Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gary Wills And Disappointment

Garry Wills, writing in the New York Review blog, is incensed by progressive commentators, putative independents, "whining about betrayal," who are now attacking President Obama without paying heed to what he inherited, or to the complexity of politics--or the consequences of a Republican victory, which they are assuredly contributing to:

The etherialists who are too good to stoop toward the "lesser evil" of politics—as if there were ever anything better than the lesser evil there—naively assume that if they just bring down the current system, or one part of it that has disappointed them, they can build a new and better thing of beauty out of the ruins. Of course they never get the tabula rasa on which to draw their ideal schemes. What they normally do is damage the party closest to their professed ideals.

I have learned from Wills as much as from anyone over the years. But his sanctimonious tone would seem less curious if he did not himself accuse Obama of betrayal, in the same tone as the people he now attacks--indeed, in the same tone as he now attacks those attackers--back in the fall of 2009, when the coalition that elected Obama began to come apart and, thanks to Wills among others, it became universally hip on the left to speak of Obama as a "disappointment," as if others weren't listening.

The subject for Wills' outrage was was Afghanistan:

If we had wanted Bush’s wars, and contractors, and corruption, we could have voted for John McCain. At least we would have seen our foe facing us, not felt him at our back, as now we do. The Republicans are given a great boon by this new war. They can use its cost to say that domestic needs are too expensive to be met—health care, education, infrastructure. They can say that military recruitments from the poor make job creation unnecessary... I cannot vote for any Republican. But Obama will not get another penny from me, or another word of praise, after this betrayal. And in all this I know that my disappointment does not matter.

Actually, it did matter. It is Wills' belated disappointment with disappointment that now may not.


Potter said...

We are going to vote for Obama, but like Wills, not another penny to Obama. That would take the enthusiasm that we have lost. Anyway he is after the big bucks- of necessity.

Progressives don’t have to be quiet or not betray their disappointments for fear of altering the outcome of this race because of those feelings. It may even help, oddly.

The criticism, as the Wills quote says, is not always (or at all) about achieving an ideal. The Nader candidacy should have taught many progressives about that folly.

What you have been saying is that progressives should not feel the way they feel. They do though. Excuses for Obama, which boils down to what he had to deal with, maybe soften that criticism, but do not change those feelings of disappointment in critical areas.

Obama has disappointed. It has not been merely because some supporters had their hopes too high and without cause. The invitation to HOPE, after all, came from Obama himself. He sold himself as someone who, we find, he is not. The situation needed greatness. It needed at least someone other than an appeaser and a all too ready compromiser. We needed accountability. These facts are glossed over when the critics are criticized. We still need what we needed in a president… and not for some unachievable ideal. This is urgent.

We hope he will win another term because of the alternatives. That hope is a real comedown. Let Obama show us that he learned the lesson that there is no compromising with those who are at war to bring you down along with social security, medicare, public education, universal health care etc etc. It’s not the progressives that are Obama’s enemies, yet, once again, this sounds like you think they are.

Potter said...

I don't understand why it's not okay for progressives here in the US to criticize and be disappointed while for those in Israel, yourself amongst them, it is so obviously vital and upsetting when there are attempts to shut criticism down.

Isn't it vital everywhere?

You, vis a vis Israel, are accused ( in other words) of being an etherialist ( or ethereal). I welcome that quality, defend it, support it, think it visionary, even as you and others who criticize ( idealists) are accused of betrayal or being dreamers.

And weren't you disappointed in Obama with regard to israel?