05/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dear Democrats Who Are Criticizing President Obama

Dear Democrats, progressives and all those who voted for Obama but don't agree with some of his policy decisions and are now publicly criticizing him: No, you're not traitors. Yes, constructive dissent is the lifeblood of democracy. You may even be correct in the details of what you are saying. But this is not the time to criticize President Obama.

President Obama is so calm, reasonable and unflappable that it may not appear so, but our president is in a knife fight. He is fighting for you and me. He needs rock solid friends now as steady in our resolve as he is in his.

In the current economic context lefty critics of Obama are the moral equivalent of people playing with matches in a gasoline soaked room. Too many of them seem to not appreciate the context of their remarks. Maybe that's because they live isolated from people not like them, talk to too many progressives who agree with them. They act as if they have never met a Republican. Well I have! And my in box of hate email keeps me in touch with my former right wing and fundamentalist "colleagues."

I don't have a Nobel prize, but I did live, grow up in and work (frighteningly effectively) in the far right netherworld for years until I quit in the mid-80s. Maybe I know a bit more than some progressive Obama critics know about the alternative we face if Obama fails. I helped create it.

Welcome to the eternally slimy moronic exploitative world of Glenn Beck, Joe the plumber and Rush. If progressives blow our Obama chance Palin, Crist, Hukabee, Bush (Jeb), Romney and company are waiting in the wings and will kill our country -- forever -- if one of them, or Republicans like them who pander to the far right "base" (e.g. anyone who believes Glenn Beck is sane) come to power four years from now. And don't be so stupid as to think that it could not happen. Hate is real and it is powerful.

The biggest issue President Obama faces is not the dire emergency, or should I say dire emergencies, he's inherited from the failed Republicans. President Obama's biggest challenge is that the Republican Party is not a loyal opposition. The GOP has become a rabid money-worshiping insurgency (with racist overtones) of anti-American revolution seeking to undermine every single step our new president takes. They are led by opportunistic -- often stupid -- ideologues who would rather take us all down than admit that their anti the "other" pro-rape-the-earth-greed philosophy has failed.

When I say the GOP is "anti-American" I mean that the Republicans don't love America as she is. They wave the flag for a neverland "America" of white "Christian" conservatives (a token person of color or two) and nutcase war-loving neoconservatives, rich people and their lumpen and paranoid rural dupes. The GOP leadership and base hate the actual America of multicultural diversity, higher education, racial equality, a place where gays can thrive and where science will not be beholden to theological moralists.

That said, I'm writing to those who voted for President Obama, from moderates to members of the far left -- or even to people such as myself; a white, middle-aged, moderate, a lifelong Republican (and former Religious Right leader) who abandoned the forces of hate and worked hard to get Obama elected. (A story I tell in my book Crazy For God.)

In my last Huffington Post blog I equated Krugman with Limbaugh. I was talking about the effect of their words spoken in criticism of the President and also their very apparent ego-driven motives. For the responders who pointed out that surely I must know the difference between a Nobel Prize winner in economics and a radio personality buffoon, let me note that the purpose of my piece was to start a discussion on what the sum total impact of the so-called loyal (progressive) opposition is having on the chances of President Obama succeeding in saving our country.

So what's wrong with the give-and-take of, for instance, the Krugman onslaught in print and on television eviscerating parts of the Obama economic recovery plan and claiming it will fail?

The Deadly Problem With Today's Progressive Dissent

Context is everything. You can win a Nobel Prize and still get it wrong, when it comes to understanding the political, social and spiritual reality into which you publicly launch your ideas. You can be an expert in one area but dead wrong as far as the big picture goes... especially if you live in a privileged bubble, the sort of sheltered bubble wealthy tenured professors and/or top columnists and journalists live in.

Some progressives (such as Krugman) tell us that our economic situation is so dire that they feel compelled to speak out publicly in order to "help" the Obama team come up with better ideas. There's a contradiction here. If our situation is so dire that it requires someone such as Krugman -- whose prestige guarantees him direct private access to the presidential advisers -- to go to the public instead of taking the private advisory road, then our situation is bad enough so that he, and other progressives with powerful voices critical of Obama, wittingly or unwittingly, will make things worse. Back-stabbing our president, while he is trying to protect the rest of us is from the Republican's frontal assault on America is wrongheaded.

You can be right about the details but mistaken about the overall situation. You can win battles and lose wars. Context is everything. Getting lost in the details, say of economic theory, is meaningless -- even if you are correct -- unless it actually helps the big picture.

The Problem of the Context of Today's Progressive's Dissent

1) Except for what Lincoln and Roosevelt faced, the severity of the inherited problems Obama finds himself confronting, in the first few short weeks of his presidency, are unique to American history. Saying things such as "So, we never get to criticize this president?" or "You must think he's Jesus," to people -- like me -- who criticize lefty Obama critics for being critical at this fraught time misses the point. The day after Pearl Harbor was a time to pull together, not to parse the details of Roosevelt's leadership.

2) President Obama confronts not only Rush Limbaugh and his ilk but a host of others -- including elected Republicans in congress -- who make no bones about the fact that they are actively seeking to undermine his presidency. Rush, Fox News, the Republican congressional leadership and their millions of not-too-bright hate and fear-driven followers -- have become an actual fifth column. They have met our contemporary "Pearl Harbor" with the words, "We hope Roosevelt fails! We hope the Japanese win!" They are traitors in a time of war, actually three wars; Iraq, Afghanistan and the economic war we're all fighting in order to survive.

3) Every commentator agrees that at least half (if not more) of our financial crisis is due to a psychological loss of confidence in our economic system. So criticism of the various economic remedies the President is trying to launch have to be examined in two ways. First, on the merits of the economic theory. But, second, from the point of view of the impact the critic's words have in further diminishing confidence in our system and thus destabilizing it. So ironically the greater the critic's intellectual or political standing the less good he or she will do by public -- as opposed to private -- criticism.

So when a Paul Krugman goes on national television again and again and again or appears on a magazine cover pronouncing Obama's "failure" or writes one column after another for the New York Times claiming that President Obama's plans are wrong, it is the ultimate naïveté for the critic to then say (or pretend) that his comments are simply academic (or journalistic) observations. The progressive Obama critic in our present context is morally responsible for how his ideas will play when amplified by the sensationalistic press, and turned into news-cycle sound bites for the short attention span scared public, not to mention used by the Republicans.


I believe that Obama will succeed beyond our fondest hopes. (Read Linsky and Grashow in the Huffington Post for a great explanation of the scope of what President Obama is doing )

I think President Obama is the finest leader we have had in my lifetime. That firm belief notwithstanding, do I think a time will come when progressives may (and should!) offer public criticism of President Obama when they disagree with him? Yes of course! But now is not that time.

Our new president needs to settle in, to do his job, to work for you and me. Now is the time to close ranks with President Obama and stand with him shoulder-to-shoulder, for the sake of what is right, just and good.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and the author of CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back. Now in paperback.