Friday, July 10, 2009

Rachael Maddow and The Disappointed Left

A few weeks ago, Rachel Maddow appeared on the Charlie Rose Show and announced that "The President has disappointed the left,". She offered specifics saying “on the war, on healthcare, on economic [policy]… on civil liberties and on civil rights". Spinning off her appearance on the show, the question floated to the public was ‘Does Rachael Maddow speak for the Left?”. While that question sparked lots of interest, it let me know that conservatives weren't the only ones disenchanted with Barack Obama. My resulting question is who or what’s the left and why are they disappointed with the President?

First let me introduce Rachel Maddow to those of you who aren’t familiar with her. Maddow earned a degree in public policy from Stanford University in 1994. At graduation she was awarded the John Gardner Fellowship. She was also the recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship and began her postgraduate study in 1995 at Lincoln College, Oxford. In 2001, she completed her Doctor of Philosophy degree (styled a DPhil) in political science from the University of Oxford. Her doctoral thesis is titled HIV/AIDS and Health Care Reform in British and American Prisons. She was the first openly gay American to win a Rhodes scholarship and the first "out" Lesbian to host a prime time news television show. For the first time in the more than ten years MSNBC has been on the air the network has moved ahead of CNN in primetime and in the key 25-54 year old demographic, in large part due to Maddow taking over the 9pm Monday through Friday spot where she now regularly beats Larry King in the key demo and often in overall ratings.

I watch the Rachael Maddow Show nightly. I hear her pushing for specific and immediate action on a variety of issues: repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, support for same sex marriage, health care reform, energy policy changes, climate change initiatives, investigation and prosecution on torture issues, and more. I also hear the slightly veiled disappointment with some of the president’s actions or lack of action in recent events. Since I know that Rachael represents a certain constituency, I guess this is might be my view to thoughts and opinions from the left.

In my opinion, Obama has been confronted with so many problems, all at once, that most people should be able to sympathize with the sheer difficulty of the challenges facing him. Surveys indicate that 90 percent of Democrats approve of Obama's job performance (that's from the latest Quinnipiac survey; other polls have recorded even higher figures). African-Americans give Obama an approval rating of 94 percent. Seventy percent of Hispanics think Obama is doing a fine job. Voters under thirty-five maintain the wide-eyed idealism that supposedly swept Obama into office. These issues are big, complicated problems that do not seem amenable to easy solutions or quick ideological fixes. The changes he promised will take time to achieve.

There seems to be growing concern over the president's plans to meet the country's challenges. Recent poll numbers indicate that 45% percent of voters believe that President Obama lacks a "clear plan for solving this country's problems" in a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Since a February CNN poll, that number has risen nine points while those who believe Obama does have a plan to solve the nation's problems has dropped from 64 percent to 53 percent.

Naturally everyone doesn’t agree with my position of confident loyalty to Barack Obama. Some attitudes reflect an increasingly rising tide of disappointment and frustration, and even a sense of anger and betrayal, about Obama. “I voted to end wars of aggression and to get a health care plan in this country that works for ME. I didn't vote to bail out banks and crap on auto workers. I didn't vote for "bi-partisanship" with the weasels in the GOP but to set this country straight.”

Progressives and left-leaning Democrats (if not self-identified radicals who want the system overthrown) are in an overwhelmingly pragmatic mood. The lessons of the Bush era are not easily forgotten. Eight years of colossal ineptitude and corruption, a President who consistently insulted their intelligence, and a leader who seemed completely out of his depth on just about every issue imaginable. This is the legacy that guides the nations’ thoughts, judgments, and reactions to each of Obama’s actions and decisions. (It should be noted that even after the enormous failures of the Bush era, rightist politics still enjoy popular support.)

Wondering who the Leftists and Progressives are? Eyal Press, a Nation contributing writer, labels progressives in a recent “The Notion” blog:
“people who favor a single-payer universal health-care system, have attended antiwar demonstrations, believe catastrophic global warming is imminent, support shutting down Guantanamo immediately, champion full equality for gays and lesbians, and perhaps supported John Edwards or Dennis Kucinich in the Democratic primary before finally coming around to Obama.”

Obama is not an ideological leftist, clearly, but nobody who has listened to his speech on race or his speech in Cairo can doubt his moral seriousness, his thoughtfulness, his uncanny ability to strike the right tone even when (precisely when) addressing freighted, divisive issues. Many progressives understandably see their country's first African-American President as a unique, in many ways transformative figure, and the vast majority probably find themselves rooting for Obama and appreciating him, even when they don't fully agree with what he's saying.

One blogger response comment let’s you know where I stand:

“Considering the mess he was handed (biggest recession since 1930s, 2 wars, Iran, N. Korea, etc) I am going to give more than 5 months, before I judge his presidency.”

Link to the Rachael Maddow interview at:

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