Monday, June 22, 2009

Obama, Friend or Foe?

President Obama has been getting his share of criticism lately. And it isn't just coming from Fox News or the crazies who are still searching for his Kenyan birth certificate. Much of the criticism has been coming from his supporters.

The gay community and its allies are furious about the recent brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Particularly infuriating was the inference that gay marriage equates with incest.

Those of us who think that torture should be fully investigated are upset about Obama's unwillingness to pursue the matter. The u-turn he took regarding the release of torture photographs was frustrating to say the least.

Some of the reaction has been nasty. I've seen "f-you Obama" posts. I've read a litany of articles on how the gay community needs to dump Obama and the democrats. One writer even went so far as to wax nostalgic for the Bush administration - at least we knew they were going to screw us.

Then there are Obama's unwavering defenders. When Bill Maher criticized Obama for not pushing hard enough for health care and cutting carbon emissions, he received a barrage of calls from Obama supporters.

In response, Bill Maher said "He's your president, not your boyfriend."

Which reminded me of the part in Sexaholix, where John Leguizamo talks about falling in love with his girlfriend. He fell in love with her because she "calls me on my bullshit, but is sweet about it."

Real support means calling people on their bullshit, not blindly supporting every stupid thing they do.

More importantly, we don't need to chose friend or foe. It doesn't make you a foe if you criticize the president. It doesn't make you a friend if you don't. In fact, Obama needs us to be vocal and pushy. The people who don't want to see his promises fulfilled certainly will be.

We have a tendency to be unhappy with one action and extrapolate that to mean that the person is bad or failing or selling out. Life is not that simple. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out:

In general, how much one criticizes Obama is largely a function of the areas on which one tends to focus. If I had spent the week writing about Iran, I would be largely defending -- and praising -- Obama's very wise restraint, even in the face of bipartisan political pressure, when it comes to interfering in Iran's internal political disputes. His private and public refusal to cheer on all of Israel's policies is also commendable. Conversely, those who focus on gay issues have been understandably furious with the administration, and in the areas of civil liberties, secrecy, and his Justice Department generally, the administration has been nothing short of abysmal.
Finally, I'd like to respond to those people who are unhappy with some of Obama's actions, but feel we haven't given him a chance and so should keep quiet. Or maybe they think he needs to spend his political capital on health care and so can't waste it on prosecuting torturers or following through on promises to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. Or maybe they are just afraid he won't get reelected if he pisses off too many homophobes and torture supporters.

I might accept that criticism was coming too soon if it was simply a matter of not proactively following through on certain promises he made. But this is much more than that. He is actually defending the very policies he claims to be against, from the Defense of Marriage Act to indefinite detention of "suspected" terrorists.

It is not just our right, but our responsibility to point out the hypocrisy and failures of the Obama administration. That doesn't mean we are being too hard on him. It means we believe he can (and should) be who he said he was.

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