New Model, Old Coalition

Fervent Obama supporters face a basic problem that we’ve yet to come to terms with: we were fervent about different things. We were a standard political coalition that was fooled into thinking ourselves a movement.

What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with a Unitarian? Someone who knocks on your door for no particular reason.

I thought of that joke when reading James’ recent comment alluding to his (excellent) post from 2008 about how Obama’s grassroots movement was like the New Model Army. In both cases the movement’s unprecedented breadth and power, once unleashed, was fearsome in battle—but one couldn’t ride that Army into power and expect anything less than revolution. As James put it: “What [Obama] won’t be able to do is shelve his sweeping promises and govern from the technocratic, establishment centre like Bill Clinton. He will have to be a great reforming president or fail.”

I think this is half right, in the way the joke implies. Obama for America had the tone of a movement: it relied on faith- and hope-based rather than instrumentalist motivations, adopted the cadences of the Civil Rights movement (much against Obama’s own personal inclinations), built a pretty successful ethos of fellowship and organization for their own sakes, and yes, could be very moralistic. But while the movement’s tone expressed zealotry, its purpose had no trace of Puritan precision.

Obama for America wanted Change: a thorough repudiation of the policies of George W. Bush. And we lived by Hope, i.e. an irrational belief, which by self-fulfilling prophecy became rational, that we could through new communication techniques—not unlike the Puritans’ sermons, camp meetings, and pamphlets—defeat the formidable hierarchies of Charles Bush and Clinton, Laud Rove and Penn. But to what end? In hindsight, we can see that there were several competing Puritan agendas. To some of Obama’s supporters, purging the polity of Dubyan corruption meant, above all, ending wars and restoring civil liberties. To others, it meant ejecting the corporate money-changers from the political temple by freeing politics from lobbying and campaign money. To a third group (more numerous than many progressives realized), it meant what Obama very often said it meant: overcoming the bitter partisanship of the Bush years so that we could all seek common-sense solutions in measured tones. To a final group, the one most likely to listen to Obama’s policy proposals while discounting his rhetoric, it meant repudiating the politics of oligarchy and putting government back on the side of equal opportunity and social welfare.

The first group has been the most disappointed by Obama in office; the last, most impressed.  (If Obama has turned out to be less of a populist than many of his supporters hoped, he’s also been much more of a classic New Deal/Great Society advocate of the welfare state.) But it is clear now, as it was not clear in 2008, that not all of these Puritans could be right about what the movement was most centrally about—and that it was almost certainly impossible for all of us to get the kind of (incompatible) revolutions that we wanted.

Michael Walzer, who read the New Model Army as the first modern ideological movement to take over a regime, called the English Civil War the “Revolution of the Saints.” But the saints had a common purpose, that of purifying the true Church and ending its liturgical and political corruptions. And they had a common enemy—a King asserting Divine Right and an Anglican Church that backed him—that united them in spite of  splits between Presbyterians and Independents, burghers and Diggers, Rainsborough’s democrats and Ireton’s elitists. Obama’s movement had a common feeling of sainthood without the common theology that would render that feeling a source of unity rather than division. As a result, each of its sects has ended up convinced both that it contains the true saints and, just as dangerously—but wrongly—that we once did agree on the True Religion and that it’s Obama’s fault that we no longer do.

This is Obama’s fault in a sense, but not the sense that Obama’s most fervent critics normally intend. The problem is that Obama for America objectively speaking was, always was, a garden-variety political coalition, with all the common and cross-purposes, shared and clashing interests, that any catch-all political party inevitably contains. But Obama, half-knowing the costs, fooled us into thinking we were a movement.

We were Unitarians who thought we were Witnesses. The question now is whether anything will get us to knock on doors the way we used to.


Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.

37 thoughts on “New Model, Old Coalition”

  1. Excellent! I was (constructively) wrong in my rash prediction three years ago. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to my analogy: since the Puritan revolution of the 1640s failed to consolidate politically its military victory over Charles I, through divisions between elitists and proto-democrats, zealots and tolerators. We should no complain too much, since Anglo-American constitutional oligarchy was built on the wreckage.

