to the cause of progress as that rhetoric has no doubt been, and will hopefully continue to be, in one respect or another.)

The upshot of all this, it seems to me, is that President Barack Obama just may be that much smarter – or perhaps wiser is the better word – about what is and what is not politically possible in the USA today than his most aggressive left-wing critics acknowledge.

He does seem to be getting somewhat bolder about standing up for some “bold progressive” agenda in the more recent past – in the face of over-the-top Republican efforts to block his more moderate ambitions through relentless intransigent stupidity, and abject kow-towing to the plutocrats who pay the lion’s share of the right-wing conspiracy’s bills (as Ms. Clinton might put the point?). And, like everyone else, I am all for that.

But if Obama is re-elected this fall, it will, I think, also have a lot to do with his ongoing respect for the strength of the “moderates” and “Independents,” and the continuing weakness of the “liberals,” in current US political culture.

Jackson Lears will still be disappointed, no doubt. But, as brilliant a historian as he certainly is, anyone who takes his political advice without reservation would almost certainly never win any US national election in the first place.

Tags: , , ,

Leave Comment