The Moment of Crystallized Disenchantment – an Appeal to Progressives Who Have Supported Barack Obama

by on December 1, 2009 · 15 comments

in Civil Rights, Organizing, Peace Movement, War and Peace

In just a few hours, President Obama will lay out his plan to send an additional 30,000+ US troops to Afghanistan.  Which makes this a very trying moment for progressives who supported Obama during the campaign, his Presidency, and up to now. It is a very painful moment, a very anguishing one, as many of us are picking up our anti-war protest signs once again. Many of us will be demonstrating against this decision in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Do you feel the pain? I certainly do. This is even very painful for me to write. The pain I feel, that we feel – those of us who did support Obama- is very real. And it is to those I now appeal – those who championed the first African-American to assume the Presidency, to take the reins of our Empire in the hopes of bringing our democracy back from the eight long Bush years.

For those progressives and leftists who never supported Obama because he was a Democrat, or he was not radical enough, not left enough, not anti-corporate enough, not green enough – they are now gloating with “I told you so’s”. I am not addressing myself to them. They are already sufficiently self-righteous and are not open to this argument. They have already written Obama off – and some have even written me off.

But for some of us, those of us who listened to Obama during the campaign, who have both feet on the ground, knew this was coming.  We knew, sooner or later, that we would be facing this moment – the moment when Obama sets out his expansive military plan for Afghanistan.  We knew this moment of pain was coming.  We heard him talk about it during the campaign.

We also know that the American people are very divided on this question.  Polls still show an electorate split on whether escalating and sending more troops into that land-locked country is what they want or believe.

In the end, this is the moment of the crystallization of the dilemma of the disenchanted progressive.  This is the moment I described in my recent series “The Dilemma of the Disenchanted Progress” – the moment when progressives are so disenchanted with the tempo and types of changes that the man they voted for has ushered in, that they are leaving the Obama bus in droves and are ready to kick him under it.  This is the last straw. It’s Obama’s war now, he’s the new War President.

The dilemma then arises for us when we realize that despite this military misadventure, the main threat to our country is still the racist extremists who have incorporated all the attributes of an American fascist movement,  supported by the Republican leadership, the corporate media, and some really wealthy patrons.  They are opposing Obama, trying to undo the 2008 election, pushing the Sarah Palins and Glenn Becks forward as their leaders – and next President.

How can we resist this fascist movement that is gunning – quite literally for the first Black President – and at the same time oppose this gigantic disastrous move by him into Afghanistan?

It is not easy, it is excruciating painful, and in fact it may be so difficult that either we fail, he – Obama – fails, or both.

It takes a political maturity, seeped in both American and world history, to figure this out. It takes a maturity that is able to protest Obama’s plan on this, yet support him on other  liberal elements of his administration’s policies.  How – or why – can we do this?

Sure, we grab our protest signs.  Sure we march against war again. Sure we chant, yell, even shout at Obama.

But there are differences. When we protested Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, we even called him the ‘worst president in history’, called for his impeachment, called him out for his lying to us and Congress. Obama has not done these. He never said he would end the war in Afghanistan. He didn’t lie to the people, he didn’t invade a country that had nothing to do with 9-11.

And for progressives and leftists to diss him this early in his administration – even calling for his early retirement – does seriously play into the game plan of the militarists and corporatists.  For then he becomes so isolated politically – that he is a better target for them.

It is a difference of substance. And of style. We can protest and demonstrate against Obama and his Afghan policies without demonizing him, without vilifying him, without questioning his legitimacy, and without jeopardizing the liberal elements of the rest of his administration. We gave up on George W ever listening to us on anything. We have not and cannot do that now. We protest so Obama can hear us.

Obama even told us to do that.  Like FDR, he needs the grass-roots to apply our pressure.  He needs progressives to counter the pressures from the generals, the huge military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us against.

Some liken this moment to 1965 when Lyndon Johnson was escalating the conflict in Vietnam. Despite his “Great Society” achievements, LBJ became a symbol of war for an entire generation – my generation.   We chanted, “Hey, Hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?”

I think actually this moment is closer to 1961 and 1962 when John Kennedy was handed the Vietnam conflict. He was advised to send in more advisers, more troops – which he did at first. But he went up against the military-CIA-corporate establishment in many ways. From thwarting the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba to questioning the conflict in Vietnam.  Some say they assassinated him for his opposition. JFK was planning to withdraw from Vietnam, beginning his exit strategy when he was killed.  As soon as the dust settled after Kennedy’s death, Johnson re-committed our country to the conflict in Southeast Asia. And we stayed there for another 12 years, and another 45,000 American deaths and a million Vietnamese dead.

