Mr. President: Want troops at your back? Try leading from the front.

Mike Lux nails it: The President’s greatest mistakes don’t concern strategy—they concern morale.

I normally hate naked links, but Mike Lux at The Democratic Strategist nails it with a long post describing the relationship between progressives and the President as a problem not of policy but of morale.

Lux’s post is all the more powerful because he doesn’t labor under the delusion that Obama’s compromises are the deliberate sellouts of a closet conservative.  He knows that Obama’s motives are good, that his power is not limitless, and that politics is about compromise.  What politics isn’t about, though, is insulting the people agitating to bring the terms of the compromise closer to your own stated position. His point resembles that of James’ fine post from a couple of days ago, but speaks from a different standpoint: that of an activist in the trenches.

Read it all. But the money quote, quite moving really, comes at the end:

Mr. President, there are plenty of us out here who understand the need to compromise sometimes. What we don’t understand is this sense that you have thrown in the towel before the battle has begun. And we don’t understand being attacked by you when what we are fighting for is your agenda. If you are dismissive of the need to rally your own troops, if you are disdainful of the very people who have fought the hardest on your behalf, you will destroy your Presidency. For your sake, for your party’s sake, for your country’s sake, we can’t afford for that to happen. Mr. President, those of us who have been on your side need to know that you are on our side, too.

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.

13 thoughts on “Mr. President: Want troops at your back? Try leading from the front.”

  1. Yes, yes, Obama's motives are good. We know this because it must be so. Forget that he has surrounded himself with Washington and Wall Street insiders and excluded actual reformers from his Administration. Forget that he has used strategy and tactics so self-defeating that a junior high candidate for class treasurer would laugh at them. He simply MUST be on the side of what is good and liberal, and not at all captive to ruling class interests. You know, like Peter Orszag.

  2. calling all toasters:

    As I said on another post, there is a reason why he caves so easily. There is a reason why he(Obama) was the only Senator(or Representative, for that matter) to show up at the grand opening of the Hamilton Project. That's right, not even Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg(two phony fiscal haeks) showed up.

  3. I hate giving up, but really, I don't buy for a minute that Obama's course is dictated to him by political incompetence in the face of organized opposition. The man is simply not a bumbling progressive. He's a competent operator within the confines of his actual interests. He knew that real progressives were so demoralized, so cut off, and yet so constitutionally anti-disposed to cynicism by 8 years of GWB that all he had to do was throw us a few bones via throw away lines during the campaign and he'd have us hook line and sinker. We funded his run and now he's pursuing his real goals which have little or nothing to do with progressive thinking.

  4. "Lux’s post is all the more powerful because he doesn’t labor under the delusion that Obama’s compromises are the deliberate sellouts of a closet conservative."

    Ah, the exquisite pain of unrequited teenage love. Lux's post would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic. He could just as easily (and far more honestly) written:

    Don't you see Mr. President, that I'm the one who really loves you? Don't you see that we're right together? I'm the one who truly cares about you. Afterall, don't you remember all that homework I did for you? I'm the one who respects you for who you really are, not like those other guys who are just using you because, well, you're easy. But, all of that doesn't matter because I know you're the right one for me and I'm gonna stick with you until you know it, too.

    Meanwhile, Andrew is half right. There is little that is conservative–and nothing closeted–about the president. But, neither is he liberal. On issues like the expansion of presidential power, the curtailment of civil liberities and human rights, and the continuation of the United States' excellent foreign adventures the president is every bit as radical as was George W. Bush. One can credibly argue he is even worse since by giving Bush's policies the Democratic Party imprimantur he has effectively made them permanent. And on domestic economic issues he is a corporatist whose loyalty to the ruling class has been amply proven by what he has accomplished in two short years. Does anyone else find it telling that under the president's compromise for extending the Bush tax cuts the only group that would experience a tax increase are childless people whose annual income is less than $20,000? At some point, one would hope, people like Mike Lux and Andrew Sabl will come to accept that the best indication of a politician's intentions are the repeated outcomes of his/her actions. On this, Mr. Obama has been, and remains, crystal clear.

