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Dec. 13 2009 - 11:29 am | 440 views | 3 recommendations | 83 comments


There is an important parallel between those who believe all criticism of Obama to be illegitimate and those on the Right who despise him without pause. The latter is every bit as personality-driven as the former: they despise Obama not for any specific policy decisions (often, those are aligned with their ostensible views), but because of personality caricatures they’ve adopted: he’s a narcissistic, vacant, Socialist Muslim and therefore nothing he does is right. That is simply the opposite side of the same coin as those who revere his personality and thus believe that nothing he does merits real criticism.

That’s unsurprising, given that many of the most vehement Obama-haters were the same ones who most loved Bush and now love Palin: this is all about cultural identification and personality admiration and has nothing to do with the factors that ought to be used to judge political leaders.

via Glenn Greenwald – Salon.com.

I supported Barack Obama. I still do. If I had to vote tomorrow between Obama and Tim Pawlenty, or Sarah Palin, it wouldn’t be a choice that required a whole lot of thought. He’s done some good things. He’s restored some confidence in the United States among foreign leaders. We had something of a revolutionary regime for eight years under George Bush, and Obama has put the United States back into the club of rule-abiding nations, at least to some degree.

But I’m a little mystified by the letters I’m getting from people who suggest that being a supporter of a politician means that you should “give him a break” on this or that shortcoming, and behave more like a fan than a citizen. The above post by the always-intelligent Glenn Greenwald perfectly describes this mindset — he talks about this bizarre phenomenon of Obama fans threatening to “leave the left” because of criticism of Obama trickling up from those ranks. I was particularly struck by his analysis of the now-infamous video of Sarah Palin book-buyers explaining to a snarky interviewer how they support her despite the fact that they can’t really identify any of her positions. Greenwald notes the obvious parallel:

The similarity between that mentality and the one driving the Obama [supporters] is too self-evident to require any elaboration.  Those who venerated Bush because he was a morally upright and strong evangelical-warrior-family man and revere Palin as a common-sense Christian hockey mom are similar in kind to those whose reaction to Obama is dominated by their view of him as an inspiring, kind, sophisticated, soothing and mature intellectual.  These are personality types bolstered with sophisticated marketing techniques, not policies, governing approaches or ideologies.

I completely agree with Greenwald and I know that what he’s saying is true because I did exactly the same experiment the Palin interviewer tried — at Obama’s inauguration. I interviewed dozens of people and almost without exception the answers to the question “What specific policies do you expect the new president to enact?” were of the following character:

“I think he’s going to bring people together.”

“He really cares about us.”

“I believe that he’s going to help people.”

There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this — it’s not against the law to vote for a guy just because you like him, or connect with his demeanor on some unconscious level. But where it gets weird for everybody is when that mindset becomes blinding. And we’re seeing that a little with Obama’s supporters now, I think.

I’ve gotten some letters lately from people complaining about this whole concept of “purity,” i.e. critics of Obama (like me) slapping him with some unrealistic “purity test.” According to these letter-writers, such demands are unfair and journalists and politicians who are critical of Obama should recognize that a president sometimes has to make tough political decisions and is often forced to “work with” unsavory characters in order to “get things done.”

First of all, we should get one thing out of the way — it’s not any citizen’s job to give a politician credit for his political calculations. In fact, that should rightly be part of the calculus of any political calculation; a politician should have to weigh the benefits of making, say, an unsavory insider alliance against the negative of public criticism for that move. If a leader doesn’t have to earn the admiration you give him, then a) that admiration doesn’t mean anything, and b) he will surely spend all his political capital on the people who do make him earn it.

Anyone who wonders why the Obama administration seems to be bending over so far backwards to appease conservatives and industry leaders in the health care debate and Wall Street in the financial regulatory reform debate can find their answer there: those groups make Obama pay for their financial/political support with real actions and policy concessions, while Obama’s “base” will continue their feverish support in exchange for mere gestures and marketing hocus-pocus, for news about the new family puppy or an appearance on Jay Leno.

Anyway, just a few thoughts on a Sunday morning. I encourage everyone to read the Greenwald post…


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  1. collapse expand

    Would the leftists and their counterparts, the leftist media allow Sara Palin to hide her birth certificate in Gov Lingle’s locked desk in Hawaii?

    If Sara Palin was hiding her birth certificate, the media would have it on display with the doctor who delivered her

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    I agree you can support the Presidency and still be critical of its policies and procedure. It’s a nuance that those who are not inclined to see shades of gray tend to harp on.

    But that said, I do believe that Obama really did an about-face on nearly every major policy issue vs. his campaign promises, as you so rightly pointed out in your recent Rolling Stone article. I’m still not clear on why, with a majority base in the House and Senate, he opted for bi-partisanship at the expense of significant changes in policy that would reverse our downward slide. These bills have all been watered down to ineffectualism because of it. It bothers me that Obama has not pushed for stronger regulation of both the financial and healthcare industries, but that he will still hold up these pieces of legislation as having “gotten it done”. Sure, but at who’s expense, and will they really do what they set out to accomplish?

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    Here’s what’s really happening.

    I’m sure you’re familiar with the whole triune brain theory – Reptilian lizard brain (fear/hate/kill) topped by limbic (emotion/passion) topped by neocortex (reason). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triune_brain

    I think people actually choose candidates based on a sort of limbic or gut reaction. Whether they like the guy/gal. That’s why charisma counts so much in politics (or celebrity generally). Examples would be that whole George Bush “guy you’d wanna have a beer with” or Sarah Palin being “an example of the best of American womanhood”.

    Having decided they like the candidate, people then start coming up with reasons (neocortex) why he’s their candidate – but it’s not the policies that are the “reason” for choosing him/her. That was already done by the limbic system. This sort of after-the-fact making up of reasons (which the person actually believes) is called confabulation by psychiatrists.

    There’s a really good article on it here: “Mind Fiction: Why your brain tells tall tales” http://www.newscientist.com/channel/being-human/mg19225720.100-mind-fiction-why-your-brain-tells-tall-tales.html.

