During the campaign opponents of Barack Obama tried to dismiss the support for him as a cult following a Messiah figure. After Obama won the nomination and then the election I had hoped this nonsense had come to an end but Dana Milbank revives it in an op-ed in The Washington Post.
Obama received millions of votes. Undoubtedly different people had different reasons for voting for him and saw him differently. To dismiss his support as a cult was absurd back then, and it is equally ridiculous to repeat the claims that his supporters saw him as some sort of Messiah.
During the primary campaign it became clear that Barack Obama was the only candidate I found acceptable who I thought had a reasonable chance to both beat Hillary Clinton and beat whoever would win the Republican nomination. Milbank believes Obama supporters did not see him as another politician. I never had any illusion that someone who could get to that stage was not a politician. The point is not that he was not a politician but that his type of politics was preferable to that practiced by both Hillary Clinton and the current Republican Party.
Milbank misunderstands the response to Obama’s decision to remain in Afghanistan. Yes, of the millions who voted for him I am sure that some were surprised and felt betrayed. Many more of us were fully aware that the current plan is totally consistent with the plans Obama discussed as a candidate. The fact that Obama had said he planned to remain in Afghanistan as a candidate does not mean we cannot criticize the policy. Campaigning on a policy does not give a candidate some sort of immunity to being criticized for the policy–even by those who supported the candidate. We knew that he was not a Messiah who would always be right.
I bet that many Obama supporters predicted, as I had, that Obama would do many things we would disagree with. Back in December 2007 I wrote my annual list of Festivus grievances, that year airing my grievances with the major presidential candidates. On Obama I wrote:
My suspicion is that in a couple of years I will be writing a number of blog posts disagreeing with some of your actions as president, but things will be far better than if any of your major opponents were to win.
Milbank concluded with reaction to Obama’s decision on Afghanistan, describing some of the opposition and writing:
His Afghanistan policy, likewise, is above all a pragmatic, nonideological strategy. He stayed true to his campaign promise to take the fight to the Taliban, but he also tried to build a consensus. You’d think his supporters might applaud this sort of thoughtful, methodical leadership as a repudiation of the Bush style of government by political theory.
Yes, it is true as Milbank also wrote, that some on the left have gone overboard in attacking Obama over this and other areas where they disagreed with him. Some have even unfairly compared Obama to George Bush. Just earlier today I wrote that “I Might Not Agree With Obama On Afghanistan But At Least He Seriously Considered The Issues.” The post praises Obama for at least seriously considering the ramifications of his policy and attempting to avoid past mistakes, along with contrasting Obama’s decision making style to that of George Bush.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend I listened to a large portion of the audio book of David Plouffe’s book on the Obama campaign, The Audacity to Win, while driving or while following around family members as they went shopping. Obviously David Plouffe’s portrayal of Obama must be taken with a grain of salt but while listening I was thinking about why the Messiah line never really hurt Obama. Even while Plouffe was obviously building up Obama, it wasn’t as any sort of Messiah but as an intelligent man (repeat: man) who seriously considered the issues and who did represent a change from the politics of the Clintons and the Republicans (which over time had become virtually identical).
Obama will continue to make mistakes, or at least make decisions I do not agree with. What is important is that we have a president who seriously looks at the facts and asks questions before making deciding. That is not being a Messiah, but it is being vastly superior to his predecessor. I might disagree with some of Obama’s decisions, and certainly never saw him as any type of Messiah, but I still believe, as I did back in 2007, that we are better off than we would be if any of the other candidates had won.
Update: Public Policy Polling puts liberal dissatisfaction with Obama in perspective. While many do disagree with him on specific issues such as Afghanistan, overall only three percent of liberal Democrats disapprove of him.