Paul Revere by Cyrus Dallin, North End, Boston

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Monday, August 15, 2011

PRAGMATISM, THE PRESIDENCY, AND ACTIVISM, by Sheria at The Swash Zone

Friend and fellow blogger, Sheria, posted this excellent piece over at The Swash Zone. It deserves to be read by all. Thanks Sheria!

"I have repeatedly read posts by others who argue with great passion that President Obama should follow in the examples of Abraham Lincoln in addressing slavery and FDR in addressing the Great Depression. I appreciation the beacons that both former presidents are in the history of this country; however, what we believe to be true and what is fact often are vastly different.


A recent article, Frederick Douglass, the activist who would not 'grow up' offers a frame for evaluating the repeated criticism of President Obama from many members of the left. This article deals with President Lincoln as assessed by Frederick Douglass, not as a historian many years after the facts but as a witness to those events.


One of the most common misrepresentations of history is the oft repeated mantra that Lincoln freed the slaves. He didn't. The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to slaves that lived within the borders of states that were in rebellion against the Union; it did not apply to any slaves in the border states that were still loyal to the Union nor Confederate states which had already come under Union control; President Lincoln did not wish to lose the support of those slave owning states. The goal was to preserve the Union. As the Confederacy was not under the President's control, it did not accept Lincoln's offer to agree to the emancipation of slaves in exchange for compensation. The reality is that the Emancipation Proclamation was a grand gesture and of great symbolic value but it didn't free any slaves. [see for ex. pbs.org, thinkquest, national archives] In the year prior to the EP, 1862, Congress had passed a law that freed any Confederate slaves who escaped to the Union states and added those slaves to the Union's military ranks. Slavery did not officially end in this country until 1865 with the passage of the 13th amendment. [Id.] 


The factual details don't lessen what Lincoln accomplished. I offer this history lesson because I think that the adherence to mythology is interfering with the ability of progressives to get on the same page and work at the business of re-electing Barack Obama. Lincoln was no cowboy riding in on a white horse. He compromised on  what Frederick Douglass and  the abolitionists saw as the most significant cause of the Civil War, ending slavery. He did so because the Union could not afford to lose the slave owning border states to the Confederacy.


In 1862, Horace Greely, editor of The New York Tribune addressed an editorial to Lincoln in which he suggested that Lincoln's administration lacked direction and resolve in its war efforts. Lincoln responded with a letter to Greely that few seem to accurately recall:
'My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. [Lincoln letter]'
Frederick Douglass took issue with Lincoln's willingness to abide slavery if that was necessary to preserve the Union. However, Douglass was also pragmatic and eventually came to respect Lincoln's seemingly measured tread.  


In April 1876, in a speech delivered at the unveiling of the Freedmen's Monument in Memory of Abraham Lincoln,  Douglass said of Lincoln: 
'...I have said that President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the colored race. Looking back to his times and to the condition of his country, we are compelled to admit that this unfriendly feeling on his part may be safely set down as one element of his wonderful success in organizing the loyal American people for the tremendous conflict before them, and bringing them safely through that conflict. His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible...Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined. [emphasis added] [Douglass' Oration]'
Frederick Douglass was an activist and activists do not have to answer to a constituency, nor do they have to play well with others. There are those who no doubt will dismiss my evaluations of activism vs. politics as narrow and cynical. I intend it as neither, but simply pragmatic. 


Activism is an essential part of political and societal change but the demand that such activism be regularly and blatantly engaged in by this President is to ask him to go beyond the bounds of his office. I chose to focus on Lincoln because of sheer laziness. Lincoln has been a hobby of mine for years and I didn't have to do a lot of research. However, similar issues can be raised with FDR's presidency.


Douglass' evaluation of Lincoln doesn't diminish the man at all but it does make it clear that no man walks on water and offers a prism that reflects how I believe history will also view Obama. Just as was Lincoln, Obama is the President, not an activist. His responsibilities are vastly different than those of an activist. I believe that far too many are demanding that Obama take on a mythical role that no president has ever exercised. 


Bachmann just won the straw vote election out of a field of Republicans, any of whom is saner than she. I find that frightening. Rather than contributing to the constant criticism of President Obama and the continual refusal to acknowledge all that has been accomplished (an extensive list) our common goal should be to ensure that the President has a second term to work towards our goals. Douglass voted for Lincoln in 1864 in spite of his concerns and supported Lincoln's campaign. We have a president who understands the system and who is working that system with every tool at his disposal. What we need are activists; the campaign slogan has always been, "Yes we can." What have you done lately?"

22 comments:

TAO said...

Yes, what we need is activism! We need a grass roots movement on the left that is focussed on economic equality; we need a Frederick Douglass on the left.

But movements are angry and impolite, they are threatening to elites and the status quo.

The trouble is that the left let all the anger, alienation, and disenfranchisement that is reflected in current polls among a vast majority of Americans no place to express its self except with the folks on the right.

Oh, the left will come out when a couple of comedians host a march on Washington for "sanity" but can they support something like US Uncut?

Nope.

In a choice between the "freaks of nature" that make up the republican presidential hopefuls and Barack Obama then obviously Obama wins hands down. But he cannot win without an angry base, a base that is angry at Washington and its self serving policies that benefit special interests.

Until the left figures out how to take to the streets for principles and policies, Obama has no choice but to cling to the center....because the liberals have killed any activism on the left.

Shaw Kenawe said...

Christopher John over at W.E.E. See You wrote this in the comments:

"I just realised something . . .

James Buchanan – Abraham Lincoln

Herbert Hoover – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

George Walker Bush – Barack Hussein Obama

Am I seeing a pattern here?

The arguably three worst Presidents in U. S. history, followed by..."



Yeah. I see a pattern.

Nance said...

I've been having a ball today singing Sheria's praises on the blogs that have featured this post and the many FB posts that point to it. This is one of her best.

billy pilgrim said...

is there any truth to the story that bachman bought her victory in the straw poll by paying admission fees to the tune of $120,000.

from an outsider looking in i think obama's recent performance may be his best since taking office.

does the far left think he can put square pegs in round holes?

K.I.S.S. said...

The man made promises to get elected. He failed to make good on many of those promises. Hell, he couldn't even close GITMO.
He is being judged on his results. He is being judged more fairly than most Presidents.
There is plenty of reason to criticize him.
If his reelection is a shoe in, all the more reason to voice dissatisfaction with his failures. I wouldn't want him to think he got reelected because I approve of his performance, because I do not.
He should be quite aware that he got reelected because the alternative was worse.
He squandered two years majority, and a Republican win is not out of the question. Those who think Obama cannot lose to one of these wacky Republicans, haven't been paying attention to politics for 30 years.Their win record is impressive and outshines Democrats.

Shaw Kenawe said...

K.I.S.S. wrote: "The man made promises to get elected. He failed to make good on many of those promises. Hell, he couldn't even close GITMO."

KISS, did you bother to find out the facts behind your accusation? I didn’t think so. Politifact has a list of Obama's promises kept, in the works, compromised on, and missed. In fact, Obama's record is very good. You need to stop repeating the lie that he hasn't made good on "many."

And here're the facts behind not closing Gitmo:

"Congress on Wednesday signaled it won’t close the prison at Guantanamo Bay or allow any of its suspected terrorist detainees to be transferred to the U.S., dealing what is likely the final blow to President Obama’s campaign pledge to shutter the facility in Cuba.

The move to block the prison’s closure was written into a massive year-end spending bill that passed the House on Wednesday evening on a vote of 212-206, part of a last-minute legislative rush by Democrats to push through their priorities before ceding the House to Republican control in January.
News of the Guantanamo provision brought a quick and sharp rebuke from the Obama administration Wednesday.

“We strongly oppose this provision,” Department of Justice spokesman Matt Miller said in a statement. “Congress should not limit the tools available to the executive branch in bringing terrorists to justice and advancing our national security interests.”