    And there’s even a book: Brain Fiction http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0262582716/boingboing0e-20.

    The received wisdom is that humans are rational beings making rational decisions with their superbly rational neocortices. But that’s exactly backward. In any conflict between the levels, it’s not the neocortex decisions that rule. Limbic (passion/emotion) trumps a very weak neocortex (reason) every time. And reptilian survival (danger/fear/hate/paranoia/prejudice) trumps everything else. That’s why the whole Republican strategy is always addressed to the lizard brain – scare the shit out of people and they don’t have the time or inclination to think anything through.

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      Well, that’s a lot os scientific writting, which I don’t particularly understand, but makes sense to me since it is scientific writting.
      It explains the gut feeling but doesn’t explain the changing of minds, the sudden realization that the gut feeling might be wrong, so there still has to be doubt, doubt -in the case of obama fans- of policies, doubt of charater and doubt of action.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      bowtiejack. . .thanks for the comment and links, I found them both amusing and informative. I’m always saying to my wife that the differences between the Prog-Liberals and the Neo-Cons has to have something to do with “brain wiring.” I see we’re both on the same page, more or less. Thanks for the science lesson. Philo59

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      amygdala type group think, no?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      you present a valuable abstraction of our thinking process. Behavioral economics and evolutionary psychology have a lot of backing for the model you present. But once we are aware of how our mind works, that knowledge changes our mental processes. In the positive case, we can be aware of the lizard brain’s domination of our cerebral thought processes and use scientific and logical techniques to ensure rational conclusions. In the negative case, bad actors (ie political consultants) are well aware of our weaker intellectual tendencies and exploit them mercilessly. I think that Matt has accurately observed that both parties are guilty of manipulation – our only recourse is to consciously use our cortex.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      Interesting observation that expands a bit on Matt Taibbi’s astute commentary. Nice job, Bowtiejack.

      That said, much of your post can be summarized by 18th Century philosopher David Hume’s oft quoted comment, “Reason is, and ought to be, the slave of the passions.” How true.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    I completely agree with what you and Mr. Greenwald say. I’ve seen a lot of people developing this disney like fascination and admiration for Obama. I’ve seen it develop in myself too, based on the policies of Bush “yes we can!” change sounded and still sounds like a great option to me. But being the first black president, having a great slogan and the backing up of news media, does not make him a great/good president in reality, it only makes him a great president in the eyes of the people until they start to disagree with him in some way, and now that’s like the equivalent of watching 15 hours of coca-cola comercials and finding out after that it has a weird after taste.

    I’m not saying Barrack Obama is a bad president, I’m also not saying coca cola has a weird after taste. What I am saying is that we shouldn’t create a cult of personality for Obama, or any leader, in our minds, especially when his policies are not clear to us.

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    This citizen agrees with your observations Matt. I voted for and will continue to support this president for the foreseeable future. What was inherited by this administration still causes me indigestion. Furthermore, my critical eye will continue to watch this administration’s attempts at developing policy to address the many internal and external issues we face – the things that can break us.

    It is dreadfully evident that strings are being pulled that will benefit those who smoothed this president’s road trip to his current office. On the other hand, the most recent administration was such a complete set of catastrophic failures; my sleep patterns are just a bit more regular!

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    I started reading you a lot back when I was in college. I loved your writing, because you kind of cut through the superficiality and stupidity of our politics sometimes and got to the heart of matters. The style — the sort of skewering of politicos and public figures with the zeal of an edison on his 99th lightbulb — made your stuff incredibly readable, and I’d shop it around to as many people as I could to get them to read you, too.

    Now, I’ve moved to DC and I’m working in politics, and I’m seeing that a lot of people view the sort of criticisms you wage very much as a purity test. I think some people view you as a crazy outsider building populist narratives that don’t make any sense in the political world. What bothers me so much about that isn’t that it’s unfair or flat out wrong or anything, but that there might be a lot of truth to that in the sense of our political system is so damn broken that the sort of criticisms you wage might very well be pie in the sky — it might just be that ridiculously messed up.

    For example, whenever Obama gives in to some industry or another, it’s explained to me as a necessary evil. He’s a guy who really, really cares about the average person, but to do that, he has to go suck up to PhRMA or play it easy on the banks, and stuff like that. And what bothers me most about that is that it might be true.

    But I don’t really want a politics like that. I don’t want well-meaning, kind, and extremely intelligent people like our President to have to engage in those sort of means for a better end. Because I think those means in themselves are destructive to our democratic political process. But it seems to be how this town works. And sometimes it makes me really sick to my stomach. And I don’t know what to do about that.

    But what I do know is this, even if people within the political system like me can’t voice disgust about the big picture like you can, when we’re doing all the wheeling-and-dealing on every little legislative move to try to inch things forward (no where is that more true than the health care debate, where it looks like we may be forced with letting 45,000 people die every year due to lack of health care or delivering 30 million new customers to the insurance industry). There still needs to be people on the outside screaming that this is extremely far from ideal and a really crazy system and that the people deserve better.

    Which is why I’m glad you do what you do, even if it saddens me that sometimes, you may be criticizing what at least in the short term in our extremely messed up political system may be necessary evils.

  7. collapse expand

    Well, the liberal blogosphere pressured on health care and I think had effect. They aren’t just looking for gestures.

    Perhaps a better explanation of why Obama continually favors Wall Street and the health care industry over the obvious good of the populace is because that’s where his loyalties are and where his contributions come from.

    He’s president and has the bully pulpit and the big stick. Yet has used neither against the bankers. This is not oversight.

    Like you, I like much of what he’s done. But when it comes to the banks, he continues to give them whatever they want without question. Thus, such actions must be his chosen policy and not simply the results of pressure groups.

  8. collapse expand

    Well said, Matt.

    I engage regularly with what I call HopeZombies at sites like Kos.

    Some display a sense of reality-denial and goal post moving as fervent as creationists.

    Some really really want a Daddy King to cuddle them, protect them, smile at them and be Dear Leader.

