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Two steps behind

June 30th, 2009

Over the last week or two, there has been a lot of discussion of the idea of Obama leading from “two steps behind”, initially in relation to the Iran protests1, and then as a general description of his operating style. There’s an obvious link to the famous quote attributed to FDR, “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.”

But, how should Obama’s supporters respond to this, particularly on civil liberties issues such as detention withour trial where Obama is not only two steps behind but often appears to be going in the opposite direction? Suppose that Obama really wants to deliver on his campaign rhetoric about openness and due process, but is facing powerful resistance from within permanent power centres such as the CIA. Hence, it might be supposed, Obama has to put up a show of resistance, and needs his supporters to make enough noise to compel him to fulfil his promises

How, if at all does such a situation differ from one in which Obama is a natural centrist wants to backslide on promises made to secure his base in the election year, but can be held to his promises by sufficiently vociferous pressure?

In particular, from the viewpoint of Obama’s supporters, does the kind of pressure that will produce the right outcomes differ depending on Obama’s motivation, or is it better (as Glenn Greenwald has argued) to focus on actions and disregard motivation?

I don’t have a well-developed view on this, but my intuitive reaction is that it’s best to treat Obama’s rhetoric, both during the campaign and subsequently, as sincere, and press him to live up to it. By contrast, with Bush, his occasional hypocritical references to freedom and democracy only heightened the offensiveness of his actions. Whether this distinction is sustainable remains to be seen.

1 That is, he was careful to let the protestors take the lead, rather than jumping in with a denunciation of the regime

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  1. smiths
    June 30th, 2009 at 10:32 | #1

    he was careful to let the protestors take the lead, rather than jumping in with a denunciation of the regime
    c’mon john, thats not leading from behind, thats separating yourself from the puppeteering wing of the government, trying to not look too obvious
    i suppose the nice little noises from obama and clinton at the moment about how we would ‘really all prefer a democratic government in honduras’ are also innocent and somehow leading from behind,

    obama is not leading from behind,
    in fact obama has returned to the well worn path of singing like the angelic choirboy whilst giving the go-ahead for basic CIA destabilisation and intervention plays

    i think obama supporters would do well to actually look at his record and actions so far rather than using more and more threadbare explanations as to why obama is honestly really good but waiting for the right moment to reveal his messianic goodness,

    my intuitive reaction
    john youre clever, scientific by trade, and experienced in life and observation,
    i think you can do better than intuition on this

    goldman was his biggest campaign donor, remember that when considering his sincerity

  2. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    June 30th, 2009 at 14:54 | #2

    Obama has charisma (so did Bill Clinton). Beyond the political benefits that charisma brings I don’t much see what the fuss is with Obama. He otherwise seems to be like most run of the mill politicians of the centre. I’m hoping he is up against a Ron Paul or a Gary Johnson in 2012. For those that care about civil liberties either of those candidates would put pressure on Obama. However I doubt the Republicans have the guts for that sort of a decision.

    p.s. Gary Johnson has twice been a Republican governor in a Democrat state, is a fitness fanatic that has climbed Mount Everest and made a personal fortune in construction. Against him in some Republican quarters is the fact that he openly admits to cocain use and wants to end the war on drugs.

  3. June 30th, 2009 at 15:16 | #3

    Pr Q says:

    Over the last week or two, there has been a lot of discussion of the idea of Obama leading from “two steps behind”, initially in relation to the Iran protests1,

    1 That is, he was careful to let the protestors take the lead, rather than jumping in with a denunciation of the regime

    Oh I dunno, maybe he’s just learned from experience that the ME politics is always in a deal of ruin because the locals, in some sense, want it that way. That is a least the lesson of history since the Romans spat the dummy there about 2,000 years ago.

    “Cool Hand” Obama is playing it cool rather than fanning the flames. Thats his style. Also, if he took the side of the secular liberals that would play into the hands of religious nationalists.

    Since Iraq I’ve gone cold on the idea of nosing into other countries affairs unless they have affect our national interest or unless some atrocity is underway. Neither of which is the case in Iran.

    Last week they were up in arms about their nukes. This week its the election. Who knows what it’ll be next week.

    Perhaps one should get involved in domestics at the personal level, when the matter is simple enough. But why get caught up in a political domestic, especially in a place like the ME, the middle of no-where?

    That hands-off policy has not done the Japanese any harm, maybe we can learn something from them.

  4. paul walter
    July 3rd, 2009 at 22:16 | #4

    Well, this thread hardly allows me any encouragement as to recent events involving Palestine and Israel.
    I said back then I’d beleive something was finally happening when Israel was compelled to halt settlement construction and repatriate its squatters, but Israel, as ever, has thumbed its nose with the usual impunity at a great power that usually will not tolerate cheek from clients or opponents alike.
    Gormless Blairites are always hauled in to repair the systems reputation after the political and commercial hard-noses activities have become so blatant and costly that society begins to turn against capitalism, and needs to won over again.

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