    On a related note, the whole conservative versus liberal/progressive framing is little more than theater for the rubes, an effective ruse to keep the masses fighting amonst themselves while the kleptocrats steal them blind. Divide and rule, it's the oldest play in the book.

  5. Guess the curmudgeon genie is out of the bottle for a lot of us…

    I'm with jm above:

    The "Mr. President" fawning schtick is a little too obeisant for me these days.

    I am going with Krugman's framing from now on forward: "Mr. Obama" this and "Mr. Obama" that…

    For me that shows the right amount of both deference and indifference.

    As an aside,

    I know this is a loose interpretation of Bernie's stunt today, but does anybody find it interesting that what the heft begged of Reid (make them actually filibuster damn it) actually happened to the leftest member of the Senate? Yeah I know he did this voluntarily, but I couldn't help thinking: What would the filibuster rules be if there were 40 Bertie Sanders? At any rate I'm pissed at Bernie too, because as far as I know, he talked for 9 hours and never showed the one graph that matters. Pictures baby…. pictures:

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/GR201

    Last thought:

    It would be interesting to get in the "way-back" machine and see what lefty bloggers (such as they were) had to say when the Bush tax first landed on Earth. I seem to recall that Bush fired the Senate Parliamentarian to get it done under reconciliation. Can you imagine the ire on the left? Funny how 10 years can change one's opinion of what is "rightly wrong" and what is "leftly right." The good news this time? The Senate Parliamentarian didn't get sacked. His wages merely got frozen. Heck of a job Mr Obama….

  6. I can't find the source right now, but I remember a while back Obama saying that he's not some hippie vegetarian peacenik type, because he doesn't like that kind of guy. And I thought, "Who the fuck do you think got you elected?"

    If you anybody knows the quote I'd love a link. Thanks.

  7. In the Sac — oh, he still has a base. Remember that these are the comments, not the post(s). Obama's base hovers a bit above the precincts of lowly commenters.

  8. I understand the need to compromise. "I won't cut off your arms and you'll give me your house." That's a kind of compromise I guess. Some might call it extortion. Compromise comes after a battle. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention but I missed the battle part. Before making a deal like this the President should have called the Republican's position to hold up the nation's business until they got tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans what it is: Immoral, Callous, Cynical, Savage. He should have done it loudly with maximum visibility and frequency.

    He didn't do this before the deal and he didn't even do this after the deal. He chastised his base instead.

    The President often speaks of bringing civility to Washington. Politely letting savage behaviour pass as a starting point for civil compromise will never bring it closer. Never.

  9. My biggest problem with all of this is the sudden courage being displayed by dem Dems. Why for two years ithe wind cried "fillibuster", the Democrats ran cowering to whatever dark hiding spot in whatever dark corner in whatever dark alley they could find. Even with what appeared to be a sure-fire campaign message- that the Republicans care more for the wealthiest 2% than they care about anything else in this world- they fled from the field of battle, trembling at the thought of not being re-elected because they fought for the middle and lower classes. Now, lo and behold, when the leader of their party, who coincidentally is the President of the United States of America, strikes a deal* with Republicans that will ensure an extension of aid to unemployed Americans in exchange for conintued tax giveaways to the wealthiest 2%, dem Dems finally shout out that they, too, wish to stand and be counted. The piss and vinegar the Democrats passed over at the dinner table for the last two years in favor of whatever shit burger the Republicans were dishing out that night is now being guzzled by a party pretending to have the skeletal structures to stand and a principle to stand upon. Fighting mean, nasty Republicans is a horrifying prospect, but toss one of their own in the ring and dem Dems cannot find enough chairs to break over his back.

    * Note: deals with Republicans automatically get an asterix because it is never certain how long the Republicans are going to pretend to honor the coniditons of a given deal, the half-life of which can be as brief as two hours.

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