THE BLOG
07/07/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Reminder: Obama Told Us To Judge Him, and Pressure Him

I chatted with the Washington Post on Friday about Barack Obama's recent moves to the right. You can read what I told them in the Post"s big story from yesterday. It juxtaposes nicely with an important post from Chris Bowers at OpenLeft, in which he urges us to judge Obama on his actions -- and not come up with wild theories to explain them away. I can't agree more.

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If this populist uprising moment is going to be harnessed into a real progressive movement, we need to see candidates as means for the movement -- not ends unto themselves.

To follow up on Chris"s terrific post, I want to point out that Barack Obama told me that progressive activists should judge him explicitly by what he does -- and not come up with wild theories that absolve him. Here's the money quote from my article on him in The Nation two years ago:

"You should always assume that when I cast a vote or make a statement it is because it is what I believe in," Obama said.

So by Obama's own admission, when he casts, say, an anti-progressive vote on civil liberties, we shouldn't whip up wild fantasies about him supposedly doing it because he actually is progressive on civil liberties. We should believe that he is, in fact, anti-progressive on civil liberties. That is, we should judge him on his actions.

Of course, in the same interview, Obama then said this:

"The thing that bothers me is the assumption that if I make a judgment that's different from yours, then it must mean I am less progressive or my goals are different, meaning I must be not really committed to helping people but rather I am trying to triangulate or drift toward the DLC [Democratic Leadership Council]."

This struck me as odd in that he is simultaneously saying we should judge him by his votes, but then saying we shouldn't. I take this latter comment as him just being a politician who doesn't like pressure (or, in his words, is "bothered" by it), and is therefore trying to pre-empt it.

It's the first comment imploring us to take him at his word that I think we need to take most to heart. Obama is telling us very clearly: If and when he moves to the right on key issues, we should take off the partisan blinders, shy away from the excuses, judge him by his concrete actions -- and apply pressure accordingly. This comes on top of Obama's talk about the need to build a movement to hold him and others in public office accountable.

That makes things pretty clear: Those who think they are being Obama loyalists by either concocting apologist rationales about his behavior or telling everyone to shut up when he runs over the progressive movement are not just harming the progressive movement by supplanting it with Partisan War Syndrome. They are actually being disloyal to Obama by defying what Obama himself says he wants us to do.

This is an ongoing series from the national tour for THE UPRISING. You can order The Uprising through your local independent bookstore.