By David Swanson on 12/23/2009, 10:21am PT  

[Ed Note: On Monday, The BRAD BLOG published Frank Schaeffer's guest editorial, "Obama Will Win: Why and How His Critics from the Left and Right Will be Proven Wrong". Today, we're pleased to offer a counterpoint in reply by author David Swanson.]

Guest editorial by David Swanson

I've appreciated much of Frank Schaeffer's commentary at The BRAD BLOG but his column here this week on Obama winning was an exception. Schaeffer labels himself an "Obama supporter" and explains that Obama supporters are "sticking with our President." The language Schaeffer uses, after identifying himself as a "former religious Rightwing agitator", is helpful in illuminating a troubling pattern of thought that is widespread in our society:

"We faithful Obama supporters still trust our initial impression of him as a great, good and uniquely qualified man to lead us."

Here is faith, or at least faithfulness, explicitly entering politics through the advocacy of a recovering religious advocate. As everyone knows who has tried to recover from a pattern of thought, it is far easier to reject or reverse the specifics than it is to step outside the framework. But it is the framework that I find disturbing. I disagree with the point of view above just as much as I disagree with rightwing religious agitation, and for the same reasons. I don't want to be a faithful, trusting supporter of a uniquely great and good being...

I have a different understanding of how a just, peaceful, sustainable society can be created and improved upon. Lasting and advantageous public policy, I believe, should come from the majority of the public and should be established by our representatives in Congress, and should be enforced by a weak executive who obeys the same laws we all must obey. Even if I believed we had, for the moment, a benevolent President who voluntarily took his agenda from the public will, I would not want him or her to be able to create laws, spend funds, launch wars, or engage in any of the activities the founders of this country, so fearful of the ever-present danger of the "great, good, and uniquely qualified man," wisely placed in the legislative branch.

Schaeffer looks with scorn upon the "easily distracted Left" which has failed to "stick with our president" and had the nerve (to a pathetically minimal extent) to heed the President's advice to "get out there and make me do it," that is to treat the President as an elected representative rather than a dictator. But distraction is in the eye of the beholder.

The distractions that concern me are those that distract us from our job of pressuring the House of Representatives to block war funding, block Wall Street bailouts, and hold elected officials accountable. Has anyone noticed that none of the dozens of subpoenas issued in the last Congress against criminal members of the Bush administration have been reissued since the Justice Department fell under the tight supervision of the "great, good, and uniquely qualified man"? Of course not. We're too busy reading about that man himself and his personal travails as a superhuman personification of American goodness. To wit:

Not since the days of the rise of fascism in Europe, the Second World War and the Depression has any President faced more adversity. Not since the Civil War has any President led a more bitterly divided country. Not since the introduction of racial integration has any President faced a more consistently short-sighted and willfully ignorant opposition - from both the Right and Left.

Really? Those who think promises to reform NAFTA, support the Employee Free Choice Act, withdraw troops from Iraq, enforce the rule of law, halt the practice of rewriting laws with signing statements or creating them with executive orders, cease abusing "state secrets" privileges, create more not less transparency, broadcast meetings online, stop funding wars outside the standard budget, protect the rights of prisoners, promote the creation of a public healthcare option, comply with international treaties and laws, and apply the law equally to all should be upheld are willfully ignorant in roughly the same way as those who believe the President was born in Africa and wants to create communism, and who threaten his assassination? Here's Schaeffer's explanation:

As the President's poll numbers have fallen so has his support from some on the Left that were hailing him as a Messiah not long ago; all those lefty websites and commentators that were falling all over themselves on behalf of our first black President during the 2008 election.

The Left's lack of faith has become a self-fulfilling 'prophecy' --- snipe at the President and then watch the poll numbers fall and then pretend you didn't have anything to do with it!

Schaeffer links to polling, not on the public's view of any particular policy, but on whether or not we "approve" of the President in toto, an absurd polling practice that itself promotes the silly presidentialism that follows. If I like the President's nominee for the Supreme Court and dislike his murderous attacks on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere, do I "approve" of the President, or don't I? What about after I've factored in a thousand other issues? Am I a citizen in a democratic republic or a high school student electing a prom king? Is our republic deeply secular or does it demand of me, above all, "faith"?

