Should Progressives Stop Criticizing Obama?

obama yellow tapeAccording to longtime progressive activist Tom Hayden, “when African American voters favor Obama 94%-6% and the attacks are coming from the white liberal-left, something needs repair in the foundations of American radicalism.” Hayden’s claim that Obama’s achievements “are dismissed or denied by many on the white liberal-left,” reflects a troubling reality: unlike their forebears from the 1930’s through the 1960’s, many white progressives ignore the priorities of working class communities of color yet still claim to speak for a progressive “movement.”

While Obama draws overwhelming support among African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, single women and organized labor, some progressives continue to attack him. But with Romney-Ryan posing a dire threat to progressive interests, this criticism should stop until after Election Day.

From his Port Huron Statement in 1962 through today, Tom Hayden remains a visionary political strategist of the left. He has been there and done that. His claims about the disconnect between the white liberal-left and communities of color were reaffirmed as we watched African-Americans wildly cheering and even crying during Barack Obama’s speech while many white progressives were talking online about Obama’s ongoing failures.

As someone who began criticizing activists in 2009 for giving Obama a “pass,” I do not believe Hayden is urging progressives to remain forever silent as the President betrays the progressive movement. I think his deeper point is that too many white progressives see their views and policy opinions as defining and constituting “the progressive movement,” irrespective of the attitudes of working class communities of color they claim to represent. As a result, such progressives continue to criticize the President despite deep concern in these communities about the prospect of Republicans winning the White House.

The Progressive “Movement”

A true progressive movement considers how low-income African American and Latino communities feel about policies and politicians. There is no progressive movement without these constituencies, and when the Green Party tried to build a primarily white national base it quickly failed. Despite this failure, many whites on the left continue to act as if they have the power to define “progressive,” charging communities of color that do not share their positions with betraying the cause.

In the 1930’s through the 1960’s, progressives routinely backed Democratic Presidents and nominees who had strong labor and minority support. Progressives enthusiastically backed FDR in each of his races despite questioning many of his actions, and similarly backed a very moderate John Kennedy in his race against Richard Nixon.

Progressives never trusted Lyndon Johnson but went all out for him during his 1964 race against Barry Goldwater. And while some on the left backed third party progressive Henry Wallace over Democrat Harry Truman in 1948, unlike Obama Truman was never elected by voters and never had progressive support. Even then, so many progressives went along with Truman for the good of the broader liberal coalition that he prevailed over Republican Dewey in a three-way race (and Dewey was a New York Republican in an era when such politicians were far, far to the left of the current GOP)

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, white progressives joined multi-racial political coalitions that elected activist black mayors and congresspersons, transforming urban politics in the United States. But today, some on the left view black and Latino allegiance to the Democratic Party as an obstacle to progressive change. These critics, described by some as O’bummers, have become estranged from what now constitutes the national progressive electoral coalition.

In reading progressive criticism of Obama during the convention, I was struck how many of the issues upon which Obama is denounced–his positions on whistleblowing, drones, domestic surveillance and excessive U.S. militarism—do not resonate with the working people and/or people of color who see Obama’s re-election as vital for their futures.

While some progressive criticism is directed at Obama’s handling of health care and the economy, the purpose of these attacks at this moment in history is unclear. Pre-election pressure last spring moved Obama on gay marriage and the DREAM Act, but we are now at a stage when it’s a choice between two starkly different visions for America. I understand that some are angry that Obama’s past betrayals of progressives are being overlooked amidst the rallying around his re-election, but attacking the President in the two months before Election Day is a counter-productive way to express such bitterness.

With the stakes so high, progressives continuing to criticize Obama should not make believe that they are acting on behalf of a “movement. ” Rather, such criticism reflects their disconnection from the young people, single women, gays and lesbians, union members and multi-racial constituencies that provide the groundwork for a winning national progressive electoral base.

randy shawIt’s Republicans not progressives who highlight taking care of their own needs rather than working with others for a common goal. For progressives, that common goal must be re-electing President Obama, which means stopping criticism of the President until after he is re-elected.

Randy Shaw
Beyond Chron

Posted: Monday, 10 September 2012


  1. like-mind says

    It’s amazing how allergic some Progressives Commenters here are to realism. The Author reasonably argues there is a time for public criticism, and a time for public unity. In response, those who disagree go all characteristically hyperbolic.

    It is pitiful when Progressives remain blind to the tragic lesson provided by those of their number who brought GOP to power by voting for Nader. Can they not add 2+2=4, that their doing so directly led to the hideous BushW-Cheney Iraq War debacle they so deplore? I consider such Progressives irresponsible, always demanding perfect alignment of others with their demands — never owning-up to their own deleterious actions (because they are hypnotized in rapture as to their own purity).

