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On the Immorality of Supporting an Amoral Dictator

Michael Wilk's picture

The responses to my previous entry were exactly what I hoped they would be: lively. And I'm not done yet, not by a long shot. I'm going to expand upon a comment I made in the other thread.

My main argument in this discussion is not directed at those who oppose Obama. It is, rather, against those who claim to be progressives, yet still support him knowing what he is and what he does. In short, the people of whom I write (and they know who they are) are not progressive, or even liberal. They are right-wingers who, for various reasons, choose to cloak themselves in the illusion of liberalism. Maybe they figured they could operate to silence left-wing opposition to their preferred policies better as infiltrators. Maybe, being only slightly to the left of their hyper-partisan brethren, they found themselves excluded from their preferred political party, the Republicans.

Or maybe they were simply too incompetent to get a seat at the table with the big-money filth and are using the left-wing movement (such as it is) to get there. One could write volumes of speculation as to how and why right-wingers came to dominate what passes for the left-wing movement, and still not reach a definitive explanation. And really, does it matter? The point is that they do dominate us. They control the discussion, the purse strings, and the major blogs.

Now you're probably asking at this point who the hell I think I am to decide who's a progressive (or a liberal) and who isn't. The problem with asking that question is that it's the wrong one. I don't make that decision. Instead, what people should ask themselves is, "what makes a liberal-progressive?" Is it a set of principles and beliefs? And on what are they based? Phony liberal-progressives expose their ideology by their words and their actions, and therefore distinguish themselves from those of us who do follow an established set of moral principles and beliefs.

This is a major reason why morality is so important in shaping political beliefs. Those who advocate gray areas of ideological thought are following the Nietzsche philosophy of moral relativism, which when broken down to its simplest form boils down to the notion that there is no such thing as a fixed notion of right and wrong. Remove morality from the equation and you end up with the neocons, who rationalize everything they do by the principle of might makes right. In other words, the moral relativist argues that the ends justify the means. A liberal or progressive, however, might argue that the reverse is true: the means are what justify the ends.

The fact is that Obama is thoroughly amoral, for his is the right-wing principle of power, and moral relativism is what he and his ilk use to rationalize the abuse of that power. Actively supporting Obama and the Democrats, after all they've done, is immoral. So is not actively opposing him in some way be it great or small. Just as it was morally wrong for Germans not to oppose Hitler and the Nazis, so too is it morally wrong for Americans not to stand up to Obama and the rest of the far right and do whatever we can legally do to remove them from power. One cannot be progressive and support someone who has, since taking office:

Extended the Patriot Act without making any reforms

Pushed for mandatory DNA testing of those arrested for crimes, regardless of whether they have been convicted

Dramatically increased government secrecy, blocking more FOIA requests in 2009 than Bush did in 2008

Cut a secret deal to kill the public option, while campaigning on its behalf

Cut a deal to exempt abortion services from health care reform

Continued to defend the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell Policy" from legal challenges

Granted waivers for 30 companies, including McDonald's, exempting them from health care reform

Announced a $60 billion sale of arms to the Saudi Arabian dictatorship, the largest arms deal in history

Won the right to invoke "state secrets" protecting the Bush administration from criminal prosecution

Failed to disclose visits by industry executives while crafting health care reform legislation

Authorized the assassination of US citizens abroad, an unprecedented declaration of executive power

Censored reporters covering military tribunals at Guantanamo

Fought for government immunity in prosecutions for domestic spying

Awarded $250 million in government contracts to Blackwater

Dramatically increased the use of drone bombers in Pakistan, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties

Won the right to keep identities of prisoners at Bagram "black site" a secret

Cracked down on government whistleblowers more than any President in history

Used cluster bombs in Yemen, resulting in the deaths of 14 militants, and 35 women and children

Continued Bush policy of blocking use of the Endangered Species Act to prevent climate change

Sent 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan

Gave permits to BP and other oil companies, exempting them from environmental protection laws

Appointed Lawrence Summers as his top economic adviser

Appointed Timothy Geithner to run the Treasury

Passed a massive bailout of Wall Street, at the taxpayers' expense

Appointed Monsanto executive Michael Taylor to the FDA

Appointed former Monsanto lobbyist Islam Siddiqui as America's Chief Agriculture Negotiator

Sided with utility companies in lawsuit to stop greenhouse gas emissions

Successfully protected Bush officials from prosecution for torture

Pushed for a 5 year prison term for Charles Lynch, the operator of a medical marijuana dispensary, legal under California law

Proposed a three year freeze on domestic spending, exempting cuts from the Pentagon and Homeland Security

Argued that the widespread use of Predator drones is a justifiable form of self-defense

Revived "Prompt Global Strike" weapons system, considered too controversial by Bush Administration

Backed off on his promise to close the prison at Guantanamo

Reaffirmed his opposition to same-sex marriage

Announced over $8 billion in loan guarantees to promote nuclear power

Promised $30 billion in military aid to Israel over the next decade

Successfully prosecuted child soldier Omar Khadr using [a false confession] obtained through torture

Granted 27 waivers to oil companies drilling in the few weeks following the Deepwater Horizon disaster

Operated a "black site" at Bagram airbase, where the Red Cross has reported detainee abuse

Won the right to deny habeas corpus to detainees

Once wrote: "I trust that you will continue to let me and other Democrats know when you believe we are screwing up. And I, in turn, will always try and show you the respect and candor one owes his friends and allies." (We all know his words proved hollow as he relentlessly attacked his own party's base in last year's midterm elections, both directly and through subordinates.)

