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Sunday, March 3

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Obama Wed Dec 09 2009

Treating the President Like a Punching Bag

Hey there. I was thinking, you know what are powerful things? Words. Glenn Greenwald recently wrote a piece chastising those who "blindly" follow the president. Specifically, he criticizes those who are threatening to "leave the Left" due to the amount of "beating up" the President receives from critics on the Left like Greenwald and David Sirota. Greenwald compares personality-based affection devoid of a policy basis for Obama to the sort of identity-politics adoration Sarah Palin receives from a segment of the right wing. One of the comments on Greenwald's piece read in part,

Oh no, how dare Virgil not hold the One True Correct View of Obama, which is that he is no better than Bush! How dare she form opinions based on what she has read (in the blogosphere) and what she has seen (of Obama)? I suppose that just makes her an unthinking Obamabot, doesn't it?

Get used to this, because it's going to happen a lot. There are a lot of liberals out there who, even if they are disappointed with some of Obama's policies (see, for instance, Joan Walsh), don't think he deserves to be treated like a punching bag.

This guy knows that President Obama is the president right?

With all due respect, David Sirota is, comparably, just a guy. In every sense -- literal, figurative, sixth -- it is impossible for people like Glenn Greenwald, David Sirota, from a different wing Christopher Hitchens, or ninth-tier local political writers like me to treat the President of the United States like a "punching bag." You know who can kind of treat the president like a punching bag? The president of a major network. The president of a billion-dollar investment bank or the board of a major health insurer. Do you know how they treat him like a punching bag? In the cases of the latter, by applying political pressure on him through legislative proxies to serve or protect their interests; in the former case, by coming just short of actually punching him in the face.

What (some of) the Left is doing is criticizing the most powerful person in the country. The worst insult we read is that his political promises were disingenuous. Harsh, yes. Punching? No. They're just saying they think he's exercising his enormous political power in a bad way. If power were gold coins, the President of the United States could Scrooge McDuck-style backstroke through it. Meanwhile, this class of critics is saying, "The President promised transparency, but his actions don't meet our definition of transparency." Maybe their definition is different from the president's; that's the whole point. That's how we figure things out in a democracy. One group believes some things, other groups other things, they try to convince their fellow citizens and then there are elections based on those beliefs. Should we not do that? Does Glenn Greenwald need to preface his criticisms by saying, "President Obama is awesome. Can I talk about a way he's not so awesome?"

Which brings me back to words. This commenter throws out a phrase like "punching bag" in order to turn this into an emotional issue. As though Barack Obama reads an article by David Sirota and hides in the closet in the Lincoln Bedroom, and tells people his face is bruised because he walked into a door. This phenomenon indicates a problem with our politics. The absence of coherent ideologies has let the narrative element of politics -- always an element, but just one of many -- dominate civic discourse. In narratives, there are heroes and villains. No, politics does not have to be dispassionate; but we do have a duty to reason and debate when we're in the civic arena. We're grown-ups, sometimes we have to put feelings aside. Putting feelings aside and thinking critically, it's easy to conclude that nobody is treating the most powerful man on the planet like a "punching bag."

Left or Right, we can all agree it would be awesome to watch Christopher Hitchens punch this.

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