They say that at social gatherings one should avoid politics and religion to avoid disharmony. But this rule is frequently broken when people feel that they are with like-minded people where they can say things without fear of being contradicted. My social circle consists of self-described liberals who are all Obama and Democratic party supporters. They are people who view themselves as politically conscious and they raise issues of politics all the time and, at least in the US, politics is closely intertwined with religion, so that supposedly taboo topic comes up too.
During the period leading up to the elections of 2008, these social gatherings were pretty much a love fest, with all of us hoping that Obama would win and bring to an end the atrocious policies of the Bush/Cheney era. Of course, I was skeptical even then that Obama would be anything other than a faithful servant of the oligarchy. The massive support his campaign received from big business and Wall Street during the primaries, his circle of financial advisors consisting of the usual suspects from the major investment banks, and his abrupt reversal during the campaign of his promise to block retroactive immunity to the giant telecommunications companies for illegally sharing people’s private information with the government, all signaled that he would pursue policies that would be friendly to the oligarchy, though many of his supporters either were not aware of this or willfully ignored it.
But I did have hopes, based on his ringing endorsement of the rule of law and constitutional protections during the campaign, that he would reverse the dangerous trend of the Bush/Cheney regime towards eroding civil liberties and would pursue a less bellicose foreign policy. Those hopes were soon dashed. Obama has continued to do harm to our fundamental rights, matching and even exceeding the excesses of the Bush/Cheney in some areas, by detaining indefinitely and torturing anyone he chooses, by asserting the right to murder anyone anywhere that he deems should die, protecting torturers, vigorously prosecuting whistleblowers, continuing the absurd fear-mongering on terrorist threats, expanding the program of drone murders, raising tensions with Iran to dangerous levels, and continuing the policy of obsequiousness to the Israel lobby.
This has made for an interesting change in the dynamics of my social circle, at least as far as my role is concerned. Much of the political discussions still consist of them talking about how the nasty, mean old Republicans are obstructing Obama and that if only he had a free hand, he would do all these wonderful things. This puts me in an awkward position. At that point I have the choice of remaining silent for the sake of peace and thus seeming to tacitly agree with all the views expressed or pointing out all the things that Obama has done on his own initiative that are harmful, especially during the period from 2008 through 2010 during much of which his party controlled both houses of Congress with a filibuster-proof majority.
I often choose the latter course. Their initial surprise at finding a dissenter in their midst is I imagine similar to the reactions of religious believers to finding an atheist at a Bible study meeting. The discussion can then get quite heated. What shocks me is that they are unaware of many of the things that I tell them about the policies that Obama has followed, even though they read newspapers and watch a lot of TV news (although they disdain Fox News, naturally) and see themselves as well-informed. This is because whenever there is a bipartisan consensus on something, however important, those issues rarely get discussed. Glenn Greenwald points out that he experiences in print the same kind of response I experience in private, and adds:
The chances that any of these issues will be debated in an Obama/Romney presidential contest are exactly zero. On all of these issues — Endless War, empire, steadfast devotion to the Israeli government, due-process-free assassinations, multiple-nation drone assaults, escalating confrontation with Iran, the secretive, unchecked Surveillance and National Security States, the sadistic and racist Drug War, the full-scale capture of the political process by bankers and oligarchs — Romney is fully supportive of President Obama’s actions (except to the extent he argues they don’t go far enough: and those critiques will almost certainly be modulated once the primary is over, resulting in ever greater convergence between the two). As National Journal‘s Michael Hirsh put it yesterday: “In truth, Obama and Romney are far closer in mindset and philosophy than anyone is willing to acknowledge just now.” [emphasis in the original]
But even when I inform them of some of these the facts, they proceed to defend Obama as having good intentions. They even defend his claim that he has the right to indefinitely detain and even kill US citizens without trial, saying that they trust him to do so only with bad people. Even when I make the obvious point that all these powers that Obama has accrued to himself would also be at the disposal of future administrations, many of them likely to be even worse than the Bush/Cheney duo they so despise, they do not back down. At a recent function someone said, to general approval, that he trusts Obama to use these extraordinary powers wisely and only against the guilty and not against innocent people, in order ‘to keep us safe’. In other words, they were reiterating the entire Bush/Cheney rationale for going to war and restricting civil liberties, the very things that they had condemned just a few years earlier when the Republicans were in power. They sounded just like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and all the other Republicans whom they despise.
One of them said, with others nodding in assent, that he approved of Obama’s actions because he actually thinks that the US is at war and fears being personally harmed by a terrorist attack on the US and that these actions were thus necessary as precautionary measures. My sarcastic response, that the way we live our daily lives flatly belie the idea that the country is at war and that one has a greater danger being killed by a stampede to buy new sneakers on sale than by a terrorist attack, did not go over that well.
I now feel as if I am an infiltrator in an Obama cult and may be rapidly becoming an unpopular dinner guest. So be it. Being seen as an annoying minority viewpoint is a trivial price to pay for trying to break through that cocoon of ignorance and complacency.
UPDATE: Thanks to Henry, here’s a video of a conversation between a progressive and an Obama supporter. Sadly, some of it reflects actual conversations I have had.