    Others are disillusioned by some of Obama’s decisions and, for some weird reason, think it reflects poorly on their decision to vote for him, so they would rather rationalize their existential dilemma by pretending they’re not somewhat disappointed.

  9. collapse expand

    And to think I’ve been feeling at least mildly guilty for not seeing our ‘illustrious president’ as a demigod.

    I do have to agree with you Matt, if the election was tomorrow and it was a choice between Sarah Palin, Barack Obama or Mike Huckabee I would probably vote for Obama again. That said, many of the reasons I voted for him last year were based on what he said he was going to do — end the usury credit card rates; make universal health insurance a reality; close the ‘terrorist’ detention centers. As his record stands at this moment, I wasted my vote.

    I have never voted for a ‘man’ for president, or any other public office for that matter; I vote for the candidate that I think has the best chance at getting things done, or in some cases merely changed (incidently, why is that word taking on such onerous attributes?).

    When politics seem to be at their worst I remember Ben Martin’s quote in The Patriot: “An elected legislature can trample a man’s rights as well as a king can” — have we grown so used to having our rights trampled by the very people who WE voted to speak for us that we are now unwilling to hold them accoutable when they ignore us?

  10. collapse expand

    In light of your article, I’m surprised you’d still vote for Obama. He was the last hope to save the current political system, but it’s now broken him as well. It’s too damn corrupt. (Or he’s too damn corrupt. Either way…) I voted for Obama, but enough’s enough. The left needs to to jump ship and realize that the only way to achieve real change is to work outside the system. Work to overthrow it. The ‘change from within’ meme has turned out to be bullshit. The anti-establishment movement is certainly large enough, if we could finally make the decision to abandon the grip of the two-party system.

  11. collapse expand

    that greenwald article was excellent!

  12. collapse expand

    I’m all for having a little more purity in our political parties.

    In broad terms, R’s should be fiscally and socially conservative. D’s should be fiscally and socially liberal. What are you if you are fiscally conservative and socially liberal? You could be in either party, which makes being in a party almost meaningless. It should, after all, say something about you when you say you’re a D, or R. These days, it simply means that you chose the whichever affiliation made it easisest for you to get in office.

  13. collapse expand

    Citizens are always going to criticize whoever has power. Their real interest is not in Obama per se, but in the power of the government and how it is being used. If Democrats are taking more flak from the media than Republicans right now, that’s a sign of recent Democratic success.

    OTOH, politicians are, by definition, trying to build a political movement. They’re looking for supporters, not critics. Informed, aware citizens are a double edged sword to them, useful for bringing down the old coalition but trouble when setting up the new coalition.

  14. collapse expand

    “Obama has put the United States back into the club of rule-abiding nations”

    Actually, I think he said he was going to do that, but hasn’t really. His administration still detains people indefinitely without access to due process, murders civilians in two wars of nation building, tortures, kidnaps, and violates international law and the U.S. Constitution daily. So, I disagree, Matt, but, yes, if I were faced with a choice between Obama and Palin, I’d choose Obama without much noodling, but that is still an uncomfortable, unpleasant choice, like choosing the way you’d like to be executed.

  15. collapse expand

    Obana has front-loaded the government with crooks from Goldman Sachs crime syndicate, and the Chicago crime syndicate…..and ramped up the need for american body bags in afghanistan, the backward country which is smart enough to supply most of the world’s heroin…

  16. collapse expand

    shit like this makes me not vote. have you seen how everyone loves to take a side? noticed that the new national religion is the NFL? it is not at all about substance anymore. if it ever was.

    on the left you talk about disenfranchised voters…while the only thing most voters base their choice on is who they want to be a fan of. and these are the people you want to give the vote to? that is just stupid.

    this country went down the goddamn drain when they gave women the vote. i am all for excluding a lot of our current voters…they’re nothing more than fans. they’re not competent to make a decision. they’re easily led about and manipulated by marketing.

    burn down the whole thing and start over.

  17. collapse expand

    this all reminds me of a brilliant bit that lewis black did:

  18. collapse expand

    Barack Obama was never about being progressive, not in the common way that term is used anyway. Rahm Emanuel is not a progressive, he’s basically a conservative Democrat. Anyone who watched Obama pick Emanuel knew that all this was coming.

    I guess it’s a matter of disappointment, but anyone who didn’t see all of this coming was really not looking very clearly. Or was swayed by all of the campaign rhetoric.

    The best point here though is the one about who President Obama needs to court, and who he doesn’t. That’s why critiques like Taibbi’s are so important, and Greenwald’s. Politicians will move toward those they need to sway, and assume others are already with them– until you tell them otherwise. In this case, Obama will move to gather in conservatives as much as possible, just up to, and exactly up to, the point where it starts seriously losing him Democrats. Then he has to move back that way.

    That’s how it works.

  19. collapse expand

    By increasing our commitment to the expansion of empire in Afghanistan, the Obama administration is now wholly indistinguishable from that of Bush/Cheney. Whether it’s the continuation of the Bush-Paulson Wall St. looting; the redistribution of Gitmo horrors to other undisclosed parts of the world; the continuing nightmare of Iraq; the continued disgraceful use of mercenaries such as Blackwater or a health care policy dominated by big pharma and corporate “medicine”; those of us who supported Obama now clearly understand the depth of his deception and betrayal. By expanding the commitment of American troops in the quagmire of Afghanistan, Obama now embraces his true masters of Wall St. and the military industrial complex. I voted for Obama in Florida and supported his campaign with my modest means. I will never make that mistake again. I look forward to the end of Obama’s single term in office.

  20. collapse expand

    In the lower forms of salesmanship, the most effective way to get the product out (Obamaism, Plain Palinism, etc) is to sell the sizzle. It is what made Chris Matthews grab his crotch over Obama. “…tingle went up my leg.”
    Nothing like excitement in religion and politics.
    Imagine, 72 virgins waiting for me if I leave my guts on a speed limit sign. Yahoo! (Swiftian meaning…)
    But the only president we have had who really got the world excited was….George Bush the Senior. He got allies for the Gulf War and got them to pay for it (as far as I know they all paid). That was perfection…but he could not get reelected.
    Obama has to beg to get Italy (second largest contingent in Afghanistan) to send maybe 500 more troops. Maybe more, maybe not. No exact promises. Ah, this is world respect?
    No, no way…
    Obama governs via a Law Prof’s classroom…and with the same visible results shown by any Prof put in the same situation.

