Do Liberals Understand American Politics?

Obama Holding FootballI’ve been going around in circles with people on Twitter arguing about President Obama. The odd thing is, these people and I are both supporters of him. The problem is, I feel, many of them are simply satisfied with his presidency so far while I feel he has – intentionally – missed many opportunities.

A football analogy.

You’re down by four points. You get the ball to the 50-yard line. There’s time for one more play. The way Obama has operated, you just take the knee. The justification is that the odds are against a hail mary pass and they could intercept it and run up the score. Plus, its only one game and not that big of a deal in the standings. He figures, based on the way you’re playing you could go 9-7 and qualify for a wild card spot in the playoffs.

What I and many others are arguing is this: Go for it. Try for the long bomb, try the pass that seems improbable. Sure, you could lose, but you could also win!

And when you go for it, you tell the fans and your team that you don’t quit, that even when you lose — you were trying to win big.

President Obama has repeatedly offered concessions to the right which have often resulted in the passage of important legislation. It has certainly advanced the ball down the field. But the touchdowns have been far too infrequent.

But we don’t have the votes for a progressive wonderland, comes the counterargument.

No kidding.

Right now on issues like taxation, America plays on GOP turf despite poll after poll saying Americans believe the rich should be paying more. Why? Because the right decided some time ago to be the anti-tax party. They passed legislation with no chance of success that cut taxes. They primaried Republicans that were insufficiently anti-tax. They elected Republicans at the county, state, and federal level that supported their core tax-cut ideology.

Then, after taking over the House, Senate, and the Presidency they were able to cow Democrats into passing tax cuts. What seemed to be tilting at windmills became the reality we deal with today.

So it isn’t that I expect President Obama to have been able to pass health care reform with a public option, or allowed the Bush tax cuts to expire, or pass a debt ceiling bill that actually raised some revenue. But I would like him to fight for those things. Progressive politics do not end with Barack Obama’s presidency. He’s part of a movement far larger than his 4-8 years in office.

If he wants to help create an atmosphere where the big, important issues can be addressed he has to stand up for the right solutions even when the cause is unlikely to win for the moment.

This is what Obama told me to my face when I met him in the White House:

“There are some core principles that I think are important for not just me to stick with but for the country to stick with. So if the Republicans say we need to cut our investments in education, at a time when we know that our success as a nation is largely going to depend on how well trained our workforce is, I’m going to say no. And there are going to be areas where, after working very hard, we just can’t find compromise and I’m going to be standing my ground, then essentially we debate it before the American people.”

I’m just asking him to live up to that.