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Pull, Pull, Pull to the Left: On Rove's Revisionism and Obama's "Failing" Presidency

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Frustration is a wonderful motivator for blogging -- and for those of us steeped in politics, each day brings an extra measure of it.

Take Karl Rove's encomium to the gloriously successful Iraq war and his abiding humility in admitting a big mistake: not attacking the war's critics more effectively.

Trotting out a long-ago debunked argument about weapons of mass destruction, Rove writes:

Saying the commander-in-chief intentionally lied America into war is about the most serious accusation that can be leveled at a president. The charge was false--and it opened the way for politicians in both parties to move the debate from differences over issues into ad hominem attacks.

Yes, it is a serious charge, and to those of us who protested the Iraq invasion with all our might (and who were called traitors in the process) it was not leveled lightly. It would take more than a single post to fully refute the falsehoods in Rove's piece, but here are a few key points:

  • Saddam Hussein was a murderous dictator, one of several across the globe. Seeing him brought to justice was an exceptional thing. We don't focus enough attention on human rights violations across the globe - specifically the wholesale oppression of girls and women - and I wish Saddam's fate on every other human being who brutalizes and slaughters innocent people.
  • However, the Bush administration did not put forth human rights as the primary rationale or justification for war. Instead, they lied, claiming at the time of the invasion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed an imminent, grave, growing threat to the United States. Countless articles, editorials, blog posts and reports have enumerated those falsehoods and exaggerations and I direct Mr. Rove to "the Google" to peruse them.
  • No amount of revisionist history will undo the immense and unfathomable death, pain, suffering, blood, gore, and torture unleashed by our 'preemptive' invasion, the shattered families, the psychological damage, among our veterans and the Iraqi people. The moral damage to America is deep. The resources spent in Iraq could have been allocated to millions of teachers, cops, firefighters, nurses, to education and medical research, to health care -- saving thousands if not millions of lives rather than killing hundreds of thousands.
  • Nearly 400 Iraqis died in violence last month. The U.S. still maintains a massive troop presence there. As with Lebanon, where I grew up, stability in Iraq is tenuous at best. By all measures in the preceding paragraphs, the Iraq fiasco was, is and always will be a failure. Perhaps less of an unmitigated failure than it could have been, but a failure nonetheless.

And yet, the idea that Iraq is a success is not exclusive to Karl Rove. Glenn Greenwald explains:

There's no question -- as this glorifying, propagandistic Newsweek cover story reflects -- that it's now official dogma that this was the right thing to do, or at least that we produced something great and wonderful for that country, as was our intent all along (leaving aside the what is actually happening in Iraq). It's nothing short of nauseating to watch those responsible glorify what they did without weighing -- or, in Friedman's case, affirmatively dismissing as irrelevant -- the extreme amounts of death and suffering that they caused, all based on false pretenses.

Pivoting to a larger issue: the manufacture and sale of Washington's major export: conventional wisdom (and I use the latter word with appropriate cynicism). Beltway 'wisdom' is the product of an incestuous DC environment, where reporters, politicians, assorted bigwigs and yes, even some bloggers, hob nob and stroke one another (mostly figuratively) and where ideas and notions and narratives are tossed around and stirred till something emerges that vaguely mirrors reality but has little substantive relationship to it.

A quintessential example is this piece in the Politico, an outlet that has become a powerhouse in the new media era, employing some of the sharpest political reporters and connected to our capitol's power centers.

Entitled Why Obama loses by winning, it lists the reasons why, despite big legislative victories, (chiefly, health insurance reform and financial regulation), President Obama is still "widely perceived as flirting with a failed presidency." Among those reasons?

"On the issues voters care most about ... Obama has shown himself to be a big-government liberal." And: "an elite group of commentators on the left -- many of whom are unhappy with him and are rewarded with more attention by being critical of a fellow Democrat -- has a disproportionate influence on perceptions. The liberal blogosphere grew in response to Bush. But it is still a movement marked by immaturity and impetuousness -- unaccustomed to its own side holding power and the responsibilities and choices that come with that."

In fairness, the article makes a couple of accurate points. One in particular I find especially resonant and have written at length about, that Obama has failed to articulate a grand vision. But the idea that Obama's problems are a result of his excessive liberalism or the alleged immaturity, impetuousness and irresponsibility of progressive bloggers, is plain wrong and says more about the authors' views than the facts.

It didn't require convoluted Beltway analysis to figure out that Bush and Rove were lying in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. And it doesn't take the Politico's regurgitation of Beltway wisdom to tell me what's ailing the current White House: simply put, Obama hasn't adequately repudiated Bushism, in deed or words.

Beginning in 2001, the opposition to Bush on the left centered around war, civil liberties, civil rights, secrecy, national security, and hostility to science (and by extension the environment). That opposition spawned the netroots and set the groundwork for future Democratic victories, including Obama's.

Today, the complaint from Obama's progressive critics is that in many of those areas, Bush's approach lives on, neither disavowed nor discontinued.

It astonishes me that the White House, Obama's supporters, and pundits fail to understand how profoundly detrimental this is to his fortunes. In the long run -- and coupled with his unwillingness to present a grand unified vision -- it will likely trump his legacy of legislative achievements.

Unfortunately, the President, his advisers, and many Democratic leaders and strategists are captives of the same Beltway mindset that tells us Iraq is a resounding success and Obama's problem is the liberal blogosphere. In too many ways they embrace and embody it, running away from the "liberal" tag, shunning the left, marginalizing progressive ideas, and working overtime to please the likes of David Brooks, a prime purveyor of Beltway wisdom.

At this point, bemoaning the fact that Obama isn't a true progressive is overdone. Who knows or even cares what's in his heart. What matters are the results of this administration's policies. Elected officials are answerable to us - we have failed ourselves and our country if we don't hold them accountable every single day. It's our job, our duty. It's also our responsibility to research the facts, know the issues and reach our own conclusions, not the storylines fed to us by Beltway pundits or DC communications shops.

Obama and his team have accomplished some big things - they should be lauded for persevering in the face of withering criticism and an entrenched opposition held hostage by reactionaries. Still, we must continue to demand true progress, not half measures. We must demand fealty to fundamental Constitutional principles and to the highest ethical ideals. Anything less is unacceptable.

It's always easier to go with the flow, but I for one will proudly tell my daughter that I pulled, pulled, pulled to the left as the nation drifted right.

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