Sullivan on Obama

If you haven’t read Andrew Sullivan’s “How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics“, you should; it summarizes lots of good stuff that this administration has done, and provides lots of solid meaty evidence against spurious Republican attacks.

On criticism of the President from the left, I don’t think he does nearly as good a job. This is the kind of thing:

[H]e has signed into law the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without trial (even as he pledged never to invoke this tyrannical power himself). But he has done the most important thing of all: excising the cancer of torture from military detention and military justice.

Implying (without actually saying, because it would sound ridiculous) that the indefinite-detention stuff is okay, because of something entirely different and good that he did.

And on the whole “executing American citizens without trial” thing (which this administration has actually done), Sullivan says exactly nothing.

I left a comment over on the Liberal Values entry on this subject (which reprints a nice swathe of the Sullivan piece and finishes “none of these issues would be made better by having a Republican in the White House”) and I’ll post it here also for good measure:

I like a lot of what Sullivan says. But he also omits, or passes far too swiftly over.

Can we explain indefinite detention of citizens in terms of some subtle and benign “long game”, or in terms of the limitations of what a President can accomplish? If Sullivan can, it would be a great relief to hear it. But he just zips right by it, implying that it’s okay because Obama has promised not to use that blatantly unconstitutional power himself, and besides he got rid of torture, which Sullivan says is more important.

And Sullivan doesn’t even mention execution of citizens without trial, which Obama has actually *done*.

Can we explain the continued harassment and prosecution of marijuana dispensaries that are legal under their state laws, and the general continued wasting of Federal dollars on marijuana enforcement, in Sullivan’s benign terms? Maybe he can; I’d love to hear it.

Of course liberals realize that none of this means it would have been better if some Republican was President! But on the other hand Obama’s defenders have to realize that that argument is by no means an effective counterargument to any and all criticism of what he has done. I agree with Sullivan that much of the criticism is just flatly false. It would be nice if he would, on his side, acknowledge that some of it is true, and some of that is nontrivial…

One the one hand, during an election cycle it’s very tempting to want to minimize any criticism of the preferable candidate, for fear that it might lead to enough voters staying home that the other candidate wins. But if we’re talking about Long Games, we also need to realize that only through honest criticism of even the good guys, do we maximize our chances of things getting better.



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