  2. PS: “… there were several competing Puritan agendas.” True, but you leave out a fifth group. Many African-Americans knocked on doors and voted for Obama because of the colour of his skin. Although Obama is an African American not an African-American, he was the first man in American history who had a chance of showing that a black person could occupy the highest office in the Republic with dignity and professionalism. This group of supporters have no reason to be disappointed. Barack and Michelle Obama – the symbolic function is now shared by the First Couple – have put in an outstanding, near-perfect performance of it. Obama as political leader and manager doesn’t quite fill his own suit, but it’s a damned good suit.

  3. James–to extend the (increasingly tortured) analogy: if Obama manages to hold on as long as the Long Parliament, we’ll be doing well (unconstitutionally well, actually, but who’s counting). I’ll leave talk of permanent dynasties to those nostalgic for Clintons.

    As for your point about African Americans, with or without hyphens: quite right. I think a lot of white progressives underestimate the extent to which African-American loyalty and commitment to Obama would emphatically not be transferable to another Democratic candidate–and greatly overestimate the appeal of the Cornel Wests whose radicalism is popular among intellectuals but not more widely.

  4. I believe there is a fifth faction, for whom the idea of equality before the law is the driving principle;
    this group is subsumed in three of the other groups, but with a different emphasis :

    To some of Obama’s supporters, purging the polity of Dubyan corruption meant, above all, ending wars and restoring civil liberties.

    and prosecuting those who had flouted the laws of the United States.

    To others, it meant ejecting the corporate money-changers from the political temple

    and prosecuting those who had flouted the laws of the United States.

    To a final group … it meant repudiating the politics of oligarchy

    and prosecuting those who had flouted the laws of the United States.

    The failure to prosecute, or even to investigate, flagrant criminal acts by powerful actors in and out of government leaves unlanced a pustulent canker that no amount of “bipartisanchip” can bandage over. It continues to make us sick as a society.

  5. I know a lot of black folk who are disappointed by Barack Obama. And they’re the kind of people who hear “ungawa” when one speaks favorably of Cornell West. They’ll vote for Obama, sure. But much of the 2008 enthusiasm is gone.

  6. > (If Obama has turned out to be less of a populist than many of his
    > supporters hoped, he’s also been much more of a classic New Deal/Great
    > Society advocate of the welfare state.)

    Gently, I suggest that a President who counts Peter G. Peterson among his economic advisers and who taps the Peterson Foundation to provide most of the funding and half of the staff for his personal “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform” is just possibly, maybe, perhaps, not a “classic New Deal/Great Society advocate of the welfare state”.


  7. I wasn’t fooled into voting for anyone! I voted for my benefit and of those I truly care about, back in November of 2008. I knocked on doors because I wanted a better future, not because I thought I was helping to elect the perfect President who would act as a dictator and hand me and everyone else a job pulled from his back pocket!

    The victim mentality of those who are angry because they thought electing Barack Obama was going to mean a chicken in every pot, and perhaps 40 acres and a mule, fooled their own selves. No one who read his books or his policy papers thought that in 2.7 years, 30 years worth of bad policies were simply going to vanish….especially since the movement died the day after election day, when everyone sat on their laurels, demanding, criticizing and doing little else. On victory night, Obama reminded us that we didn’t vote for him as an end.

    Obama said on November 4th…”I know you didn’t do this just to win an election and I know you didn’t do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime…. The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there. There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can’t solve every problem….This victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.”

    We stepped back, and we watched and comment and did little else. We laughed at the tea party, and yet we let them have the spotlight, while we waited for President Daddy to do his thing. We were the ones that we were waiting for in this supposed movement, but we only showed up for the victory party, and then we left early.

