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Garry Wills writes flawed argument against Unger’s proposal

Pulitzer Prize winning author Garry Wills wrote a rebuttal of sorts to Roberto Unger’s proposal that Obama must be defeated in the 2012 election.

I’m disappointed that this is the best that Wills could do.  You tend to expect more from Pulitzer Prize winning authors but what can you do?  I once heard E. J. Corey give a seminar at one of my former (and now shuttered and mothballed) work sites and have come to understand that Nobel prize winning chemistry and engaging speaking skills do not always co-express.  Still, I expected Wills to try harder.  I’m not a winner of any prizes but I can shoot cannonballs through this post.

For exmple, take this paragraph early on:

I freely admit that Unger’s principles are better than Obama’s, that next to him Obama’s credentials as a progressive are muddied and blunted. If I had to choose between them as men of probity, I would prefer Unger as quick as the eye can blink. But in politics we never choose men of much probity. One of the recurring comedies of American politics is the rapture with which people elect a shining prince, and then collapse into self-pitying cries of betrayal when the shine comes off once the candidate is in office. A refrain of dismay runs the fairy tale in reverse: “We elected a prince and he turned into a frog.”

As we have been reminding Democrats for the past 4 years, the elected delegate count at the convention was much closer than the media let on.  Obama was not nominated by a landslide of overwhelming proportions.  He got through on a squeaker in elected delegates.  The number that separated them was less than 100 and may have been as few as 17.  Four of those delegates were taken from Hillary’s total in Michigan and the rest were unassigned delegates in Michigan that were given to Obama even though he wasn’t on the ballot.  To cinch the nomination, his campaign paid the superdelegates and their state campaign committees handsomely with finance industry largesse. Given the numbers, Clinton was more than justified in demanding a floor fight but with the media narrative so carefully constructed against her, she would have looked like an usurper. So, Wills is wrong here.  More than half of the party did not fall for a shining prince, whether Wills liked their choice or not (I suspect not.  Guys of Wills’ ilk were unabashed and uncritical Obama supporters, we have observed.).

Believe it or not, some of us voters evaluated the candidates carefully and selected someone who ran on issues, not her personal saga of self-actualization.  And we didn’t expect the new president to solve all of the world’s problems all at once.  We expected the new president to govern like a Democrat.

Not too much to ask of a candidate who ran on the Democratic party ticket.

Moving on.  Next he tells us why we should vote for the party, not the man (or presumably the woman):

That is why one should always vote on the party, instead of the candidate. The party has some continuity of commitment, no matter how compromised. What you are really voting for is the party’s constituency. That will determine priorities when it comes to appointments, legislative pressure, and things like nominating Supreme Court justices.

So, what is Wills saying here?  Is he acknowledging that Obama was some kind of decoy and not really a Democrat?  After his election, doesn’t the president informally become the head of his party?  Assuming that the party will take care of things, what is the role of the president at this point?  Conversely, if it is expected that he will craft policy that is in line with his party’s values, what are we to make of the four year spectacle when he has clearly NOT done this?  I’d be more than willing to let Obama off the hook for acting like a moderate Republican for the past four years if he’s not really expected to be the head of the party in a public sense but that leaves me wondering, who is running the show in the Democratic party?

Wills tries to define what’s in it for voters:

To vote for a Democrat means, now, to vote for the party’s influential members—for unions (including public unions of teachers, firemen, and policemen), for black and Latino minorities, for independent women. These will none of them get their way, exactly; but they will get more of a hearing and attention—“pandering,” if you want to call it that—than they would get in a Republican administration.

Ahhh, yes, do you mean the public unions that Obama tweeted good luck to in last week’s Wisconsin recall vote?  That worked out well.  What Wills is suggesting here is that the Democratic party become the insincere party of “special interests” instead of a party of vision of how the working and middle classes prosper in this brave new world.  A Democratic voter might reasonably expect the head of his party to aggressively defend the values of the party but Obama does not really display a passion for that kind of thing.

Wait.  This is satire…right?

Then he goes on to tell us how Romney represents the plutocrats, yada-yada-yada.  And Obama once infamously said that he is the only thing that stood between the bankers and the pitch forks just before he slapped them on the wrist and let them go.  By the way, there are a ton of unemployed people out here.  Hello?  Please spare us the lecture.

He saves the best for last.  Moving right into insulting…:

The etherialists who are too good to stoop toward the “lesser evil” of politics—as if there were ever anything better than the lesser evil there—naively assume that if they just bring down the current system, or one part of it that has disappointed them, they can build a new and better thing of beauty out of the ruins. Of course they never get the tabula rasa on which to draw their ideal schemes. What they normally do is damage the party closest to their professed ideals.

Yes, this is the goal.  However, the party that is closest to our professed ideals is, sadly, not professing our ideals anymore.  Even we FDR style liberals are out of the loop, nevermind our loopy hippy cousins.  The party damaged itself in 2008 when it humiliated one candidate at the expense of another, rewrote the rules, used misogyny and was never held accountable, and rigged the convention with barely a peep of protest from its leaders.

More insults follow about how stupid we are and how independents are naive and ignorant and probably racist.  You know the drill.  Then there is the Nader fiasco.  I didn’t vote for Nader in 2000.  I voted for Al Gore because I actually believed in the dude.  Yes, the Naderites were pretty stupid back then because there really was a difference between the parties in 2000.  But when the party jettisoned all those differences in pursuit of the money from Obama’s backers in 2008, well, they kind of sold out.

And the evidence of that is overwhelming.  Sorry, Garry.  I could cite many examples from the badly structured and unaccountable bailout, to the insufficient request for fiscal stimulus, to the neglect of homeowners, to the even more egregious neglect of the unemployed, to the healthcare plan that makes us carrion to the insurance companies, to the badly played debt ceiling fiasco of last year, that’s just to start.  The clearly unconstitutional “kill list” that could include any American citizen deemed to be a threat goes beyond anything even I expected from Obama.  And Obama squandered his Congressional majority in his first two years, which goes back to point one about voting for the party. Apparently, he’s not really a people person when it comes to motivating his own party to do what he wants.  That involves confrontation and Obama’s agin’ it. Where did that reticence to engage Congress get us, Garry?  I guess the political and party affiliation of the president is important after all, eh?  I’m practicing my Canadian because I’m hoping one of my kids will move there and sponsor me.

Throughout his post, Wills shows over and over again that his is unable to imaginate any other Democrat than Obama as a presidential candidate.  I can only assume that to Wills, Obama must be *the* ultimate Democrat for president.  Wills is buying into the idea that there is no other candidate for president from the Democratic party who embodies the ideals of the Democratic party more closely than Obama.  If the party is corrupt and ineffective for the vast majority of Americans who voted for it, welcome to politics, suckers!  When the Democrats nominate their candidate in September, they will be saying that that person represents all of the best of that party in terms of values, skills and potential.  It simply does not get any better than this.

But here is the most important reason why Roberto Unger is on to something and Garry Wills is not:

The coming apocalypse of the “etherialists” is avoidable because Barack Obama is not the nominee yet.

Stop talking nonsense down at us and focus your ire on the party leadership who got us into this mess.  They’re the only ones who can get us out before the general election in November.