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‘I love Obama’ ‘You’re infatuated’ (The argument on the left)

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In recent days Phil Weiss, who loves Obama, and Michael Smith, who doesn’t, have exchanged emails on the question. We feel that this argument is happening across the lib-left spectrum. So, we wanted to share it.


The other day you cautioned me against swooning for Obama. You said that he let out only 46 prisoners when he should have let out thousands, and that both parties are wings of the same bird, capitalism.

I can’t quarrel with either of your points, but I love him right now. Our disagreement reminds me of a conversation I had in 2009 in Cairo with Bill Ayers. I said Obama is a man of the left and he said, horse manure he’s an ambitious pol. He’s not a man of the left. Well I think he is, and let me tell you why.

Of course it depends how you define left, but on several issues I care deeply about, from opening Cuba to healthcare to racial justice to, most important, the Iran deal, Obama is pushing the country left, trying to solidify gains that will make his presidency historic. Palestine was also clearly on that list, given his description of the humiliations of the occupation in Cairo in ’09, but he was stopped cold by the Israel lobby and did not have the political smarts to know how to take it on, or the political base to be able to maneuver.

Now he seems much freer. His speech to the White House Correspondents dinner where he had an “anger translator” who expressed racial resentment, his “bucket” (Fuck it) list where he said he didn’t give a shit about any political consideration, his inspiring performance in Charleston, his mastery at the press conference two weeks ago in answering criticisms of his Iran deal and the signs that he is solidifying support in the Congress, and his visit to the El Reno prison at which he stated There but for the grace of God go I and many of you too, motioning at the reporters—these are great political moments for me, they show someone who wants to use what power he has to do good in what time he has left. The era of passivity and fecklessness is coming to an end.

46 prisoners, not thousands. Of course. There would be a political rebellion if he freed more. No president had ever visited a prison. He supports capitalism. Of course. The country is capitalist, and it’s not in the power of a president to change that. I share your economic values. I’ve tried to live my life that way. (And let me brag that my wife hits a higher mark than Obama because she visits a NY prison every week.) But the great majority of Americans don’t agree with us, and not all their attitudes are the product of corporate brainwashing; the country is a democracy with vast sections of conservative opinion and human piggishness; and he is a political animal who must make his way in that world of polling and elections and material benchmarks of progress– and try and force the country left in his way.

My greatest objection to him on a continuing basis is the extrajudicial killings, Guantanamo, and the use of violence across the Middle East. Yes, I hold him responsible (and I’m to blame too for supporting the Libya intervention). At the same time I accept Tolstoy’s formulation, that these guys have remarkably little power, that the convergence of forces on someone at the top are tremendous, like nothing we face in our little lives. They have to cut deals all the time. Freeing thousands of prisoners would mean he loses the Iran Deal, on which he has staked all his personal and political capital. He probably gave up the West Bank to keep Israel from attacking Iran…. Of course that’s ugly, and I criticized the absence of any real response to ongoing settlements; but it’s not as if he didn’t want to do the right thing. And now he has more of a chance. Wherever there is power, the agents of influence descend. Just look at our dear friends at the Nation Magazine. It is clearly on the left and also disappoints us editorially in several ways, notably Palestine. But must we not acknowledge the Nation has a wide audience, and many forces contend on the Nation’s leadership, limiting its autonomy? The forces operating on Obama are a thousand times that. Still he’s going out with a bang.

I feel that the radical left must express special reservations about Obama now because they feel the left slipping on this question. They hear the folks like me celebrating Obama, they don’t want to lose the lib-left to an accommodation of the political status quo. They want to hold out for fundamental change in the system, and want the Nation crowd and independent lefties like myself in the campaign. And god knows you have a far longer history of political activism than I do.

But much as I seek a far-reaching transformation of the system and our foreign policy, I am cheering Obama on. So I love him: I feel that in the real world of power politics he is doing his utmost to leave a mark.

And by the way I think his post presidency is going to be even better: he indicated as much in Africa, he will follow the Carter model, and use his power freed of partisan constraints to model a better world, and stake his reputation on racial and economic justice, global warming, and someday, Palestine.

Michael Smith:

I would be disappointed in my dear friend Phil Weiss if in dietary advice to his readership he told them he had just polished off a McDonald’s double cheeseburger with bacon and fries and a Coke and, in accordance with McDonald’s advertising slogan, he was “lovin’ it”. So I was truly disappointed to learn from Phil that he was “lovin’ Obama” a past master at branding – after all, his 2008 campaign won an award from the advertising industry.

After the President recently visited a prison, commuted the sentences of 46 people, and signed a deal with Iran, all of which caused you to write that you were “lovin'” the man. Obama has been president for 6-1/2 years. Phil you should know better.