Schaeffer defends the President, whom he implicitly makes responsible for handling everything the Congress, the states, and the people should be handling, by listing all the disasters he faced coming into office "none of which was his fault," handily omitting the fact that Obama was a senator who voted to worsen most of the disasters Schaeffer lists.

Schaeffer then offers a dead-on and helpful critique of rightwing rhetoric, but wishes that those emitting it would instead "help our new President (and our country) succeed." It was a king of France who most famously identified his country with himself. Do we now think he had the right idea? To some degree, consciously or otherwise, a lot of us must. And this apparently requires us to self-censor any criticism while trumpeting any praise.

Obama's immoral, criminal, and unfathomably stupid decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan is described by Schaeffer as a "bad choice" he was "forced to make." Schaeffer criticizes the Right for neglecting the poor of the world, but firmly plants tape over his mouth when it comes to our country's policy of bombing the world's third-poorest land.

Schaeffer wisely councils patience and perseverance in political life. Those words of wisdom should be heeded, but we should not be more patiently silent and accepting of our fate. We should be more persevering in the eternal vigilance and mobilization of public pressure on our elected officials that is required of democratic citizens, conceiving of democracy as the antithesis of a worldview in which people can speak of their lord, their savior, or their "great, good and uniquely qualified man."

Schaeffer wants us to imagine that "maybe, just maybe" we are "not as smart as [our] President." This attitude is anti-democratic. In western tradition it comes easily to too many of us, and that is the lasting legacy of religion.

Schaeffer concludes with a list of Obama's supposed accomplishments. Here they are with my respectful, appropriate, qualified, participatory, and corrective commentary:

  • Continued the draw down the misbegotten war in Iraq

Actually Obama had promised to withdraw one or two brigades a month for the first 16 months. Here we are in month 11 and that process has not begun.

  • Thoughtfully and decisively picked the best of several bad choices regarding the war in Afghanistan

The legal, moral, and best choice would have been to end the occupation and engage nonviolently with diplomacy and aid.

  • Gave a major precedent-setting speech supporting gay rights

Frank Schaeffer or I can do that. Elected officials need to act, not speak.

  • Restored America's image around the globe

Actually, the gloss has worn off in much of the world, as well as in this country.

  • Banned torture of American prisoners

Torture was already illegal. By forbidding the prosecution of torturers but pretending to "ban" torture, Obama has turned a crime into a policy choice.

  • Stopped the free fall of the American economy

Where are you living?

  • Put the USA squarely back in the bilateral international community

By announcing in a peace prize acceptance speech that he maintains the right to launch illegal wars? By refusing to sign Kyoto? By refusing to support a ban on land mines?

  • Put the USA squarely into the middle of the international effort to halt global warming

Please read Naomi Klein's report from Copenhagen in The Nation, "For Obama, No Opportunity Too Big to Blow".

  • Stood up for educational reform

By investing our resources in Wall Street and wars?

  • Won a Nobel peace prize

I'd have preferred actual peace, call me crazy.

  • Moved the trial of terrorists back into the American judicial system of checks and balances

This is simply false. He has proposed to give mock trials to those most easily convicted, military tribunals to others, and no trials at all to others still.

  • Did what had to be done to start the slow, torturous and almost impossible process of health care reform that 7 presidents had failed to even begin

By cutting deals with the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies, and the rest of the healthcare industry and imposing them on Congress?

  • Responded to hatred from the Right and Left with measured good humor and patience

After documenting hatred from the Right and reasonable criticism from the Left, this equation of the two is a disservice.

  • Stopped the free fall of job losses


  • Showed immense personal courage in the face of an armed and dangerous far Right opposition that included the sort of disgusting people that show up at public meetings carrying loaded weapons and carrying Timothy McVeigh-inspired signs about the "blood of tyrants" needing to "water the tree of liberty"...

Fair enough.

  • Showed that he could not only make the tough military choices but explain and defend them brilliantly

If only that were true.

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David Swanson is the author of the new book Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and track David's public appearances to discuss it at

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