  21. collapse expand

    While all you have written in your RS article and this blog post is true, I still keep worrying about the effects of criticizing Obama.

    On the one side, you’ve got the reflexive wingnuts in the media (Fox News types) who will bash him on everything. And then you’ve got the slightly liberal side.

    My fear is that if both sides start bashing him (one for the Greenwald reasons, and the other for legitimate reasons) 2012 will be an election where the Palins and Romneys of the worlds will get elected.

    The Democrats have shown an amazing ability to be completely ineffectual even with majorities, and I am worried about how much worse it will get when they become the minorities in 2010.

    My reasons for hoping the criticisms were toned down are completely political.

  22. collapse expand

    I voted for PRes. Obama, but I’m not an Obama apologist per se.

    I guess my take is that we are still less than 1 year into a 4 year term, and Rome wasn’t built in a day.

    Sure, there are plenty of things he has done thus far, or Congress is in the process of doing, that I disagree with.

    However, at the same time, he has restored some type of calm to the financial crisis, has restored some type of respect to the office, from the world at large, etc.

    Now, they may be imperfect, or not up to true Liberal ideals, but then what ever really is? Communism is Utopia, on paper only. Democracy is the same.

    I just truly wish there was more level-headed debate going on around the issues of health care, Afghanistan, etc. instead of all the truly partisan rhetoric from each camp.

    But then, one can dream I suppose.

  23. collapse expand

    Keep on keeping on, Matt.

    There are few journalists in America who dare to seek truth and speak that truth to power, regardless of who is in power.

    You, Glenn Greenwald, Amy Goodman, and Bill Moyers are among those few – the finest – in such widely diverse styles.


  24. collapse expand

    Well, Matt, we live in a “democracy” where we get a choice. We get to vote for both the president, and the Congress, who will be taking the money out of our wallets and giving it to the Special Interest Groups that financed their campaigns. Of course they continue to do exactly that. No surprise there. Only surprise is that voters continue to be dumb enough to put up with this system, rather than searching out honest people from their locales who have a reputation for doing true public service, and who will pledge to run for public office while accepting NO Special Interest Group campaign donations. Obama and his Congressional supporters are continuing to take the money out of our wallets and to give it to the Special Interest Groups that financed their campaigns, just like all the folks in their offices before them. I hope the dashed hopes that Obama would be different, will wake people up eventually. I would have thought that we would have hit bottom by now, in our national epidemics of Ignorantaholism and Naiveaholism.

  25. collapse expand

    Somebody tell me why so many of you think there are 2 political parties in the U.S. There is only 1 political party in the U.S. It’s the Special Interest Groups Legally Bribing Congress and the President with Campaign Contributions party. I know that the Repubican and Democrat “parties” keep calling themselves parties, and encouraging people to fight on behalf of either one or the other. But this is just the age-old game of Divide and Conquer that is being played by our ONE political party. This Game is also known as “Let’s You and Him Fight While I Make off with the Loot.”

  26. collapse expand

    Whenever a discussion about supporting Obama comes up, I like to bring up the parable of the “bear race”.

    Imagine two men in the woods. They come upon a bear. The two men turn and run. The first man says “We gotta outrun this bear!”. The second man says “No, I just need to outrun you!”.

    America’s presidential elections are always bear races. The quality of the candidate in a vacuum isn’t relevant, all that matters is that he is better than the other guy. Obama was better than McCain. McCain promised more aggression and more Bush economic policies. Obama said he would make some changes, that made him better than McCain. And that’s all it took to lock up my vote.

    Though that doesn’t bind me to not criticize Obama relentlessly. That our elections are “bear races” mandates that the citizenry criticize our leaders continuously. The elected leaders win on a relative basis. Thus they need constant scathing criticism. It isn’t like we elect our leaders on objective merit.

  27. collapse expand

    I have some of that hopey stuff. It’s natural to want someone you like to succeed. On the other hand, he said things about Reagan that hinted how he would govern, not to mention the former Clinton/oldskool-Dems he surrounded himself with. Nothing he’s done has surprised me much. After all, Bill Clinton gravitated to the center the same way and he had one of the best eight-year runs ever.

  28. collapse expand

    Honestly Matt, Mr. Taibbi, whichever, as far as these mindless followers go, from whatever side they flock to, fuck ‘em if they can’t handle the truth. The reason we are in this mess, as a society, as a country, as the constantly screwed over middle class, is a constant refusal of the population here to call their leaders on their shit. Whether it be nailing the other guy to the wall when they pull something like a war on a country without just cause, or telling the guy who promised transparency in his administration to do what he goddamn said he would, we’re all held accountable for what our elected leaders do. Just like they should be held accountable to us, the people who put them in their privileged positions. Just keep doing what you are sir. Pointing out the flaws in an administration you want to see succeed is the only way to keep them honest. Otherwise we’re no better than those who waived their tiny American flags as we bombed and killed tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis for fabricated reasons and never once questioned the motives.

  29. collapse expand

    There seems to have been a shift over the last 15-20 years that you had to support your president fully, no matter what. This was most obvious during Bush/Cheney, and perhaps it’s been that way for other administrations but i didn’t notice it because the leader was my candidate and I felt free to criticize him as needed.

    In some sense having Obama in there making moderate/right choices in terms of Wall Street and war has made it painfully obvious that we can’t just point out fingers at Republicans for the mess. It was so easy during Bush II because he was so unilateral and brick wall in his policies. Dems could blame lack of a Democratic-filibuster proof majority for a legislature with push back. Now we have a moderate president and a legislatively challenged body and progressive hopes are low. I don’t believe that we have only 1 party, but that the parties have both moved far to the right of even 15 years ago. At this point Nixon looks like a liberal (RINO?).