You call him a “man of the left “. He appointed John Brennan, the CIA torturor, to head the agency. Every Tuesday he meets with him in the White House to decide who to murder extrajudicially by drones. Victims have included American citizens. He has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all the presidents before him combined. He supports a secret practice that records every keystroke we make on our computers and calls we make on our phones. He sabotaged the carbon emissions caps at the Copenhagen Conference and has given the OK for drilling in pristine Arctic waters even as it has just been predicted that sea levels will rise 10 feet in the next 50 years. He refused to prosecute the torturers in the Bush administration that engineered the illegal war against Iraq, the supreme crime because aggressive war incorporates within it all other crimes. His health care “reform” is something only the insurance companies and big pharma could love inasmuch as it was a product of the right wing Heritage Foundation and first initiated in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney. His opening to Cuba was made out of necessity because after 54 years of trying to isolate Cuba and destroy the anti-capitalist revolution, it was United States that was isolated from the rest of the world, not Cuba.

Calling Obama a “man of the left ” as you do Phil, renders the word “left” meaningless.

For political people, like those who read Mondoweiss, there are three useful precepts to keep in mind. One: follow the money. Two: political parties represent classes. Three: social change comes from below. Proof of this are the victories of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the movement against the war in Vietnam. They all came from the self -organized activity of masses of people. Look at what BDS and Black Lives Matter have accomplished. By contrast, the Democratic Party historically has been the graveyard of social movements. I learned this lesson the hard way in l964 when I voted for Lyndon Johnson, who promised to end the war in Vietnam. Instead he escalated it. That was the first and last time I supported a Democrat. The massive anti-war marches in New York City and Washington, D.C. and in many cities across the country, the tens of thousands of student activists on campuses, the student strike, and most of all the reluctance of American GIs to fight was what ended it: Not the Democratic Party or its people in Congress.

Precepts one and two are illustrated by the following story as told by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Ron Suskind. Three months after he was elected, the faux liberal President called a meeting of the nation’s top 13 financial executives in the spring of 2009. These were the people whose policies had caused the economy to collapse. Obama had a majority of Democrats in both the Senate and the House. They were plenty scared when they arrived in the state dining room. Obama could’ve reined in the banks with new laws so it would not happen again, prosecuted the banksters, created a jobs program for the millions who were unemployed, and bailed out the millions who had lost their homes.

But instead of supporting those who were most harmed by the titans of finance he totally supported them. “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” Obama said. “You guys have an acute public relations problem that’s turning into a political problem. And I want to help…I’m not here to go after you. I’m protecting you…I am going to shield you from congressional and public anger”. Phil, you are on the wrong side. You should be with the pitchforks.

That social change comes from below is clear from the effects that the Black Lives Matter movement has already had. For one thing, it put Obama into a federal prison, if only for a day on a visit. Ditto for the BDS movement in exposing and delegitimizing Israel, something that neither Obama nor the Democrats have dared to do because of who makes large donations to the Democratic Party. As we learned from the Occupy Wall Street movement – which was decimated by a coordinated Federal campaign of surveillance, infiltration, and violent assault with the lion’s share of the repression carried out by Democratic-run city governments across the country – the Democratic Party is one wing of the 1%. (See Paul Street’s excellent article called “The Liberal Apologies for Obamas Ugly Reign” in Counterpunch.)

Phil, I disagree with you when you write that this country “is a democracy”. American elections pitting Tweedledee against Tweedledum (dumber) are a managed affair at best. They are staged every four years as “yet another method for marginalizing the population .” (Noam Chomsky, October 27, 2004).

You know of course about the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that corporations are persons with First Amendment rights and therefore can give all they want to an election campaign. Without a sense of irony, the court ruled that corporations have a free speech right. “Money doesn’t talk, it screams” sang Bob Dylan. I’ll believe a corporation is a person the day one gets a colonoscopy.

I also disagree with your characterization of most Americans as “conservatives”. This is factually untrue. Three years ago when I co-edited the book “Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA,” the Pew organization took a poll which revealed that 49% of young people under the age of 30 had a favorable reaction to socialism. The latest poll revealed that 49% of ALL people had a favorable reaction. The population is well ahead of the politicians. In fact half the country is so fed up with them they don’t bother to vote. Why encourage them?

Great then. What we all need is our own party. We remember what Gene Debs said: “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it then vote for something I don’t want and get it.”

The role liberals play is that they deflect and divert people and at best prevent them from achieving this. Even worse, as Thomas Frank has written, (he) “initially supported Obama, (and) came to the conclusion that the Tea Party takeover of Congress in 2010 would not have happened if Obama had actually governed in accord with the progressive and popular sentiment of the citizens who voted for him instead of the dictates of the nation’s corporate and financial masters (who green lighted his candidacy after screening him and bankrolled his campaign.” (See Street article, ibid)

Phil, your infatuation with and hopes for Obama are misplaced and your apologies for his actions disappointing. What must your readers who are in solidarity with the Palestinians in opposition to the Zionist colonial settler state think when you excuse Obama for not supporting the Palestinians in the West Bank? You could lead in explaining why we need our own political organization that would be for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, the lifting of the seize of Gaza, and the right of return for the Palestinians. Instead, you mislead people in suddenly bestowing sincerity and virtue on a man who has so ably governed for the one per cent. They got their money’s worth when they selected and bankrolled him. You even threw yourself into the bargain.

