Back in 2007-8, I was an outspoken promoter of Barack Obama's nomination and election. I believed he had both the skills and the progressive views that would make him another FDR. Additionally, as the first black president, his election would be a hugely significant milestone in the history of a country cursed by racism from the very beginning.
I was right only on that last point: race. Obama's presidency changes America forever. No matter how successful or unsuccessful his presidency is judged to be, or whether he wins a second term, the very idea that the United States elected Barack Hussein Obama shows that a clear majority of the country accepts the revolutionary (for Americans) fact of racial equality. Yes, America is still cursed with racism but Obama's face among the 44 presidents depicted in every child's history book or on the post office wall, changes America in a profound way.
Unfortunately, I do not believe he has been a particularly good president. Former Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said of FDR that he was a born leader because, although he had a "second class intellect," he had "a first class temperament. " In my opinion, Obama is the opposite.
He is a brilliant man but he does not have the temperament for the presidency. He is reclusive, avoiding the glad handing of Congress that is necessary to get individual members of the House and Senate to feel personally close or loyal to him. He is not a fighter, always seeking to conciliate the opposition rather than defeat it. He refuses to use the presidency as a "bully pulpit" (in Theodore Roosevelt's phrase), reaching over Congress and the media to rally the people behind him.
Worst of all, his critical policy decisions have been informed by timidity.
His two most significant efforts -- reviving the economy and health care reform -- were both hobbled by a lack of boldness and propensity for preemptive compromising. His stronger actions, as on gay equality and on immigration, were only undertaken after he had lost the strong mandate he was elected with and needed to solidify his base in advance of re-election
Obama's foreign policy record is even worse. Between intensifying drone attacks, staying the course in Afghanistan, keeping Guantanamo open, and aligning our Middle East policies with Israel, Obama's foreign policy is pretty much a continuation of George W. Bush's.
In short, for progressives like me, Obama is a big disappointment. Nonetheless, it is absolutely critical that he be re-elected.
I suppose that my position can be characterized as "lesser evilism" but for the fact that I, in no way, consider Obama evil. I would rather categorize my support for Obama as recognizing reality.
We have a two-party system. Every four years we have to decide which of the two candidates will be better for the country or, more accurately, which will be worse.
For progressives, the answer is more clear in this election than in most. Even the most storied election of the last half century, Kennedy vs. Nixon, was a contest between two centrists who agreed on almost everything. So many progressives in 1960 felt that the two candidates were the same that historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote a book called Kennedy or Nixon: Does It Make Any Difference? Schlesinger argued that it did and history proved him right. (Imagine the Cuban Missile Crisis with Nixon at the helm).
The choice this year is less about the individual candidates than about the two parties. Republican Romney would ratify and implement the policies of the right-wing Republicans in Congress. And never has the gap between the two parties been greater, with congressional Republicans united in opposition to virtually all the programs implemented by Democrats since FDR's day to reduce economic and social inequality and improve lives for the poor, minorities, needy children and seniors, and working people in general.
Mitt Romney may not personally be a far-right Republican (he seems to have few strong views about anything) but he has endorsed the Republican blueprint for America. That is the Paul Ryan budget which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops correctly characterized as lacking certain "moral criteria" by disproportionately slashing programs that "serve poor and vulnerable people." Meanwhile, it dramatically cuts taxes imposed on the very wealthy, almost literally, as the phrase goes, "balancing the budget on the backs of the poor."
And then, of course, there is the Supreme Court which, under Chief Justice John Roberts, is dedicated to seizing every opportunity to rule on behalf of the powerful and against working people, minorities, labor unions and any form of governmental regulation that protects Americans if it inconveniences corporations. We are exactly one justice away from a 6-3 right-wing court and if that happens "we ain't seen nothing yet." At the first opportunity, Romney would appoint that justice.
In short, there is no excuse for any progressive to sit this election out. Even if Barack Obama was the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the dynamic would be the same. It is not the Democrat that is the key element in this election, it is the alternative and what that alternative would do to the Americans who are already hurting more than they have since the Great Depression.
Some elections do not represent life and death choices. Certainly the Stevenson-Eisenhower or Ford-Carter campaigns didn't. Neither, perhaps, did the 1988 Bush-Dukakis campaign. In fact, not even the McCain-Obama race was in that category; John McCain, for all his faults, never signed off on the agenda of the extreme right-wing of the Republican party.
Mitt Romney has. His election would represent the right's triumph, granting it the mandate it has long sought to crush and eradicate the America it despises: the America that embraces diversity and seeks to improve the lot of those who have the least.
No, Barack Obama is not perfect, not even close. But what difference does that make?