    When I went to the polls last November, it was the 1st time in awhile that I voted FOR someone rather than AGAINST the other candidate. While Obama isn’t all bad, unless he can push for more constructive policies – job creation, improving the environment (goes hand in hand with jobs), real health care reform, I’ll be voting against the other candidate in 2012. I can’t imagine a GOP front runner who would be an improvement over Obama. Not to mention the general GOP practice is so amazing in its ability to get constituents to vote against their own best interests.

    So I support Obama just as I support my right and yours and every one else’s to criticize when we see fit. It’s part of being a responsible American citizen. This was something taught in my history and government classes in high school. This is something that liberals need to realize so that they can shake Obama’s hand (literally if they have the chance and metaphorically if the only contact is via media) with confidence and offer a different point of view when the time suits.

    Shoot, even W had a few good thoughts: he disliked the sex trade and he at least wondered – aloud – wtf? with Rummy and Katrina. Other than that, he was pretty disastrous. I think Obama will have more than 2 pluses by 2012; we’ll have to see when we get there.

    • collapse expand

      “I don’t believe that we have only 1 party, but that the parties have both moved far to the right of even 15 years ago. At this point Nixon looks like a liberal (RINO?).”

      Ha ha ha! That is very funny! How could you possibly think that the Republican president who instituted wage and price controls and took us off the gold standard could give anyone the impression that he was a RINO? Of course, he was! (Disclosure – I voted for McGovern and I despised Republicans at the time – although now I equally despise both parties…).

      They have both sold out the interests of the middle class, just to different special interest groups (and to the same one’s when it comes to big finance…).

      The rest of this comment is really completely bass-ackwards though. If anything, both major political parties have moved very far to the left, not to the right. How you conclude that they have both moved to the right, I would really like to know.

      Although I condemn both parties as bought and paid for by either big business, big unions (or increasingly with votes purchased by means of unlimited social program largesse), John F. Kennedy would not recognize the Democratic party as it exists today.

      Nixon, almost looking like a RINO….. That’s priceless! That is precisely the philosophic argument fueling the split in the Republican party right now, except in reverse!

      A large part of the base (and the Tea Partier’s many of whom are ex-Republicans anyway), think that “moderates” like McCain (and even Bush I & II on social/domestic and entitlement policy) are just “Democrat-lite.”

      I agree with this view that there is not really much difference between the parties today, except in degree. A few months ago I might have ceded a foreign policy difference, but aside from some posturing it doesn’t really look to be shaping up anywhere different in substance than it did under Bush).

      In terms of policies that are not just a means of buying votes through government dependency (again both parties do this, and double-down the further in time we go…), please do elaborate on domestic and social policies where both parties have moved to the right.

      I would love to hear it. The only thing I can think of is the Patriot Act snooping seems the same, otherwise, it is kinda left and extremely-left; not kinda right and extremely right. Work in academia by any chance?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        LOL. Really – I almost thought you were joking.

        So brushwolf, I’d LOVE to hear what you consider right/conservative and left/progressive. We obviously have differing opinions there.

        Let’s take Ronald Reagan, the GOP’s current idea of a shining beacon for conservatism:

        1. Tendency to support the military and military actions over social programs (even though social programs may or may not be cut).
        a. Escalation of the cold war, actions in places like Libya and Grenada contribute to massive spending on the military. Check the national deficit pre-Reagan (he ran the 1st campaign on balancing the budget) and deficit post-Reagan: much larger, in large part due to increases in military budget.
        b. Iran-Contra affair – secret dealings to end the conflict in Iran that had bad consequences later
        c. USSR = evil empire

        2. Support of big business over average Joe: supply side/Randian/trickle down/voodoo economics
        a. busting air traffic controllers union
        b. other business deregulation, including the financial industry, eventually contributing to the Savings and Loan debacle
        c. Tightened control of social programs; shutting down of public mental institutions; increase of mentally ill homeless population

        This is not only what the GOP thinks is conservative, it’s what i think of as conservative. By your post, I’m thinking you confuse this with the left; feel free to chime in.

        Now, Richard Nixon:

        1. Not exactly anti-military; there was a surge of a sort to end military actions in Vietnam in the bombing of Cambodia, March 1969.
        a. Nixon withdrew most U.S. troops from Vietnam that summer (although the war wasn’t officially over until the mid-late 1970s).
        b. Ended the military draft (Gates Commission)

        2. Growth of Social programs
        a. Social Security and Medicare benefits expanded and covered a greater portion of the population
        b. Welfare established
        c. Nixon even referred to himself as a Keynesian at one point
        d. 1974 – introduces ill-fated Comprehensive Insurance Act

        3. Was president during some other progressive legislation and SCOTUS decisions
        a. 1970 Clean Air Act
        b. establishment of OSHA
        c. racial integration of public schools
        d. Roe v. Wade

        I tend to think that conservatives SAY they are for no government intervention into individual’s lives – unLESS they can do things like wiretap, favor heterosexuality over homosexuality, and determine what people can do with their own bodies (abortion rights; right to die – a la Terry Schiavo, etc.). True libertarians are the exceptions to the caveats just listed, and in that, libertarians and most liberals are in accordance with each other.

        So you think these things are conservative or progressive? My career has been all over the map, including a stint in the military and academia. However, academia for me does not involve social politics. Do you think there are only liberals in academia? Wrong. I could introduce you to some conservative professors. They may not agree with me politically, but they would agree with what my assessment of what is politically left and right. My family is almost entirely made up of conservatives, with many neo-cons among them. They pretty much align with Reagan. You must think they are fooling themselves in a big way! Perhaps you can point me to your background and to what backs up your opinions of what left and right are, and explains these characterizations.

        Both the Clinton and Obama administrations have a record of supporting big businesses, especially Wall Street. Clinton cut welfare (see Nixon 2d), Obama is escalating a war and voted to extend FISA and give telecoms eavesdropping immunity (OK; Nixon was for this type of shit, too – see, he was somewhat conservative). Obama pushed for health care reform – he’s be that last president to have to talk about such issues – and now it looks as if the pharmaceutical industry and hospital corporations will get their way rather than something that will benefit the largest portion of our population (middle class and under classes).

