Since Obama took office, I’ve been disappointed to observe that a significant segment of left punditry prizes their ideological hang ups over accuracy. The third party left, whether Green, Libertarian or Socialist, campaign for their party by ignoring anything positive Obama does and exaggerating every negative. They feel they need to undermine support for the two major parties at all costs. Those who advocate direct action tactics in place of electoral politics, do the same. Some progressive Democrats join the chorus, made hardened cynics by years of disappointing third-way politics.
It has become clear that we can’t rely on many of these pundits for honest commentary or an accurate picture of what’s really going on. They always push the same message of disappointment and cynicism, even when there’s reason to celebrate a victory. It’s the same pattern of placing ideology over reality that we see from Fox News.
We know what to expect from Fox, conservative talk radio, and House Republicans. Anything Obama supports, they oppose, even if they supported it the week before. Their commentary is a non-stop parade of speculative accusations and exaggeration. It’s important that we call out and rebut those voices on the left who engage in the same behavior, lest we mirror the echo-chamber in a bubble that the talk-radio cult of the right has become.
I could catalog a long list of examples over the past four years, but today, I’ll stick with the most recent episode. A pundit-blogger complex of hysteria has emerged around threats to Social Security and Medicare. No doubt, we must speak up to protect these programs that are under assault, and Obama must be pressured to stand by them. There’s indication that he’s at least willing to negotiate with Republicans who want to fundamentally change both programs. But, the effort to defend has escaped into the realm of fantasy by the pundits who cry wolf.
The reality of what Obama says on Social Security and Medicare are things most progressives support. He speaks about minor reforms, like lifting the income cap on paying into the system. He does not publicly advocate major cuts or the privatization schemes favored by Republicans. Despite the lack of any discernible effort by Obama to attack either program, there’s a mountain of anonymous-source stories and tortured interpretations of vague statements to prove that Obama is out to put grandma in the poor house!
We were told the Simpson-Bowles “cat food commission” was proof that Obama was leading the assault on Social Security. That turned out to be a false alarm. The cuts they proposed were not large, and would have made the system more progressive by increasing benefits to low-income retirees. They even proposed lifting the income cap on paying into the system, which is the only change Social Security really needs. But, Obama refused to support even those minor changes because the recommended cuts were too deep. To my knowledge, none of the pundits who predicted the deficit commission was part of Obama’s secret plot to destroy Social Security admitted to their error. They readied for the next scare.
Next, we were told Obama was selling out retirees in the debt ceiling fight. Once again, it didn’t happen.
Most recently, they were sure Obama was itching to deeply cut Social Security and Medicare. Not just because he was forced to negotiate with a Republican majority in Congress who hate the middle class, but because, as Cenk put it, it’s what he really wanted all along. Cenk and others similarly minded would have us believe that, despite years of plainly expressing strong support for Social Security and Medicare, Obama has been waiting for just the right moment to leap out of the shadows, revealing his true self, thirsting for the blood of poor seniors! Does he remind you of NRA leaders who convince fearful gun owners that Obama is just waiting for the right moment to take everyone’s guns away?
False alarm, once again. In fact, the final fiscal cliff deal significantly strengthened Social Security and Medicare by raising payroll taxes. I don’t like the regressive nature of those taxes, but it meets the demand of protecting both programs.
How did the cynicism-pundit complex respond? Did they cheer the victory of Obama doing exactly what they had been asking for? Not so much. Most downplayed everything positive about the deal and predicted it was only a setup for Obama to cave during the next debt ceiling negotiation. Obama and Congressional Democrats proved that speculation wrong as well by quickly announcing they wouldn’t negotiate on the debt ceiling. Oops. Wrong again, Krugman. Wrong again, DailyKos. But, good work spinning a victory into a narrative of defeat.
OK, we get it. You’re always going to attack Obama because you’re campaigning for your third party or direct action tactics. You want to show everyone you were right all along for thinking Obama is the next third-way sell out and supporting Nader, or Jill Stein, or Hillary, or John Edwards. You want to impress your friends at the faculty lounge by showing want an independent-minded dissident you are. You want to prove you’re more metal than the next pundit. Well, I’m not impressed anymore.
If it’s about issues first then you’ll honestly celebrate victories by the Obama administration. Celebrating even small victories builds momentum and energy to do more.
Just because we need to hold Obama’s feet to the fire doesn’t mean we can’t make noise in support of his efforts to do things progressives like. When your ideological and egotistical hang-ups cause you to downplay victories, engage in tortured speculation, ignore progressive proposals from the President, and spread misleading exaggeration, then don’t expect people to take you any more seriously than we take Bill O’Reilly.
The left should hold Obama accountable for his actions and we should also hold our own punditry accountable for their honesty and accuracy. We should be better than Fox. It’s worth calling out the manipulation of the left’s fears and cynicism, because there’s a lot of work to do during the next four years and the negative, defeatist, counter-productive bullshit isn’t helping.
© 2013 Willinois. This article is reproduced by permission of the author. All rights reserved.