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