Eased restrictions on the use of child soldiers in Africa

Blocked UN human rights investigations at Guantanamo

Launched FBI raids on antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis

Used a signing statement to ignore labor and environmental standards for the IMF and World Bank

Supports the coup government in Honduras

Reversed his position on drug reimportation to appease the pharmaceutical industry

Dropped charges against the CIA for destroying videotapes documenting torture of detainees

Violated his own ban on lobbyists working for the administration

Appointed Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff

Deported record numbers of undocumented immigrants*

Continued renditions of alleged terrorists to countries where they could be tortured

Opposed marriage equality by appealing challenges to DOMA, the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act"

Blocked the release of photos documenting the torture and abuse of detainees by the US military

Continued the practice of indefinite detentions for alleged terrorists

Refused to sign a treaty banning the use of landmines


And now usurped the war-making powers of Congress by attacking Libya.

The list goes on for miles, but I trust you get the point. Morality means taking a principled stand and fighting for those principles without compromising them. Ask yourself why people know what the GOP stands for and why they don't know what Democrats stand for. It's because, even though those principles are evil, even though they are contradictory, hypocritical, and dishonestly presented, Republicans plainly state what they are — and they have absolutely no qualms about doing whatever it takes, law be damned, to ensure that their principles are turned into political reality. If the left is going to have any hope of winning the ideological war waged upon us by the far right, we have to adopt a moral stand. We have to determine what we believe in, what we're willing to do to fight for those beliefs, and decide what price we're willing to pay for defending them — how far are we willing to go to ensure that our agenda is implemented?

Again, this is a harsh truth and it offends some people. Tough. The crimes being committed on a daily basis by a lawless executive do not get to be excused or rationalized away simply because it makes some people uncomfortable to challenge him. Nor are we absolved of opposing that executive by wrapping ourselves in a cloak of moral relativism. Things that were wrong when Bush and Cheney did them are just as wrong now that it's Obama doing them. There is no middle ground on this issue, no gray area, no in-between, no level of complexity so great that it renders making a moral judgment impossible.

So the left in America is faced with a decision: Do we continue to support Obama and the Democrats, knowing what they are, thereby repeating the same failure of the German people to rise up against the nazis, or do we go all out to defeat both the Democrats and the Republicans by organizing the Left-Wing movement into a powerful force for good and winning back our country? To choose the first option is to fail a crucial moral test of ourselves as a movement.

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vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

1. "Cut a secret deal to kill the public option, while campaigning on its behalf" -- the fact that "the public option" was (more or less by design) a completely meaningless construct should be part of any reference to it as something to mourn, even in quoted material. The ability for the so-called left to be galvanized by a totally spurious and infinitely redefinable quasi-concept is both too important and too teachable an event to leave out of any citation.

2. Tribalism is an important dimension I'd suggest adding to your analysis of the so-called left. I think most fauxgressives are, in their own heads, left-of-center but their morals are completely elastic where their tribal identification with the Democratic Party and "progressive" heroes are concerned. There is no policy or value that can't be jettisoned when identity and acceptance are at stake. That's not to say that they're fundamentally rightwingers, they're just ready to twist themselves into pretzels if the tribal word comes down that, say, an Obama is a proper hero or sufficient sub-hero to them.

Kathryn's picture
Submitted by Kathryn on

Hi. I'm new here. Just want to put that up front. And I have lurked about the liberal blogosphere for some time without posting but it's possible that this thread might be something I can add to. The trouble is my field is Religion and Ethics and largely that in terms of a sociology of faith. I find that nearly any discussion of faith on a political blog is asking to be ripped to shreds and sent offlist pretty fast. But I maintain that, as Michael states, that action comes out of belief; you have to take the nature of that belief into consideration. For about 80% of the population of the US some kind of faith is operative and out of that comes specific types of actions. The dumping of religious (or spiritual) views during political discourse has, just as an example, made it impossible during the health care debate for the left to insist that "medicare for all" should have been a wholly evangelical social justice crusade for the right.

