Liberals Need to Stop Making Excuses for Obama

obama biden

White House Photo: Pete Souza

Sandy Levinson took Maureen Dowd to task for her column last week, “No Bully in the Pulpit,” which criticized President Obama for failing to pull the votes together to get the gun control bill through the Senate.  “Now it’s Maureen Dowd who can’t connect the dots,” he said.

She thinks Obama should have played hardball with the holdout Democrats and attempted to recruit more Republican support.  In particular, the President shouldn’t have left the cajoling up to Joe Biden.  For Dowd, it’s always personalities, and never structures, that explain the American political system.  So she’s my latest candidate among Times‘ columnists who simply cannot connect the dots between political outcomes and the structures established in the Constitution. For Sandy, “the egregious outcome is best explained by our egregious Constitution and the allocation of voting power in the Senate.”

Sandy is, of course, right that structure matters. But Dowd is also right that a president’s effectiveness in using the powers of his office also matters. Other presidents have faced structural barriers to achieving their goals. Some presidents have been more successful than others at moving forward in the face of opposition. Structure alone does not determine political outcomes.

The more we explain away failures during Obama’s presidency as the inevitable consequence of political structures, the more we put off an urgent analysis of the failures of the president himself. And the more we put off the political work that liberals and progressives need to engage in: marshaling our own efforts against a president we once supported.

We have a liberal president who has used his powers to institutionalize and legitimize targeted killing, but who was unable to use a powerful political moment — the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings — to get gun control through the Senate, who has escalated the rate of deportations, and who is silent as prisoners appear to try to kill themselves at Guantánamo, a prison he promised to close. With no substantial push-back from the left, the direction of compromise is of course toward the right. And so, if we are to focus on structure, the absence of more powerful progressive opposition becomes its own feature of the broader political structure. As liberals remain hopeful and wait, the only meaningful political push-back is from the right.

In his second term, Obama won’t need to worry about electoral consequences, of course, but he should be worrying about his legacy. It won’t be long after the 2016 election that we will turn to assessing the Obama presidency. At that point, we will tally up the successes and the failures, of which gun control is surely one.

mary l dudziakBut the time for liberal and progressive pundits and intellectuals to voice their disappointment in this presidency is now, when a chorus of criticism from formerly loyal supporters might serve as a wake-up call before this truly becomes a lame-duck administration. It’s time for liberals to stop making excuses for Obama, but instead to hold him accountable.

Mary L. Dudziak

Republished with permission from History News Network

Monday, 29 April 2013



  1. Joseph Maizlish says

    Questions like whether or how much to blame Obama, or what he intended, or what his positions really are, or who he really is, or how we ought to feel about him are a distraction from the more basic question of who WE are, each of us, and what we advocate and oppose, and how we best do each, independent of what we think the president or any other public figure believes, or wants, or is.

  2. orange curtain says

    Please Please Please stop using Sandy Hook, Newtown Massacre to create your arguments. America has no idea what actually went down there and the media clearly has no interest investigating the truth. Blame Obama fo GitMo and Drones and status quo banker rekationships. Please don’t fall onto the Newtown Sandy Hook Assault weapons propaganda distraction.

  3. clarabu says

    The time to let Obama know he was not fulfilling his promises was in the previous administration period. He seems to take all liberal votes and support for granted. I for one, am ashamed that I ever advised anyone to vote for the man…

  4. JoeWeinstein says

    This article’s title says it all. It’s way beyond time – arguably 4 years too late – to insist on common-sense from Obama – whether you do it as a ‘liberal’ or as a ‘progressive’ or as a ‘libertarian’ or even, yes, as a true ‘conservative’ or ‘patriot’. Unfortunately the text’s first three intro paragraphs are needless and could better have been omitted. I found them utterly and pointlessly confusing as to who was getting quoted about what, and who in each case was meant by ‘he’ or ‘she’.

  5. Gary100 says

    I completely agree! In spite of the efforts of PDA and other progressives in the Democratic Party, we will never have a progressive president in the white house if we don’t criticize the one we have. Avoiding holding President Obama accountable does not lend credibility to the Democratic Party. Promoting candidates for President because they are “electable” because they can attract large corporate related contributions corrupts and betrays the original vision of the Democratic Party as the party of the working class. Or is it a foregone conclusion that it is not, and has not been for a very long time? – Gary

  6. harry wood says

    The people in Getmo would walk behind you on the street and shoot you in the back and the have no regrets. Their own countries refuse to allow them to return home as they would kill people there. They put little value on life and that includes their own and you feel sorry for them. What do you feel for those they would kill?

    • Gary100 says

      Harry Wood says, “The people of Getmo would walk behind you on the street and shoot you in the back and have no regrets.” An how do you know this? That’s a sweeping statement about over 130 prisoners, 80 of whom have been absolved of wrong doing and yet are still in prison.
      – Gary

  7. says

    Obama is a far-right President (further to the Right of GWB in many aspects.) He expanded on all of the worst of Cheney’s policies, lied us into war to bring about “regime change” by “ousting” a man who RENOUNCED ALL FORMAL POWER IN 1976! This same man, incidentally, was called “The Greatest Champion of Human Rights in the World” by Nelson Mandela. (This bombing, without Congressional approval, based on Lies that both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had reported as being lies, is indisputably Terrorism by either the US or British legal definitions, as well as the Dictionary definition of the word.)
    I find it stretches the limits of credulity to suggest that ANYONE fit for the label “Liberal” “Progressive”, or frankly anything short of “Fascist Warmonger” would have supported him for re-election, especially after he had Secret Service chain the ACTUAL Progressive candidate to a desk for 8 hours to keep her away from media.

  8. martaz says

    No self-respecting true liberal (or progressive, if you prefer) would make any excuses for Obama– a man who has followed every single Bush precept and then upped it. He’s a disgrace to the party of FDR, and should have run as a reactionary Republican, because that is exactly how he’s acted.


      Did you vote for him or are you just another Hater with an opinion. There are two parties in congress and one is full Elephant Crap.

      • martaz says

        YOU’RE the hater, not me.
        Since you so “politely” asked: In 2012 I voted Green. In 08 for Obama.
        Two weeks in, Obama gave progressives a clear message: He’d never intended to keep his campaign promises. We’d voted for a corporatist war hawk.
        He’s appointed Geithner, Rahm Emanuel, McChrystal, Petraeus, Michael Taylor― former VP and key lobbyist for
        Monsanto― to head the FDA. These are only some of the right-wing appointments he’s made.
        He escalated the war(s). Escalated drone programs outside and even INSIDE the US. He bombed Pakistan ― our supposed ally― killing mostly civilians.
        He bragged about his Kill List.
        He gave Billions to Wall Street without any strings attached, ignoring the pain of the foreclosed. Never bothered to try to regulate the industry, or bring any of the criminals to justice
        Agreed or caved in to nearly every right-wing legislation proposed by Republicans. His health care is worse than nothing for the majority of US taxpayers.
        What is clear to me is that Democrats are more intelligent in their rhetoric, and better-skilled at spinning lies. Their actions― with rare exceptions― are nearly identical to the Republicans.
        There is only ONE party in government― and that is the corporations.
        If you say Bush and Cheney and the rest of that lot are monsters. I’d absolutely agree. But if you believe Obama or most of the Democrats now in power are any better, you might want to hone your research skills.

      • martaz says

        In today’s news:
        Obama nominated telecom industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler to head the Federal Communications Commission.
        Obama also nominated Rep. Mel Watt to be the next director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Wheeler is a venture capital investor and friend of Obama.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *