Not "If." But "How?": Dispensing Karmic Justice in the Age of Obama

Glenn Greenwald has a persuasive post up about why criticizing Obama is important:

Politicians, by definition, respond to political pressure. Those who decide that it's best to keep quiet and simply trust in the goodness and just nature of their leader are certain to have their political goals ignored. It's always better -- far better -- for a politician to know that he's being scrutinized closely and will be praised and supported only when his actions warrant that, and will be criticized and opposed when they don't.

If those who want fundamental reform in these areas adopt the view that they will not criticize Barack Obama because to do so is to "help Republicans," or because he deserves more time, or because criticisms are unnecessary because we can trust in him to do the right thing, or because criticizing him is to "tear him down" or "create a circular firing squad" or "be a Naderite purist" or any of those other empty platitudes, then they are ceding the field to the very powerful factions who are going to fight vehemently against any changes. Do you think that those who want the CIA to retain "robust" interrogation and who want the federal surveillance state maintained, or want a hard-line towards Iran and a continuation of our Middle East policies, or who want to maintain corporate-lobbyist-domination of Washington, are sitting back saying: "it's not right to pressure Obama too much right now; give him some time"?
Makes sense, but the question that's been on my mind for quite some time hasn't been if we should criticize Obama, but rather, how we should go about it. Whether or not I necessarily buy Glenn's cause-effect relationship between Obama's performance on This Week and his team's subsequent statements on the necessity of closing Guantanamo, like any good liberal, I see citizen participation as the cornerstone of democracy and, consequently, am naturally inclined to raise objections to anything I find objectionable. Nonetheless, I can't help but appreciate the harsh reality that simply yakkity yakking on my little piece of the blogosphere (as enjoyable as it is) or even participating in a rally or two just ain't going to get the job done. I could dress myself in funny costumes and scream obscenities during congressional hearings, but since I do that just for fun anyway, who's going to notice?

This question of how we should criticize Obama is one that Glenn glances at later in his post--yet doesn't really address--when he mentions the one-sidedness of the latest Israel problem:
That happens for one clear reason: because one side of the debate (the AIPAC faction) is strong and aggressive in its criticisms and pressure tactics and the other side (the faction wanting an even-handed U.S. approach) is not.
Now, I remember Glenn Greenwald, Jane Hamsher, Ezra Klein, Matthew Yglesias, Juan Cole, Rachel Maddow, and even Jon Stewart (to name but a few) expressing their dismay at the lopsidedness of both Israel's response to Palestine and Congress' response to the Israel-Palestine issue. But in response to their critics, Congress, Bush, and Obama issued forth little more than a healthy yawn. Now, I'm no expert on the art of exerting political pressure, but from my line of sight, that wasn't an example of failure to criticize, that was an example of criticism FAIL. Which brings us back to the issue here--how do we strategically go about the process of driving change?

To begin addressing that question, I look for recent examples of progressives having a directly observable impact on the national discourse (show me the money!). For example, when a reporter with nice hair stood up in an Obama press conference and raised Democratic concerns (from the left!) about Obama's economic plan, I realized a little something about this thing called hope:

Now, the fact that Obama's first inclination was to dismiss the question with the whole "Igetcriticismfrombothsidesblahblahblah" shtick was more than a little dismaying. But the reporter pushed a little (I could kiss that dude with nice hair!), and Obama folded like a house of cards to the point where he was even inviting suggestions from Paul Krugman on his economic stimulus plan. And as such, this gave Krugman a real opportunity to step up and offer some left-ish suggestions in the New York Times. Huzzah! Let's keep this party going!

Of course, there are several non-hopey ways to view this Obama-Krugman debate. For starters, one might wonder why progressive economists, such as Paul Krugman, are nowhere to be found in Obama's inner economic circle (hint: Obama is not an economic progressive nor does he want to have to disagree with them face-to-face). Second, we can't all be Paul Krugman, and therefore, the likelihood that a reporter with nice hair will stand up and ask questions on behalf of the rest of us is more remote (for proof, see the best comment ever). Nonetheless, after eight long years of screaming into the wind against pointless wars, complete disregard for civil liberties, and ever-increasing economic injustice, I can't help but see this exchange as one worth trying to replicate.

And the replication has begun. After progressive bloggers worked together to push a question about investigating torture and other war crimes to the top of the list on, Keith Olbermann and George Stephanopoulos (both having nice hair, might I add?) raised the issue on their shows. And while we may not be happy with Obama's current answer to the question, I see no reason why we should stop clamoring for a better one. And the same is true for getting a more progressive economic package. Heck! We may even be able to wheedle a more rational response about Israel-Palestine from Obama if we utilize our resources effectively.

And what are our resources? Well, so far, we have Paul Krugman, progressive bloggers working together, questions on, and reporters with nice hair. Beyond that, we have a new President who not only spent his entire campaign claiming that he actually wants us to be involved but has even provided some tools for us to do so (Have I mentioned What about Whether or not those tools were initially intended to serve simply palliative purposes doesn't matter, because we have already used them to influence our national discourse, at least. And after the last eight years, that's already change I can believe in.

Of course, now that we've succeeded in getting some of our questions out into the world, the Obama team has decided that, if we can't play nice, we shouldn't be allowed to play at all and has taken our question-asking tool away (which, to me, indicates that it was intended to be palliative). This disappointment reinforces the need for progressives to build and maintain progressive infrastructures outside of the Obamasphere to press our issues. Sites like Get FISA Right and Get Afghanistan Right (boosted by Rachel Maddow) are great places to start. Maybe we need to add "Get Israel Right" and "Get the Economy Right" just to round out the bunch? There are also great progressive aggregator sites, such as and (of course) DailyKos, and Firedoglake is always providing us with new ways to get our action on. And the list goes on...

But in spite of all this hopey-changey goodness in the progressosphere and beyond, I can't help but there a killer app? Is there a more effective way to harness our resources, exert pressure on the softest spots, and maximize our Change ability? To figure that out, I look toward the places where progressives seem to have less impact. For instance, while Brave New Films and Crooks and Liars are televising the affronts to decency and democracy that comprise much of our Congress and national press corps, I can't help but wonder if progressives are truly making the most of the YouTubes. How many of us actively hook in to (or even know about) GritTv or Current as a means of "catapulting the propaganda"? And what about images? We may remember the inspired iRaq torture image or Shepard Fairey's ubiquitous Obama HOPE poster well, but what more? Are so many progressives just words?

Beyond all that, there's the vague sense I get that the progressosphere is no place for the novice. I talk to many people who have progressive leanings but aren't necessarily so familiar with the world of electrons, and it can be a little daunting. News sites like Huffington Post, and TPM are great starting points, and blogrolls help immensely (Jon Swift probably does it best), but one always gets the sense that there's a whole progressive world out there just beyond the finger tips. Maybe down on page 24 of your "awesome progressives" Google search is a site that might just hold the key that unlocks the secrets of the 'verse, and you'll never know because you failed to get past page 23. I don't know; I'm no expert. It's possible that the killer apps are talked about at places like Netroots Nation, BlogHer, Blogging While Brown, or even at Drinking Liberally, but I'm too lazy/cheap/misanthropic to go and learn about them. Nonetheless, I know for certain that the progressive army is strong in numbers and in resources. Whether or not we're aware of all of them may be another question.

Late Update: It looks like JedReport Jed is starting up Daily Kos TV! Good news.

Nothing New byslag at 9:18 AM

5 dispense karmic justice! (or just comment here):

A.F. said...

Excellent post!

Blue Gal said...

Excellent post. There are a three killer aps that come to mind, Facebook, and the email lists of David Plouffe and, respectively.

DailyKosTV sounds nice, but I humbly suggest that Crooks and Liars got there first (way first with downloadable video clips in 1994), and with their new Video Cafe tab they're also doing it double. PS I write for them.

Emily said...

I think it's an interesting question: how to criticize and talk about Obama in the context of our values and greater aspirations. Last week, I asked 100's of ppl to pick an emotion to represent how they feel about Obama and gave them 26 choices, including "Love," "Proud," and "Skeptical." Then I took their portrait and made it into a video.

I think it's telling that people are still posting and watching the video and answering the question, "How do you feel?" b/c people don't want to have to give up their hope just to be responsible democratic citizens.

slag said...

AF: You are too kind.

Blue Gal: Thanks for the suggestions! Agreed on C&L. One item to note though is that C&L doesn't much of their own vid production (last I saw). One of the things Jed excelled at during the campaign was producing liberal/progressive vids for general consumption. Kind of Brave New Films on the cheap. Good stuff.

Sadly, Facebook recently hired Alberto Gonzales' righthand man as their lawyer. At which point I had to cancel my accnt.

Also, FWIW, you totally should have won a Weblog Award!

Emily: Your project sounds fun!

Gye Greene said...

No criticizing: This overlooks that communication is important -- and that sometimes criticizism is part of communication.

If you don't ask -- if you don't communicate your wishes -- you won't get what you need.

"I could dress myself in funny costumes and scream obscenities during congressional hearings, but since I do that just for fun anyway, who's going to notice?": LOL!

And, so true.


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