Friday, February 06, 2009


That's it. I've had enough of the contrarians.

Who are contrarians? They are people who, in every conceivable situation, will find something to bitch about. In fact, the better the situation, the more they will find fault with it. They will even contradict themselves if not doing so means having to say, "You're right," or, "I'm happy with the way things are going."

Contrarians are everywhere. They were the ones who gave serious thought to voting for John McCain, even pre-Sarah Palin, because Hillary Clinton didn't get the Democratic nomination. They sit in bars in Pittsburgh, moping over how the Steelers could have done better this season. They jumped with joy when they learned Barack Obama had been elected president, but by the time they hit the ground they were already listing his failures in the Oval Office.

Look, I'm not innocent of this behavior. But as I'm coming to understand the difference between smart, healthy skepticism and blanket, reflexive disgust, I'm veering towards the former. When George W. Bush was president, the difference between the two was not so obvious. When a president does almost nothing right and nearly everything in the wrongest way possible, it's easy to just be pissed all the time. It's as if many expected Obama to be a complete reversal of Bush - which would make him perfect, essentially - and therefore couldn't handle a president who occasionally took an action that they disagreed with.

The stimulus plan has become a lightning rod for criticism. This is completely understandable, because the plan is faulty, as all drastic fixes for this economy would be in some way or another. And I expect Republicans to balk at, say, the fraction of a percentage going toward contraceptives. I expect conservatives to call for more tax cuts instead, which is their cure for everything (including the healthy economy Bush inherited).

But I'm more than a little perturbed that many Obama supporters are so quick to jump ship.

I may have missed that meeting where all progressives got together and calibrated their brains to contrarian - after all, I have to sync with the liberal media - but it looks to me like some people have gone off the deep end. Some have suggested that we cannot be true to ourselves if we aren't constantly berating our leaders. Funny...I never criticized Bush because it was expected of me; I did it because he deserved it. I had no idea that all this time the whole idea was to fetishize the act of criticizing, and that I was supposed to be as brutal to Obama as I was to Bush, whether or not the circumstances warranted it. I always tailored my responses to the situation before me, as opposed to knee-jerk pissing and moaning. My bad.

The implication is that being in power, in and of itself, is suspect. Which is an understandable viewpoint, given the abuses of recent decades. But just as the right often completely lacks subtleties in debate, so do the left-leaners on this one. And the fact is that not only can we have leaders who uphold our values, but we must have them. If making the nation and the world a better place is truly the goal, then we do nothing just jeering on the sidelines at everyone who walks by. Honestly, though, sometimes I'm not sure if that is the point.

One comedy Web site had a contest for users to submit 2012 campaign posters. My personal favorite was the Obama logo, captioned with "SAME...Obama '12." It's very funny, but it speaks to what I think too many progressives are wetting themselves over too soon: the idea that change is somehow over, and that we'll be hypocrites for not demanding change four years down the road. This is one unfortunately poisonous thought that some liberals and conservative nutjobs alike share: that change came and went. That those who advocate change must always advocate for it, lest they be hypocrites. But isn't the whole reason we wanted "change" rooted in the fact that Bush was a disaster? That's what I thought, at least. I wasn't aware that maintaining earnest support for the change that resulted suddenly made me establishment. And thus, part of the problem.

Well, Obama isn't going to save the world overnight. I have laundry that's been dirty longer than Obama's been in office. The president started off by acting quickly on some major, obvious moves: shutting down Gitmo, removing the abortion gag order on overseas family planners and opening up presidential records, just to name three. Signing those papers takes very little time, but results will always be a process. Which is why it steams me to hear the self-righteous bleating of conservatives and libertarians who ask so smugly, "So where's all the change your boy promised?" And why I'm all the more pissed that smarter people actually buy into this flawed framing of the debate: "Well, uhhh...Obama deserves a flogging, because I feel lied to!"

Progressives must make peace with being in power. If the Obama administration is able to use it for good, even if he slips up once in a while, then what's the problem? Don't tell me our system's been corrupt and needs to be fixed, and then immediately spit on our best solution just because that's what you're used to doing. Let's be watchdogs, but watchdogs who can tell the difference between family members and burglars. Otherwise, we'll once again blow our chance and may even wind up with the lipstick-wearing pit bull. And is that really worth the risk?


rhonda said...

when someone complained to me about how obama's first speech was underwhelming coming from a "supposedly great orator," my reply was basically that i didn't give a fuck if he phoned in a speech. what mattered to me was that while people were sitting around with the red pens critiquing a stupid speech, the beginning of the end of guantanamo bay was happening quietly behind the scenes. that was a HUGE deal to me! i'm guilty of being a little imbalanced when it comes to the attention i pay to foreign policy versus domestic, but it still struck me as sad that i had ONE other friend who was as excited as i was about the closure of a controversial torture prison, while there was no shortage of jaded hipsters around me who were fashionably blase about a stupid speech. i think it's really pathetic that people don't know what should matter more in a leader.

