Really, Who Can Live Up to the Legacy of President Debs
Above: A President Who Got Things Done
Before I note who said this foolishness about Obama’s legacy, let me just present it.
Obama came into office at a very important historical moment. There was tremendous public support for him when he came in. The country was in a serious crisis—maybe not as serious as when Franklin Delano Roosevelt came in, but it was really serious. What did Obama do? He put the same guys back in that caused the problem in the first place. He passed a piddling little stimulus plan. He spent his whole first year fighting about health care and ended up with a plan that’s better than nothing, but considering what was possible with 60 votes in the Senate and a majority in the House…
My disappointment is that Obama didn’t seize the opportunity that was there. Now, maybe that’s just Obama. He’s a mainstream Democrat. We got the change that he wanted, which was minimal. But he campaigned on the promise of change with a capital C, with the backing of large numbers of people—whom he then demobilized. In November of 2008, he gave a press conference, and somebody asked where was the change? And he said something like, “I am the change.” Compare that with Eugene V. Debs, who said he wouldn’t lead his followers into the promised land even if he could, because if he could lead them in, someone else could lead them out.
So, yes, I am disappointed with Obama. It’s not the specific policies so much as his general approach to office, which I find too limited, given the circumstances in which he came in. After 2010, when the Republicans came into Congress, then his options became limited. But in the first two years he had a real opportunity, which he did not seize.
This is Grade C hackishness that completely ignores any context, such as that those 60 senators included people such as Max Baucus and Joe Lieberman. And then there’s the utterly bizarre comparison to Eugene Debs, who, you know, never sniffed the presidency. I mean, it is indeed shocking that someone who won the presidency twice does not have the same politics and tone as a long-time socialist who was jailed for opposing the American war effort in World War I and ran for president from prison. But hey, I guess if Obama had just used that BULLY PULPIT more, he would have cowed the opposition into submitting to the radical leftist change REAL AMERICANS are demanding. So who is this hack?
It’s Eric Foner, arguably the most important U.S. historian of the last thirty years.
I guess this might be surprising, but it really shouldn’t be. Just because someone is the world’s greatest expert on the past doesn’t mean said person can actually translate that into insightful commentary on the present. Of course, Foner often does have insightful commentary on the present, but as anyone who follows the left knows, there can be a massive disconnect between that and understanding or accepting the complexities and limitations of American politics.
I also have to wonder if some of the problem here isn’t also that Foner is so steeped in the Civil War as the nation’s greatest moment of liberation (which it is and it isn’t given that the very same soldiers who were ending slavery were committing mass genocide against Native Americans at the same time) that he sees such transformative moments as possible. And maybe they are, but of course the Civil War was also an incredibly horrible event for the country, with 750,000 dead people and millions more wounded, opium addicted, and displaced. And sure, this was all worth it to end the horror of slavery, but if that kind of changes is your expectation, you aren’t going to get it and therefore be reduced to ridiculous comparisons like this.