Current law allows the Justice Department to bring detainees to the U.S. for trial as long as the Justice Department gives Congress 45 days notice of the transfer.

And who added the language banning Gitmo detainees being transferred to the U.S. for trial, as part of a bill that was supposed to fund Medicare, Medicaid, and expanded food safety? Wait for it … Democrats."

Shaw Kenawe said...

K.I.S.S. wrote: "He is being judged on his results. He is being judged more fairly than most Presidents."

And this is backed up by what evidence?

There is plenty of reason to criticize him.

No problem with criticizing. All presidents have been criticized.

K.I.S.S. wrote: "If his reelection is a shoe in, all the more reason to voice dissatisfaction with his failures. I wouldn't want him to think he got reelected because I approve of his performance, because I do not."

Of course not. He, unlike every president in America’s history, has failed to some degree, to carry out every promise he made while campaigning.

K.I.S.S. wrote: "He should be quite aware that he got reelected because the alternative was worse."

And if you don’t believe it still is, you’re not paying attention.

K.I.S.S. wrote: "He squandered two years majority..."

Go back and read about the Blue Dog Dems who voted with the Reps. They sabotaged the president of their own party because they come from conservative districts. It is not Obama’s fault that these Dems did not support him in the health care battle or in the closing of Gitmo.


K.I.S.S. wrote: "...and a Republican win is not out of the question. Those who think Obama cannot lose to one of these wacky Republicans, haven't been paying attention to politics for 30 years.Their win record is impressive and outshines Democrats."

This is a Center RIGHT country. When did you NOT get that? A Howard Dean or a Russ Feingold would NEVER get elected in this country.

Thanks to na├»ve Dems who would cut off America’s nose to spite her face because Mr. Obama didn’t deliver on every promise, Mr. Obama is in trouble right now in the polls.

The GOP voters OTOH, had no problem sticking with Dubya when he did NOT deliver on his promises and overturn Roe v. Wade, or pass the DOM act. He also failed to privatize SS. And he established the largest government agency in US history, cut taxes during war time, and passed Medicare Part D, unfunded--fiscally irresponsible acts, but his base never deserted him.

President Clinton failed at getting any sort of health care passed, changed welfare forever, passed NAFTA, and undermined his presidency by his stupid behavior.


Obama is not perfect. You and others who demand perfection will be responsible for the election of another Republican and possibly Republican Congress if you don’t get over your unreasonable expectations for this president.

K.I.S.S said...

How silly you are.
I'm not demanding perfection, if I was, I would not even consider voting for him again, which I will..
Most Americans don't spend their life writing a political blog. Public perception is everything, and Republicans are making a good case that he is ineffective, backed up by the facts of high unemployment, high debt, and endless war.
The President is not without power as you describe.
This President is lacking leadership. The kind of leadership that convinces Americans to do the right thing, even if they don't want to. I'll cite LBJ.
So keep excusing everything he can't get done, and face President Bachmann, or Perry in 2013.
KISS means keep it simple stupid. Americans will not be looking at your details come election time, they will be looking at final results.
Something Republicans understand. They are not worried about how bad they look on any given stance on an issue. They know Americans will forget that and go by the final outcome.
Obama is losing the public perception game. That's what it will come down to.

Shaw Kenawe said...

I recommend K.I.S.S. also read this:

K.I.S.S. said...

Oh please. Give some unheard of writers opinion.
Use the wako lefts call. "Your to stupid to understand." That kind of condescending attitude will only chase people away.
Leadership means holding the party together, yep, blue dogs and all.
Where is his job bill?
The idea is to change the country from center right to center left. Only leadership can do that, not compromise and playing safe for those conservative and independent votes.
Turn this economy around and he won't have to worry about those votes, he will win in a landslide.
And yes, there are proven ways to turn this kind of economy around, and he's not pushing them.

Shaw Kenawe said...

K.I.S.S. are you seriously saying you dismiss out of hand a writer you don't know?

That's absurd.

I've not implied that anyone is too stupid to understand. That's your characterization.

