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Last week I directed folks to an excellent -- and highly controversial -- piece about the Obama administration kowtowing to Wall Street, by the great rabble-rouser Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. Now Taibbi's back with a blog post on the some of the reaction, and I think he hits the nail on the head here:
I supported Barack Obama. I still do. If I had to vote tomorrow between Obama and Tim Pawlenty, or Sarah Palin, it wouldn’t be a choice that required a whole lot of thought. He’s done some good things. He’s restored some confidence in the United States among foreign leaders. We had something of a revolutionary regime for eight years under George Bush, and Obama has put the United States back into the club of rule-abiding nations, at least to some degree.
But I’m a little mystified by the letters I’m getting from people who suggest that being a supporter of a politician means that you should “give him a break” on this or that shortcoming, and behave more like a fan than a citizen.
I think part of the problem -- and we've seen this from liberals and conservatives -- is that both sides feel their opposite number will destroy the country if it wins the next election (ignoring the remarkable similarity between the two parties on some issues, like dealing with powerful corporations...or Afghanistan). So for the Americans who get most worked up about politics these days, their interest isn't so much in debating right and wrong but in "winning," which now isn't everything, but the only thing.
For example, from the mindset of many liberals, criticizing Obama from the left -- when added on top of the unrelenting and unmitigated criticism that he gets from the right -- will weaken the president and his allies in the mind of that tiny sliver of actual undecided voters, which means Democrats losing Congress and the White House over the next four years, which means going back to a Bush-inspired nightmare of endless tax cuts for the rich and bomb, bomb, bombing Iran; you can say the same for the conservative mindset but just substitute "socialism" and "gun confiscation."
On a certain level, it's an understandable impulse. Back in the day, the Democrats in particular had this crazy notion that you could go to a political convention and say whatever was on your mind; in 1972 they argued a lot and nominated wacky choices for vice president and looked terrible on television and pushed back nominee George McGovern's speech until the middle of the night. Over time, both parties decided that avoiding defeat meant avoiding that kind of disunity, which meant avoiding dissent -- and so what if that's undemocratic.
The problem is that "winning," which is supposed to be the only thing, is pretty much an empty thing if you don't keep pushing the "winners" to do the difficult tasks you elected them to do. If Obama isn't nagged by voters to close Gitmo or fight for the public option that a majority of Americans support, then he's not really that different from George W. Bush, and then what was the whole point? I think it makes sense to criticize when criticism is warranted, and let the chips fall where they may. America's a big country. We can handle it.