Michael Steven Smith is a longtime supporter of Mondoweiss. He is a New York City attorney and author and the co-host with Michael Ratner and Heidi Boghosian of the radio show Law and Disorder ( on the net).

Michael Steven Smith

Michael Steven Smith is the co-host of "Law and Disorder Radio" ( and the author of the recent book “Lawyers for the Left”.

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J'ai 27 ans (2019) et je suis titulaire un master droit pénale.

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43 Responses

  1. Scott on August 4, 2015, 2:41 pm

    I’m not sure who wins the argument: is it about whether “the Left” should love Obama? Probably not. Obama might well be a liberal Republican, of the sort that doesn’t exist anymore as a part of the GOP coalition. But to me, that makes him completely lovable, even on issues where I don’t necessarily agree with him. Plus he’s smart and cool and great to see as president; I haven’t been voting as long as Michael Smith (McGovern my first vote) but Obama is far and away my favorite president.

  2. Bandolero on August 4, 2015, 2:44 pm

    Why so black and white? Every US president had laubable accomplishments. Even George W. Bush had, though he was a blindly aggressive war criminal like the world had not seen one for a long time. He, for example, handed over Iraq to Tehran, thereby seriously strenghtening Iran and the resistance against Zionism, and, because he tirelessly worked in the middle east strenghtening Iran, and – besides a half hearted coup attempt he tolerated a left government in Venezuela thereby strenghtening the left in south America and he put a blind eye to the rise of Communist China, thereby facilitating the nearing end of 500 years colonialist rule over the world.

    Now to Obama:

    Yes, I hold him responsible (and I’m to blame too for supporting the Libya intervention).

    I may add some points to Obama’s aggressive war of choice on Libya:
    – orchestrating a bloody coup against the left in Honduras
    – aggrevating the suffering of Afghanistan with a bloody surge
    – supporting “Operation Scorched Earth” in Yemen
    – plunging Syria into deadly chaos
    – supporting Israeli massacres in Palestine
    – pushing Ukraine into a civil war

    On other points Obama’s record is mixed so far. Take Iran: One time he supported US-Israeli terrorist acts against Iran, but now he pushed through a historic deal with Iran, which may prove successful in the future in hampering Israel’s desire for a US-led war on Iran. Take Iraq: He ended the US occupation, but supported a bloody terrorist uprising against the government there, only to reverse course later and support now Iraqs government fighting terrorists in Iraq. Mixed at best are Obama’s records also on other countries like Egypt, China and Russia. Than Obama also leads the battle to isolate China, Russia and India with TPP, TiSA and TTIP, thereby trying to spark a new cold war. Or is it an attempt to push China, Russia and India into building a solid alliance thereby ending colonialism? Then it would be laudable I think.

    Besides the Iran deal – the fruits of it are yet to materialize – what else can one count as Obama’s accomplishments? Is waging US-led wars by proxy means and therefore more cost effective an accomplishment that counts? Well, maybe opening up to Cuba is. But I suspect it was only done to provide the CIA a better base for a new color revolution attack on Cuba.

    • Rusty Pipes on August 4, 2015, 8:36 pm

      “provide the CIA a better base for a new color revolution attack on Cuba”? Well, you know what they say in Latin America: Why hasn’t there ever been a coup in the US? Because there’s no American embassy in its capitol.

      • RoHa on August 5, 2015, 3:35 am

        “Because there’s no American embassy in its capitol. ”

        Nor is there an American embassy in its capital.

      • Bandolero on August 5, 2015, 9:01 am

        Rusty Pipes

        .. what they say in Latin America: Why hasn’t there ever been a coup in the US?

        See, not everything “they” say in Latin America makes sense. Of course there has already happened a coup in the US. What else was it that happened on 22/11/1963? Of course that was a bloody coup. That many mass media don’t call it a coup can’t be an argument, that’s the norm for most of Latin American coups, too.

  3. yourstruly on August 4, 2015, 3:02 pm

    Pardoning 46 prisoners was a nice gesture, whereas, pardoning every nonviolent inmate would have been an act of liberation. Obama’s 2008 campaign had populist tendencies, his two terms in office , except for an occasional bone that he throws to progressives, have been mostly status quo or worse. Given that time is running out (on account of global warming + perpetual war = doomsday), Weiss may love President Obama, but many of the rest of us are in agreement with Michael Smith – that he bamboozled the public into believing he would bring about meaningful change.

  4. amigo on August 4, 2015, 3:11 pm

    I think it would be more apt to dissect Obama,s Presidency after the Iran vote and more importantly at the end of his presidency.The landscape may just look entirely different . I refer only to the I/P issue as that is what this site is all about.

