The poster boy for progressive self-delusion

Read Hayden's 2008 Obama endorsement to remember the way the left sold our centrist president to itself

Published December 3, 2009 12:03AM (EST)

A few people in my letters thread today claim to see "sour grapes" and "I told you so" in my post saying progressives have only themselves to blame for feeling betrayed by President Obama. Ain't no sour grapes -- I voted for him, of course -- but there is a helping of "I told you so," I admit, left over from the 2008 primary battle. And Tom Hayden's bleat of betrayal in the Nation today – Alex Koppelman writes about it here -- forces me to confess it.

Hayden's delusional Obama endorsement in March 2008 made such an impression on me, I can quote whole sentences from memory. Well, one whole sentence, the first: "All American progressives should unite for Barack Obama." Oh, and I remember that he said Obama's "very biography" and his campaign's "very existence" would cure cancer, make my hair silky smooth, and cause pretty, pretty unicorns to dance in my backyard, too.

OK, that last part isn't true.

But I felt like I was in some kind of Maoist reeducation camp, being urged to struggle mightily and cheerfully for Chairman Obama.

So yeah, that old "I told you so" demon drove me back to reread Hayden's Nation piece -- co-signed by Danny Glover, Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher Jr. (but redolent of Hayden's manifesto-writing style) -- and boy, it's even worse than I remember. For those of you saying it's not fair to blame progressives for deluding themselves about Obama, please read this, and then try to make the same argument. Some of my favorite lines below: 

"All American progressives should unite for Barack Obama. We descend from the proud tradition of independent social movements that have made America a more just and democratic country. We believe that the movement today supporting Barack Obama continues this great tradition of grassroots participation, drawing millions of people out of apathy and into participation in the decisions that affect all our lives. We believe that Barack Obama's very biography reflects the positive potential of the globalization process that also contains such grave threats to our democracy when shaped only by the narrow interests of private corporations in an unregulated global marketplace. We should instead be globalizing the values of equality, a living wage and environmental sustainability in the new world order, not hoping our deepest concerns will be protected by trickle-down economics or charitable billionaires. By its very existence, the Obama campaign will stimulate a vision of globalization from below….

"We intend to join and engage with our brothers and sisters in the vast rainbow of social movements to come together in support of Obama's unprecedented campaign and candidacy. Even though it is candidate-centered, there is no doubt that the campaign is a social movement, one greater than the candidate himself ever imagined…. We have the proven online capacity to reach millions of swing voters in the primary and general election. We can and will defend Obama against negative attacks from any quarter….

"We take very seriously the argument that Americans should elect a first woman President, and we abhor the surfacing of sexism in this supposedly post-feminist era. But none of us would vote for Condoleezza Rice as either the first woman or first African-American President. We regret that the choice divides so many progressive friends and allies, but believe that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be a Clinton presidency all over again, not a triumph of feminism but a restoration of the aging, power-driven Wall Street Democratic hawks at a moment when so much more fresh imagination is possible and needed. A Clinton victory could only be achieved by the dashing of hope among millions of young people on whom a better future depends. The style of the Clintons' attacks on Obama, which are likely to escalate as her chances of winning decline, already risks losing too many Democratic and independent voters in November. We believe that the Hillary Clinton of 1968 would be an Obama volunteer today, just as she once marched in the snows of New Hampshire for Eugene McCarthy against the Democratic establishment."

Oh, and I searched the whole thing: Not one word about Afghanistan. Not even the word "Afghanistan."

I want to be clear here. I am not saying, and I never said, that Clinton was more progressive than Obama on any of these issues. But Hayden, Michael Moore and too many progressives claimed, with zero evidence, that Obama would be more progressive than Clinton. He wasn't, and he isn't. There were many reasons to choose Obama over Clinton, but that he was the better progressive was never one of them. Certainly his Cabinet choices -- including Clinton herself -- are no more progressive than hers would be. Claiming a President Clinton would preside over "a restoration of the aging, power-driven Wall Street Democratic hawks at a moment when so much more fresh imagination is possible and needed" seems particularly silly today (and using "aging" as a pejorative was a poor choice from Hayden's particular demographic, but old habits die hard).

Struggle mightily and cheerfully to forgive yourself for your self-delusion, Tom Hayden and friends. OK, my "I told you so" moment is officially over. 

By Joan Walsh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections Afghanistan Barack Obama