Tag Archives: President Obama

Pragmatism, idealism, and life in the trenches

There was a great discussion on Democracy Now! this past Friday at the close of the Democratic National Convention. Glen Ford and Michael Eric Dyson faced off in a conversation that wasn’t anything necessarily new, but I think instead a good representation of the chatter about President Obama from the Left over the past two years. Figures like Cornel West and Tavis Smiley have been hugely critical of the president for, what they call, ignoring the plight of the poor in this country while others from publications like Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives have additionally criticized the president for failing to articulate a progressive vision for the country to the American people and moving the goal posts too far to the right.

I’ve been among his critics over the last couple years. When we elect anyone to such a high office, there needs to be accountability and it’s the American people’s responsibility to hold the president accountable in the face of corporate money, the interests of lobby groups that don’t always have our best interests at heart, and the pressures of the military.

However, there is a very big difference between holding a politician accountable and trying to sabotage her or him.

You know why I’m supporting Barack Obama for president this year? Because Democrats represent the only way forward for the country. While I respect the criticism the Left has launched against him, particularly when it comes to those who say that the president has moved the goals too far to the right (using ideas originally put forward by Republicans for healthcare, cap and trade, etc.), this is the moment for the Left to put its foot down, hold fast, and say no further.

The Left is naive when we imagine that we are going to get a true progressive into our nation’s highest office when the game is rigged against us. There is too much money in play. At least the Democratic Party has included an amendment in their party convention to overturn Citizens United.

We need ideals, we need the Left. We need the Left to articulate a vision for the country where we have universal healthcare, where education is accessible to everyone where you don’t have to “shop around” or “start a business” to pay for it.

Politics is a lot like life. You aspire to beautiful things when you’re young and then, we’re told, you get wise to the world and the naivete you once espoused as you grow old. That’s the general wisdom.

But I think that there is something more to life than just growing up and getting wise to the world, or in more blunt terms, becoming cynical. Just because one plan doesn’t work out, that doesn’t mean that you give up on the rest necessarily. Most dreams aren’t an overnight success. Life in real world is a messy, complicated, sometimes ugly thing and so some dreams die, some dreams you re-assess, some dreams you hold on to and fight for until you see them through.

If you hold on to one single dream, if you live with a sort of narrow-mindedness that you care about nothing else, then you might wind up very disappointed, very fast.

Am I disappointed in the president’s failure to pass universal healthcare? Yes. Am I disappointed in his failure to repeal the Bush tax cuts? Yes. Am I disappointed in the failure to prosecute members of our military who abused and tortured prisoners? To say the very least, yes. It’s repugnant and anyone involved with these abuses should be locked away for a very long time, maybe handed over the countries whose citizens they so wrongfully treated.

My support of this president and his administration is not total. But we have a much better chance of accomplishing our dreams under Barack Obama than Mitt Romney. If we hold on to these few dreams and fight tooth and nail for them against the president, what’s the likelihood that we’ll see them realized? We can’t join with the Mitch McConnells of the world to make our president a one-term president simply to have an organized and unified opposition as Glen Ford said on Democracy Now! this past Friday. What did that accomplish under George W. Bush when we were all united? It brought us Barack Obama. What will we accomplish if we return to the desert?


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Everyone’s right to health coverage

A new week, a new controversy about “government overreach” from the Right.

The latest is a clause in the healthcare reform bill which requires some religious employers to offer contraception as a part of health coverage for employees. (For a more detailed explanation of the bill, take a look at this Washington Post article that Ezra Klein shared on Facebook.)

The opposition claims that this mandate that religious employers like Catholic hospitals offer employees contraception with their health insurance is government violation of religious institutions’ right to self-determination in accordance with their values. (Additionally, please note that churches are exempt.)

That’s the argument.

The reality is that 99% of women will use contraception in their life. (ASIDE: I’m actually not sure where that number comes from – someone wanna fact check it for me? I’ve been hearing it often enough on the TV machine, though. For the sake of my article I’m gonna run with it.) Somewhere around 25% of Americans are Catholic so let’s say that 10% of Americans are Catholic women (rounding down for the sake of an easier number than 12.5%). Guess what that means? Catholic women use contraception. That’s how people live their lives in reality.

In my mind, this debate is somewhat akin to homosexuality in the church.

Stop scratching your head for just a minute and hear me out.

When I was at Calvin College, a religious school in Grand Rapids, MI, a fair few people suggested that I find another school to attend because I’m gay and didn’t like (and still don’t like) the school’s policies on homosexuality. But the fact is that transgender, lesbian, bi, gay, and queer people are born into religious families every single day across America and some of them want to retain these religious convictions beyond their youth. Naturally, there are going to be queer people at any institution of higher learning because, for many of us, religion is still as important to our identity as anything else and we refuse to jump ship just because of our sexual orientation or gender identity.

I think that there’s something of a parallel with the Catholic Church, women and contraception. I know it’s not a perfect parallel, but the general idea is the same: On the one hand, there is a long standing precept that the church has been promulgating (no contraception, no queers) and on the other hand is the real world where most women would like to be able to have sex without worrying about popping a baby out and queer folks actually do exist. Also, have you noticed it’s men telling women that they can’t use contraception just like it’s heterosexuals telling homosexuals not to get married or have otherwise meaningful, healthy relationships? Funny how easy it is to interpret God’s will when it doesn’t affect you.

My point is basically this: While people have been arguing against Catholic hospitals, etc. having to offer contraception free of charge (if you want to get contraception from your insurance provider, work somewhere else! if you’re gay, go to school somewhere else!), I’m guessing that there are probably a number of women working for these institutions who would gladly accept the coverage – and probably a fair number of men who would also profit vicariously.

Struggling to understand why this is even an issue in the first place.


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