  8. It is the political immaturity of the Obama army that has led to this. Many did not understand that if you wanted a President like Obama to succeed, you have to vote for a lot of candidates who do not look like, talk like, or convey any of the same cultural markers as Obama. From the Coakley defeat in Massachusetts to the 2010 midterms, what was proven was that the Obama appeal was not transferable to other Democrats.

    But, and this is a big but, people learn from experience. The last two and half years have been a vivid lesson in the limits of the Presidency. The entire GOP strategy is based on an old truism that people will blame the President for a bad economy even he has been frustrated by a sabotaging opposition in Congress. That truism depends on the persistence of a misperception. Polls indicate that whatever people think about Obama, they think worse of the GOP in Congress. Maybe people will not blame the President this time.

    The GOP strategy also depends on making people believe that the GOP candidate for President is more Moderate and Reasonable than the Congressional GOP, as both Bushes and McCain supposedly were. I think that is going to be a harder sell for the GOP than ever before.

    In short, the real question for 2012 is “what are people learning between 2008 and 2012?” Progressives will never assemble a governing majority if our electoral successes only come from waves of idealistic and unrealistic popular enthusiasm, like 2008.

  9. Catherine writes :

    the movement died the day after election day, when everyone sat on their laurels

    With respect, Catherine, do you remember that immediately after the 2008 election, the White House shut down the local organizations that Dean had built, dismissed the local staff, and centralized all the mailing lists into OFA?

    Because that’s the way I rembember it — I remember committed ground troops being told “thanks. We’ve got it now.” and sent home.

    I thought then, and still think now, that this was one of the most incredible political blunders I’d ever seen — unless one’s goal was less about winning elections and more about reducing partisanship by centralizing control over Democratic messaging.

  10. Joel, for those who can’t do anything unless they are part of a specific group with a special name, you may be right. For the rest of us who had been fighting George Bush for 8 years without an organization; many of us continued the work of supporting the policies that this President presented.

    It is true that the loudest activists on our side were those advocating for single payer system, something that didn’t have a prayer in passing, because political realities dictate that we cannot get out of congress policies more liberal than the most conservative Democrats, and plus Obama didn’t run on providing a single payer health system. After Health care was passed (in spite of our passivity/negativity), many just started looking for as many negatives as they could find (and if looking, that’s easy) to hurl at this President, and instead of acknowledging any accomplishment from this administration, decided that things were taking too long, or it wasn’t enough. Instead, many decided that this President should scream louder when shake his fist, etc., etc. Meanwhile the media promoted the Tea Party like it wasn’t no one else’s business. At the end of the day, those who don’t want to go door to door will only have themselves to blame, when we go from the current action by this President deemed not good enough to our worse nightmares being realized under a Republican administration. But will who will we blame then really matter? Presidential elections have no do-overs except every 4 years, and 4 years is an awful long time to damage the bit of progress that we have experienced under this President 2.8 years to date. I will knock doors again this election season, and again, I won’t be doing it for one man….I will be doing it for me and my children and the people I care about. I do not believe that playing the blame game is some kind of solution to our problems, exactly because it isn’t.

  11. “…the Obama appeal was not transferable to other Democrats.” No, indeed. Especially since Obama himself had no interest in leading from the front, liar that he is. Had he taken the battle to the various “malefactors of great wealth” there is no telling what he could have accomplished. He did have two choices. One was to govern as he ran and dare to succeed or fail greatly. In either case, we as the American people would have won, either by now, or soon. His other choice was to show the backbone of a coelenterate and run out the clock, counting on an incoherent “Grand Bargain” strategy for reelection, which seems to be the only thing that motivates him. Alas. Does anyone else remember his saying, “Make me do the things you want!” to those who voted for him? Turns out he never really meant that, liar that he is.

  12. The question now is whether anything will get us to knock on doors the way we used to.

    The answer is no. The dandelion wine has been poured out of the bottle with the summer fireflies. It is a hard road to hoe when a candidate tells stories on the stump about ordinary “folks” sending him 5 dollars, and then shortly after his election, takes up golf, and gets caught out on the links with banksters. Excuse me? Perhaps if Barack golfed with ordinary people who got foreclosed? At the very least it would have helped to have someone go to jail for the Great Recession.