This is not over yet. Obama has not been in office for a year yet. Progressives in this country gave George W Bush even more time than that.

We need to protest President Obama’s Afghanistan decision. Yet we need to do it so he will listen.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar fstued December 1, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Frank nice write up I agree with you. We don’t know what his exit strategy is yet. Put yourself in his place and look at the consequences of the actions. We certainly don’t know what all the consequences may be, but we do know there will be some no matter what option is taken from complete immediate withdrawal to 40,000 more soldiers.
I am for giving the man a chance he wants to keep both houses in 2010 and his current residence beyond 2012. He has politics to play remember the man is a Chicago politician. I am curious to see what he does after 2012.
At least the man is thinking about it and he is intelligent. Give him a break until we see the whole picture

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avatar lane tobias December 1, 2009 at 3:31 pm

just spoke with a coworker whose son-in-law was discharged from the marines after two tours of duty and a full commitment as per his enlistment. Unfortunately, in the contract of most servicemen and women, there is usually some kind of reserve commitment tacked on at the end – especially for those discharged after shorter periods of time.

Guess who’s being called back for another tour of duty?

not only is there already low morale around afghanistan, but a good chunk of the folks being sent over as part of this surge will be reservists who have been discharged. that just sucks.

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avatar Pam Rider December 1, 2009 at 4:29 pm

I’ll try to remember the joy of Pete Seeger at the inaugural concert. LBJ was more of a mixed bag than many of us recognized during his presidency. I had a goodly dose of the Pete Seeger joy when LBJ announced he would not run. I hate to see Barak Obama perhaps begin on the LBJ path. Thanks, Frank: a long-lived JFK path could be possible.

I’m the only member of my immediate family not born in Kansas. I admit to feeling a bit motherly toward this fellow more charming than me or my family (other than drunken uncle Bud). My dad, very gently to not sound critical, asked if my protesting could be seen as disloyal. Under such pressure I was given (by something in the universe) a terrific answer: Would it be loving? Would you want me to ignore poor behavior by your grandsons out of “family loyalty?” Because I love what this country could be, because I, also, don’t want the fanatic anti-Obama rightists to prevail, I believe the most loving act toward a potentially great president is to oppose his misbehavior.

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avatar story December 1, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Thanks to bail-outs and stimuli packages and other impressive achievements of this Administration and so we can now afford to continue fighting a war on our terms half way around the globe.

Since Obama took charge, Americans are getting back to work, can look forward to better health care, and can now get on with the “good fight.”

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avatar jettyboy December 1, 2009 at 7:36 pm

Funny, but I get this feeling that the progressive community, and the “disenchanted progressives” would react even more strongly in support of Obama and his policies, and against the right, if he would have made a speech that said, “I’m ending our involvement in Afghanistan and bringing all our young men and women home within a year. Then we can use the billions to fight for universal health care at home. I refuse to capitulate to the military industrial complex.”

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avatar Scott Pearce December 1, 2009 at 8:14 pm
avatar Frank Gormlie December 1, 2009 at 10:10 pm

The Day After demonstration against the escalation in Afghanistan – Wednesday, December 2 – 5-6 pm – in front of Susan Davis’ office @ University Avenue and Fairmount Avenue in City Heights , San Diego

End the Occupation of Afghanistan Now!
Healthcare, Jobs and Education – No to War and Occupation

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avatar story December 2, 2009 at 12:39 am

occupation. but it’s what we love to do because everything is so right in OUR land. good point, Frank.

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avatar lane tobias December 2, 2009 at 11:38 am

the thing here, is that as a pacifist i take all kinds of heat. even some liberals are looking at this 18 month exit strategy as a “far-left” move, an unheard of military tactic that actually lends itself to pacifism. i do not agree with this. as long as we have hundred million dollar budget deficits in big cities that lead to schools downsizing and children missing out on public library services, 50 million americans a day going hungry, and a seriously flawed safety net for people in the throes of poverty, I cant justify a military budget in the trillions.

Its just not right. disenchantment abounds.

