Leftist criticism of Obama has been a hot topic in the blogosphere this holiday weekend, including a number of rather illogical responses to Jonathan Chait’s article in the New York Times Magazine which I discussed here. One of the most absurd posts came from Matt Stoller at Salon, suggesting a primary challenge to Obama from the left, even at the cost of losing the general election.
Stoller’s view of politics and history was just too absurd for most people to spend their holiday weekend responding, but James Joyner wound up doing so, making it unnecessary for the rest of us. Joyner appears to see through the fantasies common on the extremes of both ends of the political spectrum. Although he responds from the right, his discussion was based upon a common sense and understanding of basic politics which transcends any ideological differences.
In addition to responding to Stoller’s post, Joyner had comments relevant to the disagreement with Blue Texan in the comments to the previous post. While I thought it was worth mentioning that liberal economists were arguing for a larger stimulus, this was not by any means a mainstream idea at the time and the chances of passing a larger stimulus were extremely remote. Joyner’s recollection of the politics of the time is much more like that of myself and Jonathan Chait (emphasis mine):
FDL’s Blue Texan points out that several liberal economics luminaries–Paul Krugman, Dean Baker, Brad DeLong, and others–argued for a much larger stimulus. But passing the $787 billion version required the Democrats to go to the mats, barely peeling off enough Republican votes to avoid a Senate filibuster. And doing that fired up the Tea Party and directly led to the historic 2010 thumping that Stoller blames on Obama being insufficiently progressive.
Krugman and I were on the same side of the bank bailout issue and for similar reasons. But we were extreme outliers. Most economists were warning of dire consequences if we allowed the banks to collapse. As it was, the Bush administration’s decision to let Lehman Brothers go under is cited by many as ground zero in the global financial collapse.
Similarly, Krugman and I were outliers on the stimulus, with him arguing for one wildly larger than there was political support for and me arguing for a much smaller one targeted at those who lost their jobs and houses because of the meltdown. Frankly, either of those would likely have been better than the expensive but futile mishmash we got. But nobody made either of us king and we therefore got to live with the political realities rather than our fantasy world.
By any reasonable standpoint, Obama has been a fairly centrist president. One can make the case that his “lead from behind” style has made him a weak president but one can also make the opposite case–that he’s passed a massive stimulus, a historic reorganization of the health care system, and took us to a war that had very little political support through working the system from behind the scenes.
Pointing out that Obama has been a centrist will not endear him to portions of the left-blogosphere who are foolish enough to believe that someone to the left of Obama would have a chance of winning, or that any president would really have had the ability to have pursued an even more liberal course. I also pointed out the many liberal successes of the Obama presidency (see here and here), which some on the far left choose to ignore. A view of the alternative can be seen here.