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This Hippie Punches Back (A Rant)

October 1st, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Have you ever been told to “buck up” and “stop whining”? If so, did you react positively?

This past week, Joe Biden sent a loud message to liberals and progressives on behalf of the Obama administration, and that message was “what’s your fucking problem? Shut up about things like the public option and vote for Democrats, okay?”

Biden said that “some” people from the Democratic base are upset because they “didn’t get everything they wanted”. Who are you talking about, Joe? I’ve been all over the liberal blogosphere since before the inauguration, and I’ve never encountered anyone who threatened to stop supporting Democrats unless Obama delivered on every single promise he made.

This mythical all-or-nothing liberal voter has become the prime target of the Obama administration, from Rahm Emmanuel to Robert Gibbs and even the president himself. They’ve adopted this “hippie-punching” strategy as though it’s smart politics. As far as I can tell, the only benefit of this is to lower expectations so that when Democrats lose in the upcoming elections, they can say “at least it wasn’t as bad as everyone thought.”

In the mean-time, they’re turning half of their former supporters against them and all of their supporters against each other. Instead of going after Republicans and giant corporations and the people truly responsible for the plight of average Americans, liberals are attacking each other for either being too hard on the president or blindly supporting him no matter what.

If one were prone to wild conspiracy theories, one could theorize that the entire Obama presidency is a plot on the part of the power-elites to destroy the progressive movement. First you make it seem that weak and watered-down change is the only kind of change we can possibly expect from Washington, and then get half of the liberals to lambaste the other half for saying that we could have gotten more.

Of course the two most realistic possibilities are that Barack Obama either truly resents progressives for being more loyal to their policy goals than to him personally, or that this is just a calculated strategy to lower expectations before the election.

I think it’s probably a little of both. The fact that both Obama and Biden used the infuriatingly patronizing expression “buck up” (the only other time I’ve ever been told to “buck up” was from a girl as she rejected me) suggests that there is some calculation behind this, but you’d think that if Obama really felt the same frustrations as his base he would spend less time on the defensive and more time pointing the finger at those who stood in the way of real reform.

When Obama’s defenders ask me “what more could he have done?” I can’t believe that I actually have to explain it. Barack Obama was swept into office by millions of supporters not just eager to see him elected but to continue to fight for the Change we were told we could believe in. We were told that “we were the ones we’ve been waiting for” but when we fought hard for a public health care option and the White House negotiated it away before the fighting even began, most of us recognized from that moment on that we’d been played for suckers.

There are countless disappointments from the administration, but the battle over the public option remains the prime example both because it was the first major fight we lost and because it was so obvious that we could have gotten it if Obama had fought for it.

What more could he have done? Instead of merely paying lip-service to the public option, he could have been out there every week explaining to the people why it was such a good idea. It was an incredibly easy case to make—end the stranglehold of purely profit-driven private insurance companies on the health of the American people—but he wasn’t making it. He had to keep saying he was in favor of it, but he almost never mentioned it without some kind of qualifier: It’s just a ‘tiny sliver’ of the whole reform package. The reform legislation was the belt and the public option was suspenders—helpful but not necessary.

What more could he have done? How about pointing the finger at the private insurance companies and actually telling the horror stories of how the profit-motive in health care has been the cause of so much suffering and death in this country for decades? How about calling out the Republicans for their complete disingenuousness in negotiating on the health care bill, watering it down further and further in spite of the fact that none of them were ever going to vote for it? How about—and this may sound crazy—calling out corporate-friendly Democrats like Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, and Max Baucus and asking them to explain to the American people why they believed that the profit-motive should still be at the heart of the health care system?

Sorry Barack, but the idea of a universally available not-for-profit health insurance option is more popular than your administration. If you want to blame us for being more true to our ideals than a politician or political party, go right ahead. Just don’t act surprised when your approval rating continues to plummet.

Obama would like us to forget about the public option and move on, but why should we stop ‘whining’ when there’s still no real competition in the system, people with pre-existing conditions are still being excluded thanks to all the loop-holes, and premiums continue to rise by absurd proportions because there’s still no real cost-control mechanism?

Quit whining? Sorry. Not this hippie. I’ll stop whining when you deliver some real change. As of now you’ve only made a few minor improvements here and there, and I’ll give you credit for that but I’m not going to be waving your banner around when you clearly have so much contempt for people like me and the things I believe in (which contrary to media spin are the things that most Americans also believe in).

Keep on punching those hippies, Obama. Keep rubbing salt in our wounds. Keep turning us against each other (even now there will be people who read this and think that I’m somehow handing the election to the other side). Maybe when the Republicans take control and they start their ridiculous impeachment hearings, your popularity will go up like it did for Bill Clinton. Maybe you really want to lose your majorities so that you no longer have the responsibility to deliver on the things you promised because at that point no one will be able to reasonably expect significant change.

I’ll end with a disclaimer. My frustration with Barack Obama has grown to outright loathing thanks to this hippie-punching strategy, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to support Democrats this election. I don’t want Obama to get the relief from responsibility that will come with a Republican takeover of Congress. I want to make sure that we can still insist that Obama can get real change if he just fights for it.

And who knows? Maybe one day he’ll wake up and realize that we’re not his enemies and that he can actually accomplish great things if he just listened to us every now and then. Until then, I’m going to keep whining. I’ll whine loud and I’ll whine proud. If they don’t like it, they should buck up.

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