  5. Keith on August 4, 2015, 4:03 pm

    Lordy, lordy, anyone who suggests that Obama is moving the country to the left should get some therapy. By his appointments and actions, Obama has demonstrated that he is a neocon’s neocon and a warmonger’s warmonger. The neocon Nuland’s Ukrainian coup and war risks nuclear war with Russia to advance the neocon goal of imperial hegemony. The temporary lull in anti-Iranian hostilities allows Obama to declare a no-fly zone over parts of Syria as the empire pursues the complete destruction of that poor country. And Obama’s neoliberal credentials are impeccable, the TPP but the latest example of Obama leading the class war against the 99%. This administration is easily the worst in history, continuing a trend begun following World War II. But give Obama credit in one area, he is a consummate con man.

    On the positive side, at least your friend Michael Smith appears knowledgeable.

  6. marc b. on August 4, 2015, 5:13 pm

    I join you, Keith, with another ‘no’ vote. Cuba/Iran are tactical maneuvers. At best, he is engaged in legacy building for personal purposes and for continuity sake for the democratic party. The Dems smell dissatisfaction in the ranks with the hot mess Obama terms 1 and 1/2 have cooked.

    • Keith on August 5, 2015, 4:59 pm


      Welcome back, stranger! Seems some of the saner commenters are commenting less frequently leaving me the de facto odd man out.

      Speaking of delusions, I have toyed with the thought that Phil is actually playing devil’s advocate in an attempt to elicit comments which it would be impolitic for him to say. One simply doesn’t bite the hand that funds you. Since I am unaware of any actual evidence to back up this pleasant thought, it is but low probability wishful thinking. It still seems inconceivable to me that anyone could actually believe that Obama is moving to the left.

      Reading some of the other comments, there are still way too many folks looking for excuses to justify this unjustifiable administration. I find it interesting that there are some folks who would scoff at the notion that Eichmann was just following orders are now making essentially the same claim for Obama. Jeez, his hands are tied, no room to maneuver, he is just following orders! Oh sure, hold Bush and Cheney accountable for war crimes, but Obama is just following orders! Incredible! This failure to hold people accountable is one reason we are where we are. Masochists for Obama! Masochists for Hillary! Masochists for Bernie! This is why I have so little hope for the future. Thank God I’m retired and won’t have to put up with all of the bullshit that the young folks will have to endure. I’m serious.

  7. Ismail on August 4, 2015, 5:27 pm

    Phil zero, Michael 1. Game over.

    By the way, Michael, it’s “Money doesn’t talk, it swears”, not “screams”.

  8. joemowrey on August 4, 2015, 7:39 pm

    Phil is delusional on this matter. He has lost his moral compass. It saddens me to read the nonsense he wrote in this exchange. Would Phil “love” the Leader of China if he was directly ordering the bombing and killing of hundreds of civilians in towns and villages around the U.S. on the pretext that he was just killing “terrorists?” Could Phil sit down with the surviving families of all the victims of Obama’s aggression and tell them to their face that he loves this killer?

    Barack Obama is indisputably a mass murder and a war criminal. He has waged more direct and proxy wars than any president in our history. He is a dangerous sociopath who should be on trial in the Hague. What else needs to be said?

    • ziusudra on August 5, 2015, 4:45 am

      Greetings Joe mowrey,

      Kings, Popes & even Emperors have had to compromise.
      . Euro Jewry survived by compromise from 200BC to 1938AD.
      . Martin Luther survived by compromise.
      . Marquis de Sade also compromised.
      The Catholic Church survived Napolean & Hitler in compromise.
      Even Genghis Khan had to walk the line, etc.
      These entities or individuals had had to compromise to get
      the main changes for a majority leaving other to be sacrificed.
      Survival demands its price.

      • joemowrey on August 5, 2015, 9:26 am

        If your entire family was wiped out in a drone strike ordered by Obama would you still think his actions represent some sort of justifiable “compromise?” Would you still say you “love” Obama because of his views on Cuba? In my opinion, such a view is an obscenity.

        There are no ends which can justify the slaughter of countless innocents. If you truly believe that, then you too have lost your moral compass.

  9. JLewisDickerson on August 4, 2015, 8:01 pm

    RE: “In recent days Phil Weiss, who loves Obama, and Michael Smith, who doesn’t, have exchanged emails on the question.”

    MY COMMENT: Alright guys, either kiss and make up or take it outside!

  10. Bumblebye on August 5, 2015, 5:29 am

    John, for your current avatar – trump in northern England is commonly used as an alternative to f*rt.

  11. Richard Morris on August 5, 2015, 8:59 am

    Michael and Phil
    I think Michael wins hands down
    A British man has languished for 13 years in Guantanamo without any evidence lodged of any crime
    Israel has for the whole of Obama’s tenure broken every international law, and caused anguish to the Palestinians.
    If it is not the time to defy the Jewish lobby then when?
    When he retires and imitates Carter?
    Too late for dead babies, traumatised children and racist attacks
    I have just finished Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, a searing indictment of the wholesale imprisonment of millions of African Americans and 3 years since her republishing of the book African Americans die daily on America’s streets
    46 freed ???
    I like the man but true leadership needs another Abraham Lincoln
    Richard Morris

  12. romweb on August 5, 2015, 9:30 am

    Well Phil as usual you like to promote debate which is a good thing. But your picking and choosing which topics you like Obama about is the same logic folks use for me to vote for Ms. Clinton which will never happen. To me the problem with your argument is that it puts way too much emphasis on leaders. For me , M. Smith wins the day by pointing out, “Three: social change comes from below. Proof of this are the victories of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the movement against the war in Vietnam. They all came from the self -organized activity of masses of people. Look at what BDS and Black Lives Matter have accomplished “

  13. bintbiba on August 5, 2015, 9:49 am

    @ Terry Weber

    Totally agree with you !