        So what’s your area of expertise brushwolf? What contributes to your convoluted line of thinking?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  30. collapse expand

    This is driving me crazy. But it’s no surprise, really. YOU WERENT PAYING ATTENTION or YOU BELIEVED THE HYPE FOR KICKS and now you’re patting yourself on the back and tearing down inattentive/hyped-up/stawman others to satisfy whatever urge you have, whether it’s a thirst for liberal outrage, something like schadenfreude, or more kicks.

    Obama ran on an actual platform of bipartisanship, slow change, and good governance-style governance. We can quibble on whether he’s doing these things in the right way — more than quibble, argue loudly — but to gin up outrage based on the sometimes overheated nature of campaign rhetoric long past (oh, my!) or the projections of just the sort of liberals that Obama PLAINLY has frustration (coupled with longstanding affection) for, is the sort of sorry to say it childishness that I ELECTED HIM TO IGNORE.

    Thanks for playing into the Palinite politics of outrage, Matt Taibbi.

  31. collapse expand

    I have to add to what I just wrote:

    My defense of Obama and frustration with Taibbi, Greenwald and outraged/disappointed libs/prigs is coming from a Cambridge, MA.-bred anti-nuke, redistributionist, pro-choice, gluten-free disabled person. That’s what I am. I could be hella disappointed in Obama’s progress on gay rights, the wars, privacy, and other things, and sometimes I am. THAT’S FINE. I believe he Obama is, too. I get teary-eyed when he kicks it at the podium, I have pictures of him on my fridge (one has been there for three years), the full Monty.

    But I’m not disappointed because I listened closely to what he’s been saying all along, and what he obviously thought the country needed AND COULD STAND in a President. I could stand an uber-lib, but AT LEAST fifty percent of the country would be highly, continually uncomfortable; and so would the powers-that-be in the corporate, military, religious, and other sectors of the COUNTRY AS IT IS TODAY. If you thought that Obama was going to to transform all this stuff, or even try to take it on directly, well… you are just a too-gullible consumer of the drama-queen side of campaigns (also a current American institution he obviously only reluctantly brought his great talents to embrace, believe it or not, and even then not really at all if you were paying attention — ever notice how he habitually undersells the last line of most every big speech, practically throws it away??????). If you are one of these uncritically super-critical liberal muckraking outrage hounds, you are blessedly part of the historically beating heart of liberalism as it’s existed since the Sixties, I luv ya for it, but I have left your Left and I stand (with open eyes and plenty of complaints) with this President who is just what you’ve always wanted, but better, and limited by realites that make us who we are.

    • collapse expand

      See here’s where I think your thesis is wrong: The idea that “at least fifty percent” of the country wouldn’t be able to tolerate anyone more “liberal” than Obama.

      Let’s just take the health care reform debate. Did you see the polls showing that the vast majority of Americans polled are in favor of a public option? And yet to read most of the Beltway-driven media, you’d think that only far left hippies on the liberal fringe are in favor of such a crazy idea.

      Well, we’re not going to get a public option. That’s already gone, there might be a series of very weak moves in that direction, a medicare buy in for younger than 65, and so on, but these are not, believe me “a public option”. That’s dead, that’s gone.

      Now, if a majority of the voters actually want such a thing, how did we end up giving it away? Where did the idea come from to not even start bargaining with true single-payer health coverage (what the “liberals” actually want, and what Obama himself said was the best idea, once upon a time) and go directly to trashing that and opening our bidding with the public option, which was then bargained away?

      That’s what people are complaining about. To take just one topic.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  32. collapse expand

    As for the appealling argument that “progressives drove his campaign so now he owes us,” while there’s truth in that, it’s only partial and naturally guaranteed to be disappointed. So. It. Goes.

    By that same logic, if Sarah Palin rode a nuclear brainwash false flag major city attack into office, or something, any impulse she had to do other than her most rightwing fan’s bidding would be a character flaw, and unfortunate deception.

    I don’t want revolutionaries anywhere near the Presidency. That’s a bargain I’ve struck in my head, and I think it’s a good one.

  33. collapse expand

    Lastly, I promise, cause there’s prolly no one reading this old post, anyway:

    Point me to someone who says, as Greenwald seems to think are legion, “those who believe all criticism of Obama to be illegitimate” — although I know there are plenty of supposedly serious folks who qualify as “those on the Right who despise him without pause.”

    Comparing my soberness to Palinites and Dead End Bushies is offensive to the trials, tribulations, and hard thinking that got me to my non-revolutionary liberalism. But sure, fire away. Brilliant.

    I’ve called the White House and Congress to complain. I don’t exhort people to consider abandoning hope, or go anywhere near doing that, when the real work has just begun.

    • collapse expand

      I’m not sure I get what you’re trying to say. If I’m hearing you correctly, you’re saying the criticism is off-base because he isn’t doing anything we shouldn’t have expected him to do.

      Which is fine. On that, I agree. I wrote a long piece last summer talking about Obama’s Wall Street contributors and said we shouldn’t be surprised if he hands the store over to these guys.

      But I don’t see any world where it makes sense to be quiet about that, just because it’s expected. My quibble with Obama has nothing to do with disappointed expectations. It has everything to do with making the discredited thinking of Bob Rubin the intellectual center of his presidency. What Obama is doing isn’t “realism” or “bipartisanship” or “not liberal”; it’s just stupid.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        There’s a basic confusion here about what is journalism, which is in its most basic sense, reporting what people do and say, and at the next level, comparing what they do with what they have said. MT, in my opinion, is just doing basic journalism of the first and second degree, and doing a good job of it.

        Whether what Obama’s done, as compared to what he said (pre-election) what he said or intimated he would do upon election, agrees or disagrees with any one person’s “expectations” is kind of irrelevant. Journalism based on whether a President meets or fails some vague scale of “meeting expectations” is hardly a substitute for what Matt has done, and other reporters do.