  2. marta says

    So, to be considered a “good” democrat, progressives MUST follow orders and vote for the man who has been the the LEAST progressive Democrat in my voting history?”

    Not me. Marching in lockstep requires obedient mindlessness. I vote for the person, not the uniform, and presently Democrats and Republican are indistinguishable.

    These last 4 years Obama has shown he’s a murderous war hawk who has allowed an unregulated Wall Street run (and ruin) the economy.

    Lesser of two evils? Just because he repealed ‘don’t ask don’t tell?” Big deal. That just means even more soldiers are being killed for corporate profit. And wait till they bring back the draft. Then, there won’t even be the option of “checking the box” to get out of future wars.

  3. U.S. Citizen says

    I disagree with Shaw and was a bit surprised at how easy Hayden was on Obama. However, I will still vote for him as the lesser of the evils even as the evils get more so. Voting Republican is not an option and the other alternatives to voting for Obama are not viable. I will also hold my nose and keep my eyes open.
    It is possible to vote for Obama and criticize at the same time. Most of the criticism of Obama’s policies are in areas where Romney would be worse. We can’t delude ourselves that Obama is so great. He’s still a Clinton corporatist but Romney is a regressive, uber-corporatist. A lot of the difference is in degrees and some of it, Obama is much better.
    We have more of a chance of changing Obama. So, point out that Obama isn’t great but Romney is worse.

  4. says

    Both the Democrats and the Republicans are funded for, and working in the interests of, the financial capitalists (popularly know as the top 1%). These people have but one goal in life—to get richer by any means. They are immoral and unethical people lacking any sympathy and compassion for anyone not in their economic class.

    Randy says we must re elect the man who signed the NDAA late on New Year’s Eve that deprived us of our right to a trial if accused of a crime. This is a complete repudiation of our Constitution. President Obama has used that awful piece of legislation to order people MURDERED, (no trial, no charge made against that person) because some unknown person suspects the person to be a ‘terrorist’ (with no explanation of what is a ‘terrorist’).

    I think the people of this nation must end our two party system where we are limited to choosing which is the lesser evil of the only two ‘viable’ candidates put forward by the financial capitalists. This is an intolerable condition. We must REJECT this limitation on our democracy. If many of us refuse to vote for either a D or an R, we can lower the vote count of the corrupt duo and perhaps reach a tipping point where voters in great numbers vote for the ‘minor’ or ‘third party’ candidates. Maybe then we can get a government that heeds the voice of the constituents over that of the contributors. Maybe money will not then be able to buy the government. We can then get people with ethics and morals to serve in our government.

  5. dusty says

    I am glad that progressives have so much power and such a following that discourse among ourselves is cause for worry for the national campaign of the incumbent. It would be hard to find examples of changing an elected politicians platform after the election is over unless you have the money to pay the bribes (i.e. donations for the next campaign or junket), and progressives seem to lack that kind of cash. It seems to me that one can both work for a candidate but also speak to issues that are important — women’s issues, civil rights issues, torture issues, employment and unemployment benefits, etc all need to be addressed as well as seeking peace not war and if the candidate is unclear or murky on issues then that is her/his problem, not the problem of the voter who is attempting to be more than a cipher to be ignored both now and in the future.

  6. says

    Excellent points, Randy.
    As a lifelong Democrat – at one point, I was called a liberal but that’s been changed now to “progressive” – I have no use for those fellow progressives who say they’ll vote for Jill Stein or some other third party candidate because they are upset with Obama for one reason or another. When I hear this, especially from those who live in swing states, I remind of something Sen. Bernie Sanders also says “Voting with your heart rather than your head is casting a vote for Romney.” Some 25,000 Floridians voted for Nader in 2000 because that’s what their heart told them to do and look who and what we got as a result.
    No, the president isn’t perfect – no politician is – but when progressives fault him for Afghanistan or not insisting on single payer health reform or whatever, they act like right wing trollops with their litmus test for GOP candidates. If a Republican doesn’t make every point on their checklist (abortion + cut taxes + cut spending + + +), then they’ll vote ’em out of office. It behooves progressives to act like progressives, like adults, and think about the ramification of voting for either a third party candidate or sitting out 2012.

  7. What says

    Wait until after election to make demands and express major disappointments and shortcomings? With astute left wing strategist like Shaw no wonder progressives are so powerful. This guy is a joke.

  8. eX2Vote says

    Right on target!! Let us focus on getting him re-elected!!!! Then work for better…. What are your chances with Romney????”

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