    That’s it, or nearly all of it: The Great Recession is the essence Andrew. No one has been punished for the most singular event in our lifetimes. You are overcomplicating the electorate and over-parsing the party’s dissatisfaction. It all traces back to holding the banksters accountable. We expect a Democrat president to do just that. But instead, to see what looks like a complete whitewash of Wall Streets sins, well, that is more than many of us can stomach. By any fair measurement, that’s lame presidentin’ and deserves to be punished at the ballot box…

  13. I’ll be knocking on doors. The President has zero chance of winning my state, but we have a high stakes Senate race, and our Dem might just win reelection in spite of (a) the whiny Left and (b) the unpopular President.

  14. Koreyel, I’ve been saying for months that O does not deserve reelection but we don’t deserve Republican rule.

  15. @catherine: No one thought a “single-payer” system was in the cards immediately. But neither did we expect Obama to had the entire thing over to Max Baucus and his handmaiden from the health care “industry.” And therein lies the difference between you and many of us who were taken in by his false persona. Voting for the lesser of two evils is something I have stopped doing, though I have been doing it since 1974. Turns out it never works. I just wish I lived in a state where a non-vote for the President would make a difference, this after giving him money I couldn’t afford and enthusiasm and time he didn’t deserve in 2008.

  16. KLG, Health Care reforms were passed, and what passed can be built upon…but with people in the party with attitudes of wanting to commit political suicide just to make a point, perhaps it will all be reversed, and then you can get even madder, and scream and holler and sit on your behind and opine! Then one day, if all of your prayers are answer, perhaps we will have a revolution, and sure enough, the people with the guns (who aren’t the Lefties) will win that revolution and they will be the ones deciding how this country is run, and believe you me, it won’t be ran as the great Utopian paradise that many idealists fool themselves into believing is possible. Until then, you can feel personally satisfied that letting the people suffer as payback to Pres. Obama is a plan…although Mr. Obama will be fine in the future (whether in or out of office), while the people you “claim” to care so much about (and is the reason you are so enraged) will be the ones most hurt. But you and your brilliant strategy that takes no courage or anything else for that matter,
    will have showed them! Ha! It’s called committing political suicide and taking all of the hostages with you…but you will feel better and stronger and self satisfied, and isn’t that what counts at the end of everything? The Republicans say YES!

  17. @ Catherine,

    You’re correct that we can’t get anything very far to left of the conservatives in the Democratic Caucus, and that’s as true of labor laws as it is of health care finance reform (HCFR). But Obama didn’t even bring single-payer to the table, which he should have done. In any negotiation, each party’s goal is to get as much of what they want as they can.

    But you base your bottom-line on two things: (1) What does the other side want? and (2) What can I win in the courts/arbitration (or where ever an impasse ends up)? When you start out saying single-payer is off the table, you shift the set of feasible solutions towards the desires of the Republican corporatists.

    It’s unclear where the current version of HCFR will take us, but even if it shifts the system towards a single-payer system it will take much longer than if we had some sort of half-way house (like a public option) created within the reforms.

  18. No, catherine, I do not “feel better and stronger and self satisfied.” Nor am I an idealist. Materialist all the way for me. But for you to call the ACA (affordable for whom, I would ask) “Health Care reforms” illustrates the gulf between us. What Obama settled for in advance of any serious attempt to live up to his promises doesn’t come close to reform of our dysfunctional health care system. It is difficult to see how such a foundation of loose sand can be built upon. As for the constitutionality of the “mandate,” leftist though I am, I will side with the “no” argument on that. The federal government has no right to tell anyone he or she must buy a product from a private company (save the analogy to car insurance; no one has to drive a car). Telling me that I have to pay Medicare taxes, well that is another matter entirely, and I would gladly have paid a few thousand dollars more a year for “Medicare for all.” Nor would I begrudge anyone who pays less in taxes, or no taxes at all, for access to health care rather than health insurance. In any case Obama himself is happy to let people “suffer” until 2014, just as he is content to wait until God knows when to deliver a “major address” on jobs. Why next month? Surely Thanksgiving will be soon enough. By the way, you know all that talk of returning us to the “rule of law” during his campaign? I believed that, too. Just like Mr. Hanes up-thread. Silly me. And since “utopia” means “no place,” no, I’m not utopian. I just voted enthusiastically for a liar, which does piss me off just a little. And it is still beyond my wildest imaginings that a Democratic President would bring up an increase in the eligibility age for Medicare. Is that what you mean by building upon the ACA? As for the Republicans saying “Yes!”, our President seems to be agreeing with them. Finally, one thing we agree on completely: President Obama and his family will certainly be fine in the future. Of that there can be no doubt!

