Yesterday I read a post on the Daily Kos that included a searing critique of the 4th of July holiday by Frederick Douglass. The article mentioned Douglass’s feud with Abraham Lincoln over the president’s stubborn dedication to the policy of capturing and returning runaway slaves from the South, even while he advocated for abolition.
I was struck by a similarity to President Obama, who often cites Lincoln as his personal role model. Obama recognizes the need to create a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States who moved here to find a better life, but now live in constant fear of deportation. He made the issue the most important policy priority of his second term. But at the same time, his administration is deporting immigrants at a faster pace than any president in history, causing hardship and heartbreak among separated families. Moral inconsistency? Political necessity? Who knows.
But here’s the real reason Obama deports so many immigrants. He’s the president of the United States. That means a majority of American voters had to like him better than the other guy. The problem with a lot of American leftists is that they live in places like Berkeley and don’t get out much. They just don’t come in contact with the solid majority of Americans who support drone strikes, militarizing the border, and all sorts of other nasty things.
Honestly, ask yourself: Could I be elected president of the United States? I couldn’t– not by a long shot.
Anyone who can be elected president is either:
a) Not really that progressive, or
b) Acts like a centrist really convincingly
In Obama’s case I think it’s a combination of both. Generally I would say Obama is better than the average modern Democratic president of the United States. So I think it’s nice that he’s done more progressive stuff than the guy who signed NAFTA and DOMA, deregulated the banking system and slashed the social safety net. But I’m just not going to expect him to be the messianic love-child of Karl Marx and Gandhi.
Someone recently told me a quote that struck me: “Those who are easily disillusioned were suffering from too many illusions in the first place”.
My main point is one I’ve harped on before.
Elected officials shouldn’t be your movement leaders. They should be your targets. Even elected officials who are your allies should be your targets, because you can often push them to do more than they would otherwise (see Obama, DREAMer sit-ins, Deferred Action).
What I’m trying to say here is don’t expect Obama to become Frederick Douglass. Obama is Lincoln. Frederick Douglass could never be elected president of the United States.
Just be Frederick Douglass. We could really use one right now.