It's the first reply to kos's comment, though, that I want to focus on, because I've heard it a hundred times before: yes, we should criticize Obama, but not now. Not during an election season.
First of all, I think that attitude demonstrates the low priority that people give the issue of our military conduct in the Muslim world. Second, it's rather unhelpful to say "if you really care about this issue, you should raise it at exactly the time when expressing it will have the least effect." Yes, American elections are a shitshow of epic proportions. But they are the time when government is most responsive to its citizens. (This is slight praise, in context.) If you really care about a political principle, refusing to speak of it in election time is lunacy. Telling people that this issue is not worth talking about during election time essentially begs the question; it assumes the unimportance of the issue, exactly what we're arguing about.
Most of all, though, this argument would be a lot more compelling if I hadn't just lived through the past four years. I and others have criticized Obama (on drones, on medical marijuana policy, on education, a lot of issues) for a long time. I was criticizing him a year ago and a year before that. And every time, no matter what, it was never the time. Not during the health care fight! Not during the budget fight! Not right before midterm elections! Not right after midterm elections; we just got creamed, we need to rally together! The time was never, ever right. And so it will be with this election. My prediction is that if Obama is reelected, there will be no greater space for criticism from his left. The liberal blogs that are so aggressively defending his every move won't stop because the election is over. And we won't see any invigorated push from conventional progressives against our inexcusable conduct in the greater Middle East.
As a way of exploring the logical consequences of lesser evilism, I asked the other day whether people would vote for Zell Miller if he was the Democratic presidential candidate. Some people complained that this is an illegitimate reductio. That actually isn't the reductio at all; taking this thinking to its logical conclusion gets you the kind of society where the candidates are all chosen by the ruling military junta. But okay, you want a more plausible candidate: Joe Lieberman. If you think that's absurd, remember that 8 years ago he was a major primary candidate for one of our two political parties. You don't have to imagine, like, Earth Prime to envision a Lieberman candidacy.
So the question is not merely whether I'd be obligated to support Lieberman, as I supposedly am obligated to support Obama. The question is whether criticism of Presidential Candidate Lieberman would be as insistently marginalized as it is now with President Obama. I think the answer has to be yes, according to the lesser evil binarism that is so popular right now. As long as you've identified the better choice, even if it's only marginally closer to your values than the partisan alternative, you're stuck. You've got to suck it up and shut up. Even if it's a betrayal of things that you deeply believe in.
And, god, how bleak. What a terrible depressing vision of human political organization.
What I am looking for from people who take a hard, pro-Obama line, I guess, is a coherent theory of democracy. Because when I hear people insisting that everyone has got to get on board and let go of their unpopular criticisms, I wonder how they think long term change happens, how political evolution happens. Part of what's frustrating is that people are so inconsistent in how they say we should proceed. Some say that the important thing is to engage in the process, so you should vote for a third party candidate. But many say that voting for a third party is to throw your vote away. Some say that the place to challenge Democrats to be more liberal (and less militaristic) is through the primary process, but again, during primary season, I read in many places that primarying Obama would be the height of left-wing absurdity. Many just speak vaguely of organizing and agitating, never being exactly clear what kinds of agitating are permitted, or why this theoretical kind is allowed but the kind undertaken by prominent critics Obama is not.
From 2002 through 2008, American liberals waged a campaign of resistance and criticism against American aggression in the Muslims world. And for good reason: our conduct since 9/11 has been a profound injustice, involving collective punishment, violation of international laws and egalitarian ethics, and the dehumanization of over a billion people. In response, an apparatus of refusal was created-- blogs and documentaries and books and organizations and ideas. This apparatus has proven to be insufficient. But the attempt has meant everything; it has changed the landscape and expanded the boundaries of the possible. Just a few short years ago, this paragraph would be entirely uncontroversial on almost any liberal blog. I'm sorry to say that this appears to have changed.
The Democrats are my preferred political party, warts and all, and I have been a registered Democrat since I have been legally eligible. But I refuse to be held hostage by narrow partisan need, and I sincerely believe that both the moral interests of America and the long term political interests of the Democratic party are served by presenting an alternative to Republican militarism and anti-Muslim aggression. The only way to create that alternative is to press for it, vigorously and without apology. If Democrats prove unwilling to be moved, then the criticism will have to function as the endorsement of another way, of a politics without a party.