  19. Andrew: “To some of Obama’s supporters, purging the polity of Dubyan corruption meant, above all, ending wars and restoring civil liberties. To others, it meant ejecting the corporate money-changers from the political temple by freeing politics from lobbying and campaign money. To a third group (more numerous than many progressives realized), it meant what Obama very often said it meant: overcoming the bitter partisanship of the Bush years so that we could all seek common-sense solutions in measured tones. To a final group, the one most likely to listen to Obama’s policy proposals while discounting his rhetoric, it meant repudiating the politics of oligarchy and putting government back on the side of equal opportunity and social welfare.”

    As has been pointed out, this has been more not done than done, and Obama in many cases has been leading the ‘not done’ movement.

    What these malefactors have learned is that even if they trash the country beyond their wildest dreams, they’ll be taken care of, almost 100%. Which means that they’ll do it at least twice as much, the next time that they can. Which is pretty much right now.

  20. @KLG – If you don’t believe that the federal government subsidizing the health care insurance cost of 30,000 million to be health care reform, or doing away with pre-existing conditions, or allowing folks up to age 27 to be insured under their parents plan….then I can tell that you’ll be very happy with a Republican President, because it means you are too far gone, and will always see the glass totally empty. And so, if there are enough of people that think like you do, we will all learn our lesson well (I’ve already been there, done that), just like we did in 2000. Good luck with that, meanwhile I’ll be preparing for just that. Those who would vote against their best interest, I believe many of us have been calling MORANS. Guess Morans are not of any specific party. They are just the folks that vote or don’t vote without really looking at the consequences of their actions and how it ends up affecting them!

  21. KLG, when we (or our grandchildren’s children) get Instant Run-off voting institutionalized then by all means go third party. But until then a third party vote (or staying home) is as good as voting for a Republican. It’s a property of our absurd winner-take-all electoral process. You have to know this is true. It might feel satisfying for a moment but the payments are a bitch.

    This is a very long game we’re in. It likely won’t approach anything you or I could call “good” in our lifetime. The gains are typically partial and fragile. We can build on them, but once lost they’re very difficult to get back.

    And if anyone’s thinking along the lines of primarying Obama then riddle me this:

    S/He’s a well-respected left/center-left figure seeking to throw her career and legacy under the bus in a bid to unseat a sitting Democratic president in a coin-toss electoral position.

    Name that candidate!

  22. “But neither did we expect Obama to had the entire thing over to Max Baucus and his handmaiden from the health care “industry.””

    Um, why not? What part of electing a junior Senator with zero executive experience, who tended to vote “present” on all the tough stuff, didn’t you understand? Qualifications wise, if Obama were some fat white dude, nobody would have given a second thought to electing him President.

  23. @catherine: Just a few points. Nice, calling someone who doesn’t agree with you a “Moran.” One might think you are an intern at OFA. I don’t know how old you are, nor do I care. I have been voting for Democrats, without fail, in every election since 1974. I will continue to do so at the local and state levels. That is probably our only hope. 30,000 million is 30 billion; what are you talking about? Are those subsidies enough to make a real difference? Seems not to be the case for those of my acquaintance at the tender mercies of the private health insurance (sic) market. My daughter is 27 and a graduate student; how has the ACA helped her? I don’t believe that how policy affects me or my family is a legitimate basis for judgment, but are we just supposed to hold our breath and hope she remains healthy? Just askin’? Except for the Lilly Ledbetter Act, how has this president not been essentially a Republican? Except for a facility for rhetoric in the Oval Office, I see mostly a continuation of Bushista nonsense across the board, from the national security state to coddling of the masters of the universe.