I've given you counter arguments, which you've dismissed because you don't know who wrote them. That doesn't cancel out the points made.

You want the president to carry out your agenda?

Make him.

That's what FDR said.

K.I.S.S. said...

FDR didn't have part of his base NOT demanding he do more, but just defending his lackluster results. It's lefties that think he's doing just fine and not demanding more. just like all the excuses you just gave me to justify why he can't do something. Give the "can't do" attitude and expect more of him, or any President.

Shaw Kenawe said...

K.I.S.S., you made your point. Mr. Obama isn't the super president you wanted him to be.

But you have not acknowledged what he has done. He passed a health care bill, something presidents have been trying to do for decades, and HAVE FAILED.

It isn't the most perfect legislation, but neither was FDR's social security legislation--it did not include a lot of jobs traditionally held by African-Americans and other minorities, for example. But all I've heard from the lefty left is that he didn't get a public option. Well the g-d DEMOCRATS handed him that failure. They were NEVER going to vote for it. Do you remember Backus?



You did not acknowledge that your claim that he failed to make good on many of his promises when I gave evidence that he's done very well on many of his promises, was not quite true.

You and I have two different ways of looking at this president.

He's not good enough in your eyes, and you resent those of us who believe he's doing the best he can with the worst opposition party any president has faced--at least in my lifetime, and I'm a grandmother.

I'm sorry you feel so negative about Mr. Obama.

There's nothing I can say that will change your attitude toward Mr. Obama. You've already made up your mind that he's a rotten president.

I have nothing more to say.

Rational Nation USA said...

Reading Sheria's excellent article from a historical perspective I must say her analysis is accurate.

This does not imply I believe Obama should gain reelection as there are issues that warrant close scrutiny.

Having said this the field of republican candidates, less two, frankly scare the hell out of me.

While I am not a political strategist the advice to democrats, particularity the most progressive among to stop the infighting and unite behind Obama is quite rational.

Should the worse of the republican crop win the parties nomination I believe the middle to sane right will move and vote center left for Obama, thus insuring his reelection.

In the meantime I shall work for one of the two rational conservative/libertarians in the republican field of candidates.

A well written article Sheria, historically accurate.

K.I.S.S. said...

You have nothing more to say after you misrepresent everything I've said.

I never said he was rotten.

I never said I resent you for believing in him.

I said I will be voting for him.

I know this is a center right country, but thanks for the insult.

You had a saying posted the other day that said - just because you don't get it doesn't mean I'm stupid, it means your stupid.

Yet you said, "I've not implied that anyone is too stupid"

You do like to call anyone who disagrees with you stupid, but hey, that's your right.

"K.I.S.S. are you seriously saying you dismiss out of hand a writer you don't know?"

I certainly do not give an unknown writer the same importance, or respect as a known writer.

Can't you find a writer who has national prominence, to back up your assertion?

"He passed a health care bill"

It's not what he wanted, I wanted, or the Democrats wanted.

The mandate has been shot down by a court, that leaves the whole plan dead. Without the mandate, it does not work, and he said so in Minnesota the other day.

"You and I have two different ways of looking at this president."

I suggest my view is more realistic, especially given his approval rating is below 40% - seems millions have complaints about him.

You are a little touchy (given you misrepresent what I said) to be writing about politics. Maybe you should write about sewing.

Shaw Kenawe said...

K.I.S.S.

Re: that "saying" you claim I had posted? WRONG.

My friend Sue had that up on her blog, "Helloooo....Mr. President Are You Listening." I never had it posted here.

I accept your apology for being sloppy about what I had on my blog.

You sound like the "Anonymous" who posted over at The Swash Zone and got thoroughly gobsmacked for not reading Sheria's post carefully. It appears you, like that "anonymous" don't pay too close attention to what blogs you read either. I never posted that sign.

As for your other complaints, here's what I actually wrote:

"You've already made up your mind that he's a rotten president."

Again, sloppy reading. I didn't quote you, I made an assumption that you've made up your mind that Obama is a rotten president, and I stand by that.

