From my day job at The Justice. I’m going to take a lot of flak for this.
Last autumn I voted to re-elect President Obama and, when he was announced the winner on election night. I too was one of the hundreds of students giddy with joy, celebrating in the Shapiro Campus Center. Despite this, both before and during the election season, and now after the election and into Obama’s second term, I have made no secret of the fact that there are a number of issues in which I sharply disagree with the President—namely his positions on civil liberties issues and his weakness in negotiations. However, worse than any of Obama’s shortcomings, are the shortcomings of many of his supporters—specifically, those who are intolerant of dissent toward the President.
It has become almost political heresy to criticize Obama within most progressive circles. I have alienated colleagues, friends and family, simply by stating a way in which the President has failed to deliver on part of his election agenda.
Counter to what Fox News or other allegedly conservatively-biased news outlets would have you believe, this is not because Obama has instituted a cult of personality, instructing his supporters to worship him. Instead, the intolerance of dissent that has formed was spontaneously created because progressives are still naïvely waiting for their man on a white horse to lead them into the promised land.
Obama has continued most of police-state policies of the previous Bush administration, such as the continued use of Guantanamo Bay and the USA PATRIOT Act. Orwellian measures, such as ubiquitous wiretaps and surveillance, have been extended from George W. Bush’s presidency. In addition, Obama has added a few authoritative measures of his own, such as the recent Defense department appropriations act, which gives the right to indefinitely detain American citizens, and the notorious drone program. However, Obama, when running for president in 2008, never actually claimed to be against these sorts of measures. Obama voted to renew the Patriot Act while in the Senate in 2005, and voted to extend blatantly unconstitutional National Security Agency Wiretaps in 2008.
However, progressives and other Democrats still flocked to support him, seeing Obama through his lens of hope and change, as an inspirational figure, rather than the fallible politician he is.
Yet if one dares to criticize the President for continuing these policies and legislation that, historically, have had no place in the Democratic Party, they are unfairly called out by fellow progressives for splitting the party. For example, when Senator Rand Paul recently filibustered President Obama’s nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, only one Senate Democrat, Oregon Senator RonWyden, publically came to his support.
Senator Wyden was not punished by his party in any direct way; his influence on powerful Senate Committees was not diminished. However, the 54 other Senate Democrats, many of which have otherwise friendly records in Civil Liberties, were painfully silent, out of fear of publicly rebuking Obama. The frightening zeal that has developed among many of Obama’s supporters is eerily reminiscent of President Bush’s frequent charges of “us vs. them.” As Television host Bill Maher said in 2009, when discussing this very problem, “I like Obama too, [but] let’s not make it a religion.” Indeed, many of Obama’s supporters have developed an almost cult-like reverence for the man, seeing his actions as infallible and his errors are nonexistent. Last year, former Democratic Representative Arthur Davis even commented upon this phenomenon, remarking in a Politico.comop-ed that “the Obama camp looks ominously like a cult of personality that tolerates no dissent.”
However, this is not actually Obama’s fault. He simply has a set of political views, which he did not especially hide when running for office, and is now implementing his agenda based on those views. Just as how Republicans measure up their current politicians to Ronald Reagan like a yard stick, as some sort of perfect conservative demagogue, I fear that progressives will do the same with Obama.
Progressives are wrong to see Obama as anything more than he is: a fallible politician.
In our country, dissent should be celebrated, even from sources usually in agreement with each other. The Democratic Party’s internal debates and divisions in the 20th century are what brought the current centre-left party of today into existence. Unwavering support of any politician is wrong, and it is disquieting to see that some progressives seem to care more about an individual person than the policies they supposedly stand for.