    Tim: It is a long game indeed. Obama has only made it considerably longer. And a good case can be made that with this sludge pipeline he will approve, the game is nearly over. We lost. On the other hand, I have the “luxury” of living again in my home state, which has been overrun with lunatics. So my non-vote for Obama will make precisely no difference. I wish that were not so. But if a frog had wings he wouldn’t bump his butt every time he hopped.

    Brett: For once you have me stumped. Well played. Hope your health is holding up.

    And to Professor Kleiman: Did I miss the post where you explained how well Obama played the debt ceiling catastrophe?

  24. I just read the original “New Model Army” post, and it was very insightful. I think it’s main prediction will hold up in 2012: Obama was not a great reforming President, so he will end up being considered a failure. Perhaps even unfairly.

  25. This post is very insightful. However, I get enough Unitarian-slamming jokes from Garrison Keillor. As a Unitarian Universalist, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d pick someone else to make fun of next time, Andy.

    I guess I fall into a fifth group, the group that didn’t support Obama until he’d clinched the nomination, but who were mightily impressed by the organization he built and the potential of that organization to transform American politics. (That may sound like group two, “ejecting the corporate money-changers from the political temple by freeing politics from lobbying and campaign money”, but at least in my case, it’s not.)

    What I didn’t do, and still haven’t done, is read the man’s books. Perhaps I shouldn’t have made the standard assumption, that books written by presidential candidates are cynical exercises in telling people whatever gets that candidate elected.

    The other place where I don’t fall into the four groups outlined above is that, as an actual lefty, I didn’t really expect Obama to deliver the sort of change I was hoping for. I expected him to let down a significant fraction of his supporters, which he has, and I further expected, wrongly, their disappointment could be channeled into action. Maybe it’s too soon to tell on that one. Hope is quick to go flat but takes a while to curdle.

    As a middle-class citizen with good health benefits, I expect the ACA to slightly raise my health care expenditure, and I’m okay with that, given that it’s going to be beneficial to those further down the food chain than me. I’m disappointed that so much of the money to deliver on this is coming from working people’s salaries and benefits and so little of it is being carved out of the health industries profits. Still, it’s a start.

    I’m not even going to think about trying to raise excitement for Obama in 2012. Obama himself has popped the 2008 hope bubble and I don’t think it’s coming back. My Congressional district has a dreadful, horrible, terrible first-term Republican, Tim Griffin, and I’m going to concentrate my efforts on turning him into “One-Term Tim”. I think we can get people excited about that, and that’ll help Obama, assuming he runs again. I wish he wouldn’t, as the Republicans are, unfairly or not, going to hang the economy which they’re ruining around his neck. He seems incapable or unwilling (the latter, I think) of stopping that process, and, unless the economy gets better, I think any given possible Republican is very likely to beat him. But again, as an actual lefty, I’m trying to think in the long-term and hang on to my own version of hope.

  26. “In hindsight, we can see that there were several competing Puritan agendas. To some of Obama’s supporters, purging the polity of Dubyan corruption meant, above all, ending wars and restoring civil liberties. To others, it meant ejecting the corporate money-changers from the political temple by freeing politics from lobbying and campaign money. To a third group (more numerous than many progressives realized), it meant what Obama very often said it meant: overcoming the bitter partisanship of the Bush years so that we could all seek common-sense solutions in measured tones. To a final group, the one most likely to listen to Obama’s policy proposals while discounting his rhetoric, it meant repudiating the politics of oligarchy and putting government back on the side of equal opportunity and social welfare.”