So I'm going to put down a small observation about Obama here and if anyone is interested I can expand some on a diary post. Obama is a Christian. And evaluating his views you can see that he stands largely in the Christianist/Ascetic camp but has some distinct Seeker/Mystic attributes. In many ways Michael has touched on the Ascetic forms: the investment in external authorities and institutions, the ends driven ideology, the paternalism. Anyone who yells "sanctimonious purist" at those who disagree with him is saying something pretty profound about his own ethics. There are many other attributes that go in hand with this paradigm. One is the use of a mythic imagination as opposed to the more rational yet intuitive deduction (this is where the right's obsession with Sarah Palin becomes more comprehensible). The largest divide is that of authority: either it comes from the outside of the self on the one hand, or from the inner reflection of the self, existentially. On the far ends of the paradigms these describe also the difference, non-theistically, in moral politics: the far right vs. the far left. [Please keep in mind that I am painting here in very broad strokes out of sociological theory.]

50 years ago Obama would have been solidly in the Democratic mainstream. The moral politics of the two parties did not diverge as much since the religious affiliations were both based in churched religions. It was the sixties gen that broke the back of authoritative institutions, of the religious/ascetic paradigm as holding the basis of widespread cultural ethics. And each generation since then has moved farther away from authorities, institutions, and ends driven morality. But as a throw back to that earlier time, Obama the Christian is still a liberal. And this is where I disagree with those who see Obama as a conservative, and I think there is still a significant part of the party that falls into this mixed category of ascetic liberal.

When Michael talks about his friend who is a DLC'er [the FDL post I believe] -- you see in a liberal someone who still functions in belief with a form of "mythic imagination." For many there is still a need for an authority figure to carry their own identity forward. And the tendency to reject these liberals as "in name only" obscures the magnitude of the ethics, the moral political issues we face. Even to refer to someone as a DLC'er is to acknowledge the divide in belief and the actions that dictates -- that group gives those individuals safety. It isn't as apparent as the radically obvious ingroup/outgroup mentality of the far right, but it is still there. The independents that lean left, the centrists of the left, run under a modified version of the authority "outside the self" paradigm. They also function to a greater degree of fear, which leads them to invest in the actions of the current administration. Fear is key in this discussion of ethics.

Lambert asked a while ago about "what are liberal principles" and Michael's question really could be framed as "what are liberal ethics?" I would define the principles as acceptance, tolerance and inclusion [agape for the spiritually inclined]. Liberals should hold the standard that each individual has within them a moral authority out of which comes action, and that should be respected. These then are the shades of grey -- beyond moral relativism, or absolutism. The firm principle of the equal value of each human being. The ethics that rise out of that, the "right action," then should be based in a cooperative effort to secure those conditions in which individuals can flourish (and one of the reasons I resonate to many of the corrente posters). The hardest part is to accept those that reject us. So in the past, FDR's new deal or Johnson's great society, was inclusive of all. To be liberal is to accept that we will be hated by some part of the all that benefits from our actions. Oh joy.

But in the party, because we are godawful stuck with the two party corporate system for now, I disagree that primarying Obama is the best tack. To do so will create more fear for those in the party already so inclined. They will "double down" on Obama and his policies, and please note: no amount of rational, logical discussion, such as the entirely valid points listed above, will sway them -- because fear destroys rationality.

My thought is that we have to begin pushing courage as the antidote to fear, and justice both in religious/spiritual and secular terms. These subjects can depolarize the divisiveness, it does not have to be aimed at Obama specifically. Taking shots at the authority figure does not help and in reality, we are truly stuck with him. It would be better, imo, to marginalize Obama entirely and stick with the issues -- and those in soundbites: what was it, end the wars, soak the rich, down with the corporate overlords? There are others: this bullshit of always looking forward should be countered with "Justice always looks back." Bradley Manning: "Whistle blowers are the last defense of American conscience."

There is the argument that primarying Obama sends a message; honestly, I don't think he'll hear it. Maybe, if we feel that the primary would give us the platform to press the ethics, it might be something to consider but that would have to be the emphasis, not the candidate. First we have to unite as a party at the grass roots level and change the dialog from fear to courage, from abuse to justice. And coming up, and able to hear that message are the millenials. Already we can see that a good part of Dems are going to support Obama, and a lot of "thinking" conservatives find his policies very appealing and are likely to vote that direction. I don't see how we can challenge Obama successfully at this time, without laying the ethical groundwork, the principles, first. This is something that was lost with the demise of liberal mainstream religion; the Dem moral pulpit. For the good imo in the long run. But in the short term, we somehow have to find that strong moral voice to unite under as liberals, that may shove the paradigm back to the left. And it is possible that the one ethical argument that Obama and his crew can hear is spiritual.


Submitted by lambert on

A couple of random points since RL calls:

The nine-word platform:

1. Medicare for all

2. End the wars

3. Soak [tax] the rich

Primarying Obama: If a roach motel for progressive energy, I'm against it. If a way for the left to build social capital for an alternative to the legacy parties, I'm for it. We don't know enough yet. I don't think that the Ds can be salvaged.

Focus on policy: Absolutely.

Focus on courage: Absolutely. That to me is the lesson of Egypt (and WI... and...).

Getting sent offlist: Here are the policies. Can't do anything about being "ripped to shreds" though -- nor would I.