        One is empirically grounded and can be fact-checked, the other is the CNN type of “focus group finger on the like-o-meter” that is now in vogue during debates. I prefer Matt’s type of journalism, myself.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          That’s garbled. Sorry. It should read:

          Whether what Obama has done post-election agrees or disagrees with any one person’s pre-election “expectations” is irrelevant. Journalism based on whether a President meets or fails some vague scale of “meeting expectations” is no substitute for what Matt has done, and what other reporters of his ilk do. Journalism of the first and second degree reports facts about a) what he has done compared with b) what he said he would do. How the collision of a) and b) are ultimately received by the electorate is a whole ‘nother story.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        “My quibble with Obama has nothing to do with disappointed expectations.”

        Well, the first and last paragraphs of your article beg to differ.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        “I wrote a long piece last summer talking about Obama’s Wall Street contributors and said we shouldn’t be surprised if he hands the store over to these guys.”

        Coming back to check on this thread, I realized there’s this other detail in your reply that grinds me. The notion that it’s Obama who has tragically “handed the store” over to the Wall St. Guys, as if they haven’t been there all along. It’s your revolutionary projection on Obama, again! And so this article is sent out the tens of thousands of dorm rooms, and young minds get another scoop of cynicism based in a false, revisionist-history, outrage-fattened, piece of worn out liberal wishing. Meanwhile, in the real world, there’s a decided lack of sober-minded, reality-based liberals who can work under extreme pressure and not sound like weirdos or silliwillies or bridge-too-far idealists, or fair-weather Fairytale Version Obama voters, god bless ‘em all.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Give ‘em hell, Matt.

        So an administration that was muddleheaded, but strong, is followed by an administration that’s muddleheaded, but weak. Hardly what the Doctor recommended.

        Given the gravity of our nation’s economic stagnation, our quadi-imperial overreach, our sense of national loss and humiliation, our deepening internal divisions … does our current national predicament remind you of another haunting historical precedent: the Weimar Republic?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  34. collapse expand

    Matt, I wouldn’t let the emotionally attached Obama supporters get you down anymore than the emotionally attached Palin ones do. Your target audience is thinking voters, and they support you for bringing a rare perspective to the table, the unvarnished truth. Seeing as how you seem to be in need of a pick me up, let me compliment you. I have learned more about how the political mechanism truly works from you than anyone else, and it is not even close.

    As for being an Obama “supporter”, I don’t know what that means. One should be a supporter based on what the president does not what he says. So am I an Obama supporter?

    Expansion of the war in Afghanistan? Hell no. A surge is right out of W’s playbook.

    With the economy? No. I voted for a guy who was going to change things. That meant goodbye to the Enron loophole and dark exchanges, reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, and turning the stock market back into something that didn’t resemble a Ponzi scheme. What we got is continuation of W’s policies with the economy. Hell, Obama liked TARP so much he passed his own version of it.

    With health care? The people who I have read who claim to have gone through the entire house bill state that it is nothing more than a giveaway to the special interests. I wonder if we have a repeat of the TARP or AIG bait and switch. Once more though, W expanded health care with the Medicare part D giveaway.

    Foreign policy? Yes, it is good that we have a leader who can finish sentences, but again, I see no difference between Obama and W at this point outside of style.

    Outside of shutting down the F22 program, I don’t see anything Obama has done differently than W did. To date, all the changes I see that have been made are ones of image not substance.

    That the Dems whine about not getting things done is bothersome to me. In 2006, they were powerless because they didn’t have 60 votes in the Senate. Now they do, and they are still whining about needing more time. With essentially 60 votes in the Senate, Obama has had more ability than any other president in recent time to push through needed reforms, and he has totally whiffed on doing so IMO.

    The choice in 2008 was not between Obama and Palin but McCain and Obama, and there are a lot of us now who voted for Obama who are wondering if we made the right choice. Slogans aside, I think McCain would have brought much more of a change to W’s policies than Obama has.

    So that is your answer your to the Obamaphiles, Matt. Ask them where on policies to date Obama differs from W. They will be just as clueless as those waiting to sign Palin’s book.

  35. collapse expand

    Nice article. I see why you have such a following, Matt Taibbi. You actually contribute insight and clarity to an argument. Thank you.

  36. collapse expand

    Matt, one of the reasons I started reading you in RS and have ever since is because you remarkably appear unfazed by partisanship; I’ve seen you blast the ridiculous GOP and then completely gut the equally-if-not-that-crazy Dem party. This is what’s known as actually holding gov’t accountable, which is what our media is supposed to do. Instead, they “report” on it like two WWE announcers, simply noting the score but never calling bullshit (unless it’s the daily show).

    I don’t get the Palin adoration either, but yes, people get totally confused when I blast Obama (usually because of your reporting)–people are so entrenched in the either/or, false choice, yer-with-us-er-against-us mentality they can’t comprehend how I can criticize a president for whom I voted. It doesn’t compute; they only hear that from Republicans.

    Do people forget that when we vote in a president we hire a man to do a JOB? What it’s become in the past few years is just getting the guy hired, and who cares what kind of job he does? Eight miserable years of Bush and these people can’t wait to hire him again (which would be Palin) and here we have Obama supporters insisting we give nothing but props because… because what, exactly? If you hired employees for your own business based on nothing but party membership, you’d tank. Yet that’s exactly what we do at this point in this country. It’s about the “winning,” not the governing. The media has sold us the idea that we’re on one team or the other, instead of the reality that we’re all in the same boat. Which is going to hit that iceberg pretty damn soon if people don’t wake up.

    Keep up the great work as always!

    -Tony Healy

  37. collapse expand

    I read Greenwald’s article and I think this is a nice follow-up. I have to admit to being a “fan” of Obama when he was elected ~ eight years of Bush was enough to make anyone giddy at the prospect of having a halfway intelligent man in the White House ~ but I think it’s almost a duty as a voter to be critical of elected officials and their policy decisions. And right now, I think Obama is losing the battle on many fronts. He’s been overtly silent on health care and disastrous on the economy, and while he ran on pursuing the war in Afghanistan, I think it’s going to be a dreadful mistake for his administration.