    “To me the problem with your argument is that it puts way too much emphasis on leaders. For me , M. Smith wins the day by pointing out, “Three: social change comes from below. Proof of this are the victories of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the movement against the war in Vietnam. They all came from the self -organized activity of masses of people. Look at what BDS and Black Lives Matter have accomplished”

  14. Stephen Shenfield on August 5, 2015, 9:55 am

    My study of Obama’s childhood and youth ( convinced me that the young Obama did have some genuine sympathy with the left. That in itself makes him unique among US presidents. At the same time he developed a very tough ‘realistic’ view of the world as it is and was prepared to do whatever it took to ‘make it’.

    And he did in fact achieve the astonishing feat (for a leftist of any kind) of infiltrating the US establishment. In the process his leftism, never very strong to begin with, inevitably became even more dilute. It appears that some trace or residue remains, though hardly enough to justify a label like ‘man of the left.’

    I don’t understand how any person with leftist ideals can love Obama without being deluded or in denial about the man’s unsavory aspects. I do feel fascination with such a complex and contradictory personality. The flashes of intelligence that Obama occasionally displays contrast so sharply with the mediocrity of most American politicians that I find it hard not to be charmed by him. But there is a difference between allowing yourself to be charmed and allowing yourself to be seduced.

    The best thing Obama could do to ‘push the country left’ — if that really is his inner desire — is to tell the truth in public. Not little bits of truth here and there, as he has been doing recently, but great big chunks of truth. Despite his high status there would soon be a total media blackout on his utterances. It would be said that he had gone insane. But it would have some positive effect. If he did not end up in a psychiatric prison he would face the prospect of assassination. That, unfortunately, is why he won’t do it. He isn’t the material martyrs are made of.

    • tombishop on August 5, 2015, 12:15 pm

      You should also study Obama’s family. His Indonesian stepfather was in the army and then with Exon immediately after the 1965 genocide of leftists in Indonesia. Obama spent his childhood from 1966 -1971 (age six to eleven) growing up in a country where one million people were killed by right-wing kill squads. His mother lived in Indonesia until 1990.

      See the just released film “The Look of Silence” to learn about the 1965 genocide in Indonesia.

      • Stephen Shenfield on August 5, 2015, 5:31 pm

        Yes, it is clear that Obama’s Indonesian stepfather was extremely important in shaping his moral and intellectual character. He taught the boy to look after his own interests in a dog-eat-dog world and provided a counterweight to his mother’s do-good liberalism.

  15. Citizen on August 5, 2015, 10:59 am

    Obama’s going on tv pulpit today to push his Iran Deal. He goes to the public over the top of the politicians when he wants to; he didn’t do so with Kerry’s other major effort: the long I-P peace talks. I don’t think he ever forgot his Cairo Speech. Jeez, look at what Truman did. You play the hand you have at any given time. OTOH, Obama was given an awfully good hand simply because he’s half black; considering this, I see the views of Obama as 10% short of a toss-up–Phil loses.

    • Mooser on August 5, 2015, 3:47 pm

      “OTOH, Obama was given an awfully good hand simply because he’s half black;”

      Good hands, and he can jump?

      • Rusty Pipes on August 5, 2015, 5:04 pm

        Not to mention that he’s clean and articulate.

    • Citizen on August 6, 2015, 2:34 am

      What I mean is if he had run as a white man against Hillary, with all the charm, character and talent he has, he would not have beaten Hillary. I also predict that now Hillary will be the next POTUS.

      • Mooser on August 6, 2015, 4:04 pm

        “What I mean is if he had run as a white man against Hillary, with all the charm, character and talent he has, he would not have beaten Hillary.”

        Yes, and there were some reports early in the campaign that Obama would run as a white man, but decided not to.

  16. Danaa on August 5, 2015, 3:32 pm

    Unfortunately (for me) I understand both sides of the argument. Unfortunate, because my heart is with the revolution of the people, now and always, but the analytic part of the head, that analyses the pros and cons of moves on a chessboard run by and for the ruling classes, tells me that much of the time Obama has little, if any choice. What little room he had to maneover he did on occasion use to try and do something good. The fact that it was so little (46 prisoners – not even 50 – a nice round number! Guantanamo still there, warehousing unlucky people who got caught in America’s wars, healthcare Law with no public option, Libya, Palestine, NSA, Yemen, the banks rescue, and the list goes on…better stop now) is, IMO, more a function of the truly minute space a president (any president) has to work in than any reflection on what Obama’s true inclinations are.

