“Now that Obama appears poised to push substantial parts of Social Security and Medicare over the ‘fiscal cliff’ — in exchange for a paltry, largely symbolic, increase in the top marginal income-tax rate — we might ask whether liberals will once again rise to Obama’s defense, no matter how indefensible his actions,” writes John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine.

MacArthur recites the usual litany of Obama’s offenses — the insults from members of his inner circle (White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel called liberals “retarded”), the deaths of Middle Eastern women and children by drone strikes, and his repeated willingness to auction off what could be and what remains of America’s social programs — all of which falls short of Obama’s modest reputation as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side.

MacArthur argues that Obama’s followers see only what they want to see: a well-meaning, white-guilt assuaging, African-American liberal who may — not will, but may, in the crucial conditional tense, as Robert Borosage put it in a recent Nation article — be pushed to sell the American welfare state to overstuffed corporations.

Liberal pundits have the habit of speaking about Obama’s worst potential future offenses as if there is some reason to doubt he will commit them. The future is debatable, but the president’s capitulations in the debate over the Affordable Care Act, which included immediately abandoning the push for a single-payer health care system, stand as strong evidence that Obama’s first concern is appearing to the American public and future generations as a leader who tried his best to honor the liberal tradition that elected him.

The president’s not a fighter, MacArthur points out, and he’s a poor liberal politician:

As Robert Caro’s latest installment of his Lyndon Johnson biography relates, a very regular, organization Democrat like Lyndon Johnson can makes good things happen if he puts his mind to it. When in the wake of the Kennedy assassination “wise” advisers told the new president to go slow on civil-rights reform — “that a President shouldn’t spend his time and power on lost causes, no matter how worthy those causes might be” — Johnson replied, “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

John R. MacArthur at The Stream at Harper’s Magazine:

Obviously, Obama isn’t anything like what liberals have fantasized; his alliance with the reactionary, pro-corporate Daley machine should have made this obvious from the start. And some on the left appear to know it, even as they beg their hero to behave more like the “progressive” they imagined him to be. The current issue of The Nation recycles Borosage’s oddly innocent tone with a cover story titled “How to Save the Democratic Party” in which L. R. Runner correctly states the obvious: “Progressives and principled liberals need to face an essential truth: the Democratic Party, as now constituted, is no longer an agency for realizing their ideals.”

But then Runner lets Obama and certain important Democrats off the hook: “The problem is not President Obama or any other individual leader, but the Democratic Party itself.” What does this mean? That Obama has no capacity to act? That the corrupt and malevolent Max Baucus (D.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, doesn’t influence tax and trade policy and didn’t write “Obamacare” to favor insurance companies? That New York senator Charles Schumer (D.) doesn’t represent Wall Street’s interests on Capitol Hill? These days liberals seem to flee confrontation with anyone who calls himself a Democrat. Thus we see virtually no primary challenges from the left, no threats to bolt the party, hardly any public protests, and no boycotts of the Democratic Party’s fundraising apparatus.

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