same thing on the overseas abortion assistance. i don't want to pick any fights, so i never say anything, but two things pop into my head each and every time i hear someone bitch about it. first off, it's all the same people who have a knee-bitch reaction when the A-word is dropped within any context...and second, even though i feel bad thinking this, i genuinely believe that these are all the same people who would just bitch later on down the line about how american dollars shouldn't be used to help foreign children. sooooo, we're not supposed to help fund family planning, but when all these accidental children get here, we're supposed to let them starve? i don't profess to know all the answers, but i do know this- you can't appease people who are determined to find something to complain about. we could have elected a president from the newly-formed Money Will Fall From The Fucking Sky For No Reason Party, and i guarantee you that there'd be people out there bitching about how they got hit on the head by a bag of falling cash, now they have to count this shit, etc. etc. etc.

Ian McGibboney said...

Yes, Rhonda, it is often all about artifice. What makes this twice as stupid was that I thought Obama's inaugural speech was one of his best ever. "We will extend our hand if you unclench your fist?" "We must build things, not destroy them?" I felt almost as excited about those lines as I was about the closing of Guantanamo Bay. It wasn't so much the political dazzle as it was a lifting of a burden that was long overdue. And that's why it pisses me off so much when people say Obama supporters are "Kool-Aid drinkers." The guy is for real. He's doing the things that need to be done. The package is just gravy.

As for abortion, I once saw a great cartoon from the 1980s that depicted a pregnant woman considering an abortion. Over the next three panels, she was surrounded by a swarm of pro-lifers. In the fourth, the baby is out and everyone scrambles. And so it goes, when a political platform is as compartmentalized as is the right.

To paraphrase Bill Maher's words to Bush, "Don't call that a platform. It's a collection of random, contradictory kickbacks to your corporate donors."

jeffrey said...

This is amazingly superficial. What you've done here is transfer the focus of political discussion from the subject (the people doing the politics) to the actors (the people doing the discussion).

This isn't about you or me. It's about whether or not the people charged with the national welfare are executing their jobs properly.

Lines like "Progressives must make peace with being in power" just read like pure nonsense to me. Who cares what I am or am not "at peace" with? I don't matter here.

If Obama offers us a bank bailout that looks as remarkably similar to Bush's as Mr. Geithner's proposal does... well that matters... and it kind of sucks. It's also not something anyone can reasonably term a "slip-up" It's indicative of a serious philosophical failure. It's a clear decision to side with thieves over people. That taken together with the overall limpness of the stimulus debate is a legitimate concern. To say that people criticizing the President along these lines are "fetishizing criticism" is pure condescension.

Of course no one expects their elected folk to be perfect. Because they fail, parsing out where they fail and why is crucial to understanding what's happening.

Ian McGibboney said...

Jeffrey, I'd be more moved by such commentary if it came from people who didn't do this with absolutely everything.

It's not superficial or distracting to point out the gloomsayers. Here's why: Every day I absorb magazines, newspapers, blogs and video on political issues. I study politicians, issues and developments. Even if I didn't work at a newspaper, I would do this on my own. I would call myself well-informed. If I'm not up on an issue, I'll acknowledge it and get up to speed. I'll form my own opinion on how things are going from what I feel is an educated standpoint.

Then I run into some contrarian bullshit that suggests not only am I completely wrong, but am completely blind if I don't think Obama is exactly like Bush. Or, if I do criticize a policy issue, that I don't label Obama "pathetic" three weeks into his presidency. It's that very hyperbole that undercuts your arguments.

It's cool to be discerning and skeptical on the issues. I like to think that I am. So to be told I'm somehow whining or sidestepping because I haven't embraced a zero-nuance policy is the absolute height of condescension.

I stand by everything I said.

Chris said...

But isn't the mere refuting of anyone who disagrees with every single viewpoint one states, in a sense, condescension?

Sorry but I got picked to play Devil's advocate.

Personally, I'll wait to see what happens with the Recycled Clinton Administration. People are jumping ship -- and mind you even though I am of a different political mindset, no way I want some bandwagon jumper on my side -- because they are realizing that despite everything Obama has promised, they're just now finding out that he has to find out a way to actually deliver the goods.

I, as everyone else, sit and wait, watch and pray, hope and listen.

Ian McGibboney said...

Chris, I disagree that Obama is the second coming of Clinton; but even if it were true, I'm not sure that would be a bad thing. For whatever phony moral outrage was out there in his time, and however badly Clinton blew it with NAFTA, 1993-2001 was not a bad time in America. It's laughable that anyone who remembers the recent past would somehow see the Clinton era as something to worry about. That said, again, Obama's term will be much different. He's facing different economic and political realities, and is a different man altogether. The best he'll be able to do is begin to clean up Bush's mess. But I'll be rooting for him to do that until he gives me an overarching reason not to.