    As a voter, I think I have every right to say those things, and so does anyone else who’s cast their vote. This whole idea of giving him a break is ridiculous, because he’s been in office for almost a year now and he can only use the “I inherited this mess” excuse for so long.

  38. collapse expand


    That’s your response to anyone who defends the administration, points out your RS story’s errors or points out that many of the 60 Dems are very red-state conservative?

    Isn’t that a classic conservamedia right-wing tactic?

    Use a pejorative to attack those who point out the errors in your position as we see them?

    Does Obama have the power to remove the filibuster from the minority party???

  39. collapse expand

    There was a real interesting comment over at Zero Hedge. It pointed to a blog that showed ordinary people gaming the system to their financial advantage. Examples given were strategic walk-always were people who could afford their mortgage payments , but saw they were hundreds of thousands under water, walked away. Then they found similar homes from other lenders where people had walked away they could rent for half or less of their previous mortgage payments leaving them with strong cash flow.

    I labeled this as Trickle Down Moral Hazard Economics

    I was inspired enough to prep a diary on this over at DKos.

    The actors would be
    OverValueVille USA: Where ALT-As and Option Arm loans became the mortgages of choice for those with means or at least a good credit score with a recast period of 5 years and generally non conforming . Meaning $700,000 and up. In a unrelated story, a Zero Hedge writer ventured into where wall street sleeps; Greenwich Ct. He found that the 1-2 Million dollar homes have over 2 years of unsold inventory while the 20 Million dollar plus homes are snapped up in all cash transactions in a “fortnight”. When he mentioned he was from Zero Hedge, he said ” I may as well have farted”

    Uncle Ben’s Pawnshop for banks. The difference between a real Pawnshop is that a real Pawnshop only lends a small percentage of a debtor’s collateral actual worth, at credit card interest rates and higher for a limited period of time. If not paid in the 90 day period, Then the collateral comes out of Pawn and is sold.

    With Uncle Ben’s Pawnshop for Bankers, Benny will loan you 500% on your old Timex that no longer ticks after taking a licking at zero % interest.

    The Psycho Stock Market: With Bank of America selling at a Price to earnings ratio of 500 and the S&P index selling at a Price to earnings Ratio of 130+ where a bull market reading of 27 makes people nervous and a recovery period of 35 or more usually means it’s going down again. The closest it’s been since 1936 is at 60 which was the end of Dec 2008. Who can forget what followed?

    The Market seems to a direct result of Uncle Ben’s Pawnshop funded by printer money who is providing all the liquidity the banks need as they count their non performing assets at 100% of face value and then use those mortgages as collateral at Uncle Ben’s.

    The net effect of all the de-leveraging and the 16% increase in the Dow has been a increase in Household net worth as of Q3 of 2.7 Trillion. One problem: It can’t be monetized. In trying to recreate the wealth affect they forgot one important component: Banks have to be willing to lend so people don’t try to monetize their gains by selling equities all at once which would crash the market.

    In the past with two legs of the asset bubble up, people had no problems goings into hock because their paper wealth reassured them. Not so anymore nor are there enough lenders to even indulge minor excesses like a dinner out. But those who have gamed th4 system have more than enough to not only hold on to the matching pair of BMWs but take trips and vacations. Which may be why retail sales are up 1.3% over last November. That’s no big deal really. It amounts to all of 7 Billion dollars. But is a good showing of Tickle Down Moral Hazard Economics at work.

    The fact that the US debt level is rising to nosebleed levels threatening to crush GDP, 45,000 people will die because Senators won’t ever vote for a health Care reform bill that adds one cent to the deficit deficit even though they just raised the debt level by 1.8 Trillion which Wall Street cheers because they know most of that is for them. Shadow Stats shows a 22% unemployment rate just 300 basis points behind the great depression’s 25% , the infrastructure is crumbling, the American dream is dead, but other than that President Obama is doing one “Heck-Of-A job”

    The funny part , if there is one, blind supporters of President Obama who like to trot that increase of Household net worth out as evidence that he is on the right path. Won’t they be surprised in November of 2010. “You mean people didn’t understand that they are wealthier because of President Obama? I’m having no problems myself. What?”

    They called Matt a conspiracy theorist? HAHAHA

  40. collapse expand

    Matt Taibbi has gotten it wrong. He and anyone reading his recent writing should take some time to read responses from Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias:



  41. collapse expand

    Isn’t the real problem the lack of choices? Glenn Greenwald called out Obama over his flip-flop on telecom immunity well before the election – but the only other choice was McCain.

    Efforts to create a more progressive choice gave us the 2000 election result where Nader cost Gore, ummm, 3 states? Not just Florida, but Ohio and New Hampshire?

    You need something like vote-pairing so that congressmen can go home for a holiday: no third-party further-left candidate without a comparable fourth-party further-right candidate so that both left & right can be “split” at election time.

    As long as their are just two choices, the anti-abortion movement is stuck voting for republicans who won’t actually do anything to make abortion illegal, and the civil-rights movement is stuck voting for democrats who would cheerfully stuff Mr. Padilla in a wood chipper.

    And since any flagging of support for your one-and-only-choice practically hands the election to the other guy in a system where nobody gets 55% any more – 53% would be a “landslide” today – you are certain to get the informal party whips jumping on you for any failure to support “our side”.

    You might as well jump up out of your trench at Ypres or the Somme, shouting “I can’t support the British, they aren’t anti-German enough”.

    Like a war, it’s binary logic: As Ken Kesey put it, you’re on the bus, or off the bus.

  42. collapse expand

    After watching obama in action for the past few months, i.e., the bankers and the wars, I still think that Hillary Clinton would have been the right person for the job.

    I know, that didn’t happen but, I don’t see her rolling over on the economy and the wars like Obama has.

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    About Me

    I'm a political reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, a sports columnist for Men's Journal, and I also write books for a Random House imprint called Spiegel and Grau.

    For Media Inquiries: taibbipress@rollingstone.com

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