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avatar Monty Kroopkin December 2, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Tom Hayden has a piece in The Nation on this subject. It is at

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20091214/hayden

It includes a discussion of a Taliban peace proposal, that is getting nearly ZERO reporting from our Bankster Corporate Press.

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avatar Judith December 2, 2009 at 10:28 pm

I’ve often been annoyed by Tom Hayden, who’s had a few fluoflops of his own, and I don’t refer to beach sandals here. but most of this is spot on.

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avatar Monty Kroopkin December 3, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Judith,
Hayden’s article is the first place I’ve seen any mention of this Taliban peace proposal. That is what mostly caught my attention. I would like to see other articles on the subject, if anybody has run across any.

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avatar Judith December 3, 2009 at 12:08 pm

hi Frank, I appreciate your soul-searching on the eve of Obama’s announcement of committing 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan. AND I must admit that I wince at that old “li8beral vs. radical” thing being thrown around one more, time, in which those who questioned Obama’s commitment to promoting peace, and environmental and social justice as we understand them, are characterized as “self-righteous,” “gloating,” “dissing” the President, and “writing off” those who disagree. well, I may be a bit touchy on this issue, having been threatened, literally, by liberals who felt “we” should all unite around a Democratic Party candidate. when has name calling accomplished anything in terms of building solidarity? (interstingly, most conservatives write me off as a lost cause, but none of them have offered to throw me out of a room for not supporting their candidate; go figure.)as we may all meet at a demonstration against the troop buildup soon, I strongly recommend that we get over our fears of relating to one another as thoughtful humans who may disagree philosophically. I personally don;t feel at all smug about Obama’s s[peech or actions, though I will freely admit to being more disgusted than surprised.

it’s doubly ironic because during Obama’s campaign, as well as early days in office, tea-baggers and their ilk couldn’t stop confusing a “liberal” with a “socialist,” as if any self-respecting member of either category would want to be mis-identified as a member of the other. old friend and dreamwork teacher, Rev Jeremy TAaylor, likes to put it, “there is generally a range of acceptable opinions on a subject.” I can only speak for myself; you have not heard me trashing you or being self-righteous about Obama doing pretty much what he said he’d do if elected. I think it fair to ask for some mutual respect here.

PS I voted for the dude and like a lot of his community organizing background, but I do feel the evidence of his being beholden to too many corporate interests has been there all along. we all make the compromises that seem most necessary in daily life.

as my

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avatar Scott December 15, 2009 at 7:37 am

Naive to think Obama would be any different–this is what you get when you elect someone with no experience. He talks a good game but that’s where it ends. He was initially outraged by the AIG bonuses but when pressured, he allowed them and never talked about it again. Personally, he seems like a nice guy but he is in way over his head. He puts his trust and confidence in all the wrong people. Geithner is just a tool for the banks but he should have known this. He is just continuing policies of bailing out Wall Street while main street suffers. He said “We need a president who cares more about main street than wall street.” Does anyone believe he is living up to this? If you do, you are completely uninformed. He does the opposite and falls for the line that we must save them first (gee, sounds like the trickle down theory that so many liberals/progressives hate doesn’t it?). But a few crumbs to shut them up every now and then. What has a really done? Nothing. Just supported bailouts and ever increasing debt. Worst economy in over 20 years (and probably 70 years) and his main effort is health care reform? Millions unemployed/underemployed and he brags and celebrates about saving 1.6 million jobs? Completely out of touch. Everyone just keeps saying how is not his fault, he just inherited everything, he’s working hard and trying. Why don’t we judge him by results? If you don’t then you deserve to get more of the same for the next three years. Besides, he had a mandate and a democratic congress so he should be able to get more done. He said he believed the fight should be in Afghanistan during his campaign so his supporters should not be surprised. Afghanistan will be his undoing–combine this with a poor economy and budget/fiscal fiasco this is a repeat of the Johnson/Nixon years. He is a do-nothing president, a one-termer, and will go down in history maybe not as the worst president but the most disappointing one ever from what could have been.

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avatar Chris Moore December 19, 2009 at 1:38 pm

I can’t get too upset about it: IIRC this Aghanistan surge is exactly what he said he would do during the election campaign, is it not?

Obama is a centrist Democrat, not a radical by any means.

I can only think that anyone who thought differently was projecting a bit – both the self-assessed progressives and the Foxtard loonies that promulgate the myth that he’s just to the left of Vladimir I. Lenin.

He’s far more realistic than Bush, but don’t expect a truly radical course change.

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