If you really think the only people who can analyze Obama's presidency are "national writers," you've missed my many blog posts that have included "national writers" who actually have done so and think Mr. Obama is doing fine for this period in America's history.

But, as with any president, there's room for improvement in many areas.

Lastly, I'll let (O)CT(O)PUS answer your claims about the health care legislation and the recent court decision. It is by no means a done deal yet. He gave the answer below to a commenter who called him/herself "Reality" over at The Swash Zone (actually that character ALSO sounds a lot like you in you in your health care comments.)

BTW, (O)CT(O) may not be one of your admired "national writers," but he always gets his facts right and always knows what he's writing about in great detail.

(O)CT(O)PUS wrote:

"Reality,

Only the individual mandate of the HCR act has been struck down by a court. But this is not the final word. If you read the fine print of the decision, the mandate provision is severable meaning all other provisions of the HRC act remain intact. For instance, the all-important Patient's Bill of Rights provisions are still law ... protecting you from being refused coverage due to a pre-existing condition, among other benefits.

The case will eventually be decided by the SCOTUS. Thus your pronouncements are a bit premature. Legal scholars believe the SCOTUS will uphold the healthcare bill without modification.

12:32 PM, August 17, 2011
Octopus said...
P.S.
Obama himself has stated on several occasions that the HRC bill is not perfect: "The good should not be held captive by the perfect" (a rough paraphrase of his words). Furthermore, Obama has stated several times that future generations will change and amend the bill just as Medicare was amended and improved by successive administrations, Democrat and Republican alike.

All in all, the HRC bill represents a major legislative achievement, and the first of its kind ... just as Medicare and Social Security represented major milestones in American history."


PS.

Most liberals other liberals admire do not try to win arguments by throwing catty/sexist remarks at people. You give yourself away as nothing more than a concern troll with your suggestion that I should write only about sewing.

If you dislike what I post about Mr. Obama and other liberals, I invite you to stay away from here and employ your childish insults somewhere else.

You could start here.

Octopus said...

Shaw,
I am curious about this statement from Keep it Sarcastic and Scornful: "there are proven ways to turn this kind of economy around ..." which sorta reminds me of Richard Nixon's secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. Remember tricky Dick and his secret plan? Why keep secrets when you can save thousands of lives and billions of dollars! Of course, there was no secret plan: Tens of thousands of lives lost as the war dragged on for 6 more years. The Secret Plan was bogus bullshit in 1968, and "proven ways to turn the economy around" is bogus bullshit today.

Earlier this week, Warren Buffett wrote a NYT Op-Ed piece that made headlines. KISS needs to go back 6 years and consider this letter to shareholders in March 2005, where Warren Buffett predicted this: In ten years’ time, the net ownership of the U.S. by outsiders would amount to $11 trillion:

"Americans ... would chafe at the idea of perpetually paying tribute to their creditors and owners abroad. A country that is now aspiring to an ‘ownership society’ will not find happiness in ... being a 'sharecropping society’."

So K.I.S.S. thinks there is a 'proven fix' for the economy. A less naive and more savvy person would recognize that one cannot undo decades of systemic mismanagement with simplistic platitudes and bogus bullshit.

As your humble servant and creature of the deep blue sea always says: "With friends like K.I.S.S., who needs anemones!"

Sheria said...

Thanks so much for the re-post!

Shaw Kenawe said...

Thanks, everyone, for your input. Yes, even you, K.I.S.S. your comments helped us delineate the thoughtful from the trolls.

Now if you will excuse me, I have some draperies I need to get back to sewing.

K.I.S.S. said...

Your the one who insulted me first, then lied about what I said.
What kind of attitude in return should I have for such childish crap?
Not my problem sea urchin that you have not studied economics.

Octopus said...

KISS,
This is Shaw's place, not yours, and you are the rudest troll who ever visited this forum. And BTW, there are a few people here who know more than you about economics such as myself (London School of Economics, MEcon - 1988).

Consider yourself permanently banned, and don't come back!

K.I.S.S. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.