Fresh from the emotional high of the Democratic convention, I was surfing Facebook and saw that my friends and colleagues were also inspired and energized by the event. Sort of.
While everybody's updates were declaring support and inspiration, a surprising number began with disclaimers. "Despite the disappointments of his first term, Obama has my vote." "Even though Guantanamo is still operating, I support Obama in November."
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised because the dissatisfaction started right after President Obama's inauguration. Two weeks in, I started hearing criticism: "Obama said that on his first day in office, he'd strike down the global gag rule. It took him five days!" "Well, it's great he got elected, but until I can marry my partner the jury's out."
Every time I hear a report that Obama's base is less motivated than they were in 2008, I wonder if it's because die-hard progressives are so wedded to our critical distance and perfect analysis that we can't bring ourselves to get enthusiastic about anyone at all.
Come on, people. Stop the disclaimers, already. They do a disservice to President Obama and to all of us in the progressive movement.
We are so focused on our ultimate vision that we don't appreciate failed efforts, however hard fought, and partial victories, however hard won. We refuse to celebrate change that involves compromise. Excitement over the landmark passage of health care reform was shot down with "It's not single payer, so I don't care." And on the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, which means so much to LGBT service members: "I don't think anyone should be serving in the military in the first place."
There's an obvious reason that progressives aren't such loyal constituents. We're people who don't shy away from asking the hard questions, and our vision of equality and justice is rightfully uncompromising. We are the voice for the people and issues that are not heard or believed. We know that our vision of a just society is a long way away.
But lately I wonder if there's another reason that we seem to need these disclaimers. Is it possible that for progressives, loyalty and gratitude are not qualities to which we aspire? Are we so eager to show how smart we are, how analytical and aware, that we are unwilling to express our admiration without apology or endless caveats?
We seem to value critical analysis over empathy and encouragement. We reward the pointing out of problems without insisting on realistic solutions. Loyalty and trust are not given the high regard that pointed criticism is. Celebration of incremental change is frequently undercut by complaints about what remains undone, implying that anyone who would rejoice doesn't really understand, or doesn't care about, the serious issues at stake.
In reality, solutions are rarely if ever perfect and complete. Change is incremental, but over time those incremental changes can add up to something that looks remarkably like the original vision.
When President Obama was elected, much was made about how the election of an African American as our national leader would inspire generations to come. But why would a person aspire to leadership when it makes you the target of so much vitriol, not so much from your opponents -- that's to be expected -- but from your home team, the people who ought to be cheering you on?
We need our best and brightest to want to become leaders, and they deserve our loyalty and support. This country has too many problems that need our vision and commitment, and we're getting in our own way.
Loyalty and gratitude are good qualities. Allowing yourself to be motivated by both doesn't mean you are not thinking of ways to make things better still. Being loyal to a leader means that you assume best intent, because that's what colleagues and compatriots do. Gratitude toward leaders doesn't mean obsequiousness. It means recognizing the effort and doing what you can to help. It means realizing that while leadership can have real glory, it can also have tremendous personal costs.
None of us has been President of the United States. I for one would never want to. I believe that President Obama shares my values, and I believe that this job of being our president, with a divided Congress, a global economic crisis, two wars, countless national tragedies and natural disasters, requires more than anyone can actually imagine until they are in the role. It's telling that Obama chose Lincoln's quote about humility in his convention speech, because anyone really present, truly striving, would be overwhelmed by what this job entails.
Honestly, I don't get why anyone feels a need to explain their choice here at all, because it's so clear. If you're upset because Obama hasn't done everything you'd hoped, are you seriously thinking Romney would do better? Because that's the choice you have to make, and you know you're either voting for Obama or you're not voting. No disclaimer is needed. None.
We may disagree about whether President Obama will go down in history as a great president. I believe he will. In his first term he has accomplished so much. I work in the gay and transgender rights movement, so I'm most grateful for social justice advances, including federal hate crimes legislation, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, appointing the first openly transgender Cabinet official, vocally supporting the freedom to marry, and changing HUD rules to ban housing discrimination against LGBT people, to name a few.
Whatever your key issues, or your deepest disappointment, can you honestly look at this list and not find many things to be proud of?
Can you say with integrity that if YOU were in this role, you could satisfy everyone, including you? Can you think of anyone who could?
The president doesn't get to just decide what is going to happen and inform everyone of his decision. He has to work with Congress, governors and state legislatures, and the courts. This job involves patience, creativity, and brinksmanship, all of which President Obama possesses in spades.
At President Obama's inauguration, I met people who had traveled many hours to be there in the freezing cold and impenetrable crowds. An elderly African American lady who had traveled all the way from Alabama in a church bus, told me why she had come that day. "I wanted the president to know that I was here for him. I voted for him and I will show up for him all the way, because I am so proud of him and my country."
I'm incredibly proud to be voting for President Obama in November. The first step toward our shared vision is to vote for him, and I urge you to join me, no disclaimers needed.