    It may seem like I am joining Phil is justifying the smallness of Obama’s steps by accepting the power equation that limits those steps. But not quite. Where Phil errs (and love always errs, and desire for love even more so) is in pre-assigning an element of greatness just because his guy tried something and got a few victories. Greatness is not how history will judge Obama however. He is not Roosevelt or a Lincoln. And the missing bit is something personal something that assigns some to geatness and others not so much. My love Obama did not earn because even being hemmed in on all sides by powerful interests, I believe he could have done more. I think he did not realize until relatively recently that the president does have secret little powers that can allow him to punch through the power veil that surrounds him. Roosevelt came up with the fireside chats – a briliant move, never to be repeated by anyone since. Reagan used a talent for affability that the TV cameras loved and accomplished lots for the right, even as the left was left somewhat dulled and dispirited. Obama has unique personality traits that can work too, just like reagan. He could have used more of it to take bold steps. He didn’t.

    Personally I lament the fact that the PTBs were able to use Obama presidency to lull the left into a dormant state. That includes the rage of the black people, which now people realize was percolating all this time. Remember how we all were willing to give a pass to Obama for turning on reverend Wright? was the good reverend not right all along? did he not express the rage as well as it should have been? did not Cornell West? Obama may have forced to surround himself by neocons, many, if not most Jewish, but he could have played it just a bit smarter. Take a page out of Putin’s book, who himself is surrounded by traitorous transatlanticists, but manages to make some pretty good moves on his own complicated chessboard, moves, that whether anyone likes it or not, are for Russia the nation (rather than say, a clique’s interest, or multi-nationals interests, or misguided desire for quick gains or whatever). Putin – and that we all agree – rfriends, enemies, whatevers – is first and foremost a Russian nationalist. By being for Russia sometimes – oftentimes, he manages to do things for the Russian people. And he does it boldly and without hesitation when need be (like Crimea, or using the excuse of sanctions to try and bring russian production up again without the WTO as much as squeaking. These moves were bloody smart – for Russia). I am saying Obama could have used more of his smarts than he did. And may be he didn’t because he never had the internal conviction that Phil seems to attribute to him.

    So, “love” seems rather misplaced (though at least Phil did not offer the “admire’ bit, so it stays in the gut rather than wreck havoc in the brain). But I think Smith’s argument is not wrong as much as it is incomplete. The question is and always was – how does one get a president that will have what it takes to make the compromises bend that much more in the people’s favor? and is a president something we should shoot for anyways? aren’t we all wasting our energies, projecting them on an individual, who at best can do very little for what we want (Yes, I mean the current outpouring for Sanders). I say that spending too much mind power on a president or a senator is a waste of time because sooner or later they’ll be co-opted (yes, they’ll be coming for Elizabeth warren too and already started). WE, of the left, should really be thinking about building alternative power structures, worldwide ones. But that’s another topic for another time.

    • just on August 5, 2015, 4:19 pm

      Much appreciated, Danaa.

      “Remember how we all were willing to give a pass to Obama for turning on reverend Wright? was the good reverend not right all along? did he not express the rage as well as it should have been?”

      Wright was right then, and he still is.

    • Keith on August 5, 2015, 5:24 pm

      DANAA- “…the list goes on…better stop now) is, IMO, more a function of the truly minute space a president (any president) has to work in than any reflection on what Obama’s true inclinations are.”

      Well, thank God I have you and Phil to tell me what “Obama’s true inclinations are.” Lacking your psychic ability, I have had to rely upon the actual actions of this administration. Based upon mere facts, I have concluded that Obama is an aggressive champion of the 1%, neoliberalism and warfare. He is an imperialist to the very marrow of his bones. It seems strange that there is such a dramatic disjuncture between Obama’s inclinations and actions. But then, I am not known for my sensitivity. Nor my excuse making.

      • Danaa on August 6, 2015, 5:09 pm

        Keith, it’s not like you to address points tangentially! I know my comment was longish, as usual, but the issue I wanted to address is not what Obama is or sin’t in his heart of hearts or whatever. That is hardly my concern. Rather than get into pointless debates about what Obama “really” wants or wanted, the problem we have is with the presidency itself, and indeed with the entire election system. Since those are entirely captured by the 1%, it makes little difference what any one candidate really wants. Rather it’s about who is even allowed to be a candidate in the first place. Of course, only those the PTBs (Powers-That-Be for Boomer) vetted to be pro-empire will ever be allowed to pop up near the top. So by definition, anyone else, with any other message (such as – cutting back on military expenditures, working WITH Russia and China, supporting a multi-polar world model, and of course, cutting back the power of military-industrial-surveillance lobies and foreign lobbies) will never make it to the finishing line, or even the pre-finishing line.

        That’s why my final comment was that we should absolutely not expect a whole lot of good to come from the top down. If there’s a tiny bit of good, great, but it will be just those things the PTBs allowed to squeak through as a way of “pacifying” the masses. Like the AHC and the Iran deal. Real change can only come from the level of the people, as Smith was saying – we will never have another Roosevelt, and ‘they” are watching very carefully over any potential new MLK.