    These goals are in no way incompatible or in conflict with each other. Some people seem to think that the third item (non-partisanship) requires abandoning other progressive ideals, but it doesn’t really. Clinton+Gore got through NAFTA (a non partisan move) but still advanced progressive ideals. Being non-partisan just means looking at the world through an honest lens and speaking honestly. Being non-partisan in no way requires agreeing to whatever the partisans in the opposition demands. What these four ideas add up to is a pretty ho-hum typical progressive agenda.

  27. There’s no way I can do justice to everything in this thread, though of course I’ll deal with pieces of this ongoing debate in later posts.

    I would say to John A Arkansawyer that I have nothing whatsoever against Unitarians (and, if you’ll notice, called myself one metaphorically). But I do think it’s what Hume called a “melancholy truth” that Unitarianism, in common with all reasonable religious denominations that do absolutely no harm to anyone and often a great deal of good, has long found it difficult to attract as many people to worship as more intolerant and zealous faiths do. (This was also a problem for High Church Anglicanism vis-a-vis the fire-and-brimstone Christianity favored by the New Model Army, though granted the Anglicans weren’t harmless back then the way they are, at least outside Africa, now.)

    I suppose I reserve the right to make sardonic comments about the relative political impotence of reasonable religions–literally, or as a metaphor with reasonable and nuanced ideological and political positions–without casting any aspersions whatsoever on their theological/ideological substance, which I much prefer to that of their zealous counterparts.

    In the alternative: I took the joke as I found it, and consider such jokes harmless when the targeted group is the object of no serious bigotry or discrimination that I’m aware of (though I could be wrong). Want to make a joke in turn about Californians, go ahead–and I can recommend lots of good ones.

  28. Interesting post. I even read the comments (a rarity). As a pragmatist who lived through the Clinton years, I have found Obama to be a mind-boggling frustration. Despite how little reason we have to believe that he will accomplish anything, we can still “hope” that he might be liberated to reach for more in a second term. What’s the worst that could happen, we lose Congress? (Ha. Ha.) I doubt even Obama could give the GOP a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, since we are soon to be at our natural low point there as well. Anyhow, I don’t knock doors for any politician I don’t know personally. I’m not a “movement,” liberal. If knocking doors for a local Democrat helps Obama, so be it. If Perry gets the GOP nomination and Trump (or someone) runs as a right-leaning independent, Obama could scrape by with a popular vote plurality. It’s gonna be a wild ride!

  29. I’m with Catherine. Among the most important reasons we are having this conversation is that the multifaceted coalition that got Obama elected abandoned him the day after inauguration. Based on a combination of selfishness, delusion and laziness, we immediately started shooting at his feet. From the first moment where health care advocates insisted that pressure from the left was the ticket to achieving their (completely unrealistic) goal, Obama has not been able to count on ANY support in Congress or the grass roots.

    The conversations I have with even my extremely liberal friends makes me sick. The caviling, the backbiting, the ‘strategic’ undercutting all have made it so that Barack had to seek support elsewhere.

    Like all people, Obama is imperfect but I will work for him as hard as I can. I will vote for him enthusiastically. My only disappointment is with my fellow liberals. I would vote them out in a heartbeat.

    ps, The guy above who said that the failure to prosecute criminals from the previous administration has a good point. Since he was unable to count on support from the left, who can really blame him for not biting that bullet.

  30. After reading this post, I’d like to say that I along with dozen’s of others didn’t rest on my laurels after President Obama got elected. Since 2008, I have tried to remain actively involved in trying to reverse the damage done during the last eight years by the Cheney/Bush junta. It’s been hard. While I am disappointed with President Obama’s leadership I am committed to his re-election. I rather say that I helped re-elect “President Obama,” than say I did nothing and the result was “President Perry,” or “President Bachmann,” or “President Palin.”

    I wasn’t offended by the UU joke. I love my religion and can laugh at its foibles and well as admire its tremendous achievements. Unitarians and Universalists have usually been in the forefront of many social justice movements here and around the world. A list of prominent UUs are here,_Universalists,_and_Unitarian_Universalists.