        My other key point was that using words such as “love’ when it comes to a president are really a waste of an otherwise good emotion. No use spending any emotional energy on the puppet presidents or any mental energy on analyzing the puppet show. It’s all a show, in the end. What energy there is should be put towards actions on the people’s level, where politics is the side show not the main ticket.

        So, what is it we were disagreeing about, again?

      • Keith on August 7, 2015, 3:49 pm

        DANAA- “Keith, it’s not like you to address points tangentially!”

        I had already made a couple of more lengthy comments and was pressed for time, hence, I needed to be brief. As a consequence, I sharpened up the comment which resulted in the tone being harsher than I would have liked and I apologize for that.

        DANAA- “Rather than get into pointless debates about what Obama “really” wants or wanted, the problem we have is with the presidency itself, and indeed with the entire election system.”

        Unfortunately, many of the things you said such as “…much of the time Obama has little, if any choice.” came across to me as making excuses for Obama. Then when you say “What little room he had to maneover he did on occasion use to try and do something good.” sounds to me like you are, in fact, saying that Obama is trying to do good for the 99%, but is constrained by the power of the 1%. That may not be what you thought you were saying or what you now say you didn’t say, but it sure sounded to me that it was what you were saying. Bear in mind that your comment pertains to Phil’s never ending apologia for Obama. So, perhaps if we develop this a little more, our differences and agreements will become clearer.

        Let us begin by agreeing that imputing benevolent motivation to the President is totally without justification. Actions speak louder than words and I put my emphasis there. However, I think it fairly safe to assume that a major party candidate for President has been thoroughly vetted by the fat-cats and any candidate who shows the slightest tendency to support the 99% will be eliminated. In other words, Obama isn’t being constrained by the 1%, rather he is the aggressive champion of the 1%. There is a difference. Absolute proof of Obama’s loyalties came during the financial crisis. Instead of using the crisis to make needed changes to the system, he supported the bankers without even being pressured, even though the opportunity was there. Obama is an imperial president, period. The notion that he wants to do good but is constrained from doing so is nonsense. This is the type of liberal apologia which not only enables Obama to do terrible things, but which encourages the 1% to push for more rapid neoliberalism.

        Please don’t misunderstand. I fully agree with you that currently the President is largely a figurehead in our corporate/oligarchic system. A major party candidate will always be. That is why I support Third Party candidates, even when they have no hope of winning. It is my little form of rebellion. The fact that Third Party candidates do so poorly says volumes about the American citizenry. As long as the fat-cats and politicians can take voter support for granted, they will continue to heap abuse upon abuse. What is to stop them? And as long as so-called lefties make excuses for Obama and provide support, things will only get worse at an accelerating rate. And attempting to spin Obama the warmonger as some sort of peace maker is mind boggling. As Glen Ford over at the Black Agenda Report says, Obama isn’t the lesser evil, he is the more effective evil. He has been able to do terrible things that George Bush could only dream about.

        DANAA- “So, what is it we were disagreeing about, again?”

        Primarily some of the things you said in your first comment. I think that the President has more room to maneuver than you believe. Not to work miracles, mind you, but to get the ball rolling. Now we both agree that Obama wouldn’t have been elected if he wasn’t the kind of guy he is. That still doesn’t mean that we should excuse him for being the kind of guy he is.

    • Boomer on August 6, 2015, 6:20 am


  17. RobertHenryEller on August 5, 2015, 3:33 pm

    In order to judge a President, we should ask ourselves: What do we think any person could have accomplished in the circumstances as they existed?

    I’m quite disappointed with President Obama, for many of the reasons Mike Smith itemizes. On the other hand, I do ask myself how much more anyone could have accomplished.

    One thing Obama did that was supremely self-defeating, and possibly done out of arrogance, was demobilizing the three million strong army of active supporters his 2008 campaign assembled after the election victory. He needed that army. The 2008 campaign was but the first battle in the war I expected Obama’s term(s) in office to be. Bernie Sanders, in his present Presidential campaign, has specifically pointed this out as Obama’s first and worst mistake. I’m surprised it’s taken so long for someone prominent to call Obama out for this.

    Had Obama kept his army of supporters active and engaged, he could possibly have done more.

  18. Vikram on August 5, 2015, 4:16 pm

    Michael Smith has my vote. Obama has no integrity or depth of principle. It seems to me that he is totally in the pocket of the 1 percent. During his period in office, the rights of working people have got worse not better.

    One thing he has done though is highlight the declining semblance of democracy in the United States. His pursuit of whistle-blowers, such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, does not sit well with a free, transparent society, which is necessary for a true democracy.

  19. tombishop on August 5, 2015, 11:59 pm

    Stephen Shenfield said, “Yes, it is clear that Obama’s Indonesian stepfather was extremely important in shaping his moral and intellectual character. He taught the boy to look after his own interests in a dog-eat-dog world and provided a counterweight to his mother’s do-good liberalism. ”

    So you are saying learning to be indifferent to the slaughter of masses of people for their political beliefs was “shaping his moral and intellectual character”? This alone shows how Obama has caused many people to lose their moral compass. There is going to be hell to pay for this mentality!

  20. Boomer on August 6, 2015, 6:17 am

    What has Obama done to help Palestinians, or to reduce American complicity in their oppression?

  21. Bornajoo on August 6, 2015, 12:49 pm

    “What has Obama done to help Palestinians, or to reduce American complicity in their oppression?” (Boomer)

    +1 Boomer. And he could have.

    Michael Smith’s analysis describes the facts laid out in front of us. Obama had me fooled but as Kieth says further up

    “But give Obama credit in one area, he is a consummate con man”. I agree

  22. Atlantaiconoclast on August 6, 2015, 3:45 pm

    We do not have a capitalist free market. We have an oligarchical and fascist/socialist system. When big banks are bailed out, big Ag and big Pharma companies get subsidies, when Health care is subsidized, when our govt currency is a debt instrument that is created out of thin air by a private central bank with monopoly power over currency , that is not a free market.

    • Kris on August 6, 2015, 5:06 pm

      Health care is not subsidized, insurance companies are subsidized.

      Expanding Medicare to everyone, a single-payer system, would save U.S. taxpayers billions.

      Obama pivoted from “health care reform” to “medical insurance reform” as soon as he was inaugurated, a huge gift to the insurance conglomerates and just one of the many ways Obama betrayed all the lower-income people who supported him.

  23. German Lefty on August 7, 2015, 5:41 am

    Phil – “Obama is a man of the left. […] Obama is pushing the country left.”

    Just because Obama pushes the USA left doesn’t mean that Obama is a left-winger. What it actually means is that the USA is so incredibly right-wing that even a guy who sends killer drones around the world is misperceived as left-wing.

  24. German Lefty on August 7, 2015, 5:56 am

    If Obama were a man of the left, he would understand that a deal with Iran isn’t necessary because Iran doesn’t pose any threat. Obama would also support BDS, force Israel to give up its nuclear weapons, and eliminate the USA’s nuclear weapons.

  25. JoeSmack on August 7, 2015, 6:24 am

    Michael Smith’s comments were accurate with two related exceptions.

    1) Obama did not “end the occupation of Iraq” only to support terrorist violence against the Iraqi regime. That sounds like FOX News-style propaganda. It’s one of the strange aspects of our time that Stalinist “Tanky” propaganda sounds so similar to right-wing war propaganda, from the discussions about Syria to Iraq to Ukraine. In reality, Obama continued the war in Iraq for 3 years and drastically reduced troop involvement only when outside forces, namely the ongoing mass popular resistance in Iraq coupled with the revelations from WikiLeaks forced him to make (delayed) good on his prior campaign promises.

    Obama did not support the terrorist violence in Iraq (I assume Smith means ISIS) except according to the Tanky-meets-FOX line in which any group that opposes the Syrian regime for any reason is basically ISIS. Of course, it is ironic that at the same time the Stalinist narrative posits ISIS as a threat to the Syrian “resistance regime,” there is no recognition that the regime it is fighting in Iraq was entirely built by US imperialism.

    It is more accurate to say that Obama pulled troops from Iraq under massive international pressure while continuing to back the US-installed regime in Iraq with billions of dollars, even though that regime was falling into the hands of the Iranians. And that is what explains, at least in part, Obama’s attempt to negotiate with Iran: The Iranians won in Iraq, and it would mean allowing the US-cultivated sectarian regime of death in Iraq to completely collapse if they avoided some sort of diplomatic arrangement with Iran.

    2) Phil is right to praise Obama, although he does so excessively. Obama is not a “man of the left” for most of the reasons Smith points out, although given all the other bizarre, kooky non-sense that sometimes qualifies as “left” I don’t know why it matters or why that is a significant label. Obama is not a “leftist”. On the economy his policies, believe it or not, are rooted in the kind of neoliberal garbage promoted by Reagan. On the military front his policies match up with George H.W. Bush. The only place where he is nominally liberal is on social issues like gay rights, and even there it took him (and the rest of the Washington establishment) years to catch up with the country.

    But, regardless of his reasons or his motives, he does in fact deserve praise when he does something right. But that is true whether he is Obama or Dubya. On this occasion, he has done something right: he has called on the Washington Zionist traveling circus to check itself before it wrecks itself. The cards on the table say that it is time for the US to end its jingoism against Iran. Those cards are:

    A) Iran stabilizing the US-sponsored bloodbath in Iraq and inheriting the sectarian regime there.
    B) Iran’s closest ally, Syria, surviving the Arab Spring because none of the factions within Syria were able to mobilize effective opposition.
    C) Israel re-electing a leader with no long-term thought process who openly disavowed the fake US-sponsored “peace process” while carrying out a third large-scale massacre in Gaza within 6 years.

    Those cards mean that while Israel is seen as more and more of a strategic and diplomatic liability, Iran is more and more of a strategic asset. Obama is simply weighing the geopolitical costs and balances. That is not “leftism,” that is just statecraft.

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