    There is another UU joke that is germaine to this conversation. The children in a UU church school class were drawing pictures. The teacher asked one, “What are you drawing a picture of?” “I’m drawing a picture of God,” was the reply. “But nobody knows what God looks like,” objected the teacher. “They will,” said the UU child, “when I get my picture done.”

    I , in concert with others,am working for an America free of the TEA-liban and the Republican (Fox News) Party. It will take a popular revolution, led by and of the American people to crush the political power of the TEA-liban and the Fox News party. The recent events in Wisconsin show why it must be done and how difficult it will be to achieve victory. I believe that it will take at least three competent presidents to undo the damage done by one George Bush and his cronies. If Barack Obama can’t do the job, hopefully we’ll find and elect polticians who will.

    That’s my vision, my picture if you will, and like some of the people who’ve shared in this thread, that’s vision I’m working for. So as the British government WWII propaganda signs say “Keep Calm and Carry On.”


  31. The point is not that the “Left” is upset that the President failed as the second coming of FDR.

    The point is that He. Never. Even. Tried. Had he tried and failed in the face of GOP intransigence and general lunacy, the wind at his back would be so strong that we would be on the several paths to recovery, across the board. Instead Barack Obama is still looking for a Grand Bargain that will please the so-called moderates, as if bipartisanship is the end, rather than the means.

    Barack Obama was elected to be a transformational figure. He ran as a transformational figure.

    Among the first things he did after the inauguration was to disband the organization(s) that put him over the top with Hillary Clinton and then allowed him to cruise to victory, albeit with considerable help from McCain, Palin, and the intitial meltdown of the economy.

    Return to the “rule of law”? Same thing.

    Hold accountable the Masters of the Universe who blew up the economy? LOL.

    I’ve asked this before and I’ll ask it again: Does anyone else remember when he asked us to “make him do these things”? Now that was encouraging, for a moment, in that it was an echo of FDR. He didn’t really mean it, did he?

    Bush’s wars of choice? Heh.

    Guantanamo? A cruel joke.

    Bringing KSM to New York to stand trial in a real court of law? Um hmm.

    Raising the Medicare age to 67? WTF! And I don’t mean “Win the Future!”

    Note that few if any of these matters require much support from Congress. And he said he would do these things. No one in his right mind though he would win them all. Or even most of them. But no one thought he would cave, and cave, and cave with essentially nothing to show for it. Well, to be fair, Brett did.

    Here’s what the President reminds me of: A customer who goes into a car dealership and tells the first salesman he sees that he needs a new car (say a Chevrolet Impala) and can spend $750 per month for the next eight years. And then is happy with the “deal” the salesman brings him. But not nearly as happy as the salesman.

    Finally, the “grass roots,” such as they are, elected Barack Obama by voting for him (turns out most of his money came from his other sources, upon whom he is counting this time around). He then proceeded to kick us in the teeth. Repeatedly.

  32. Andy, I suppose I was grumpy this morning, sitting as I was waiting for an unexpectedly painful and expensive dental procedure, and mulling over how what looked like a historic opportunity slipped away. Fire away at whatever religion strikes your fancy, including mine, and I’ll redirect my grump at the Californians I saw festering all over that little town I used to live in, which I visited this morning.

  33. TQ White II, I’m actually embarrassed for you after reading your comment. Poor Barack. He’s like a loyal husband who’s wife complained about the housework too much, so he had no choice but to have an affair. With the entire Republican Party.

  34. I said in 2008 that Obama will have a tough time in 2012 because he promised people so much. Health care for all. Lower taxes for almost all of us. Win two wars. Reduce the deficit. Balance the budget. Restore the economy.

    Just accomplishing one of these items would be a major accomplishment for any administration. There was no way to do all of them at the same time. So of course Obama’s supporters feel disappointed. How could they not? The detractors will have their field day, because it is after all a new day and the political rebranding goes on…

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