Barack Obama's Disturbing Pattern of Condescension Towards the Left

Both Paul Krugman and Glenn Greenwald wrote fantastic columns last week describing the growing mistrust that progressives are displaying towards Obama, but I think that there is a crucial element of the Obama administration that has yet to be highlighted--namely, his unsettling willingness to mock and trivialize those on the left. In his almost nine months in office, I count at least three instances in which Obama has treated a serious question or criticism from the left with scorn and derision. This pattern of behavior--from a president who owes a large part of his overwhelming electoral mandate to progressives--is troubling, to say the least. After eight years of being treated like unserious children by the Bush administration and the corporate media that so dutifully carried their water, to see the same type of behavior manifesting itself in a new Democratic president is something of which all progressives should take note.

The first example of Obama's unfortunate behavior came in March of this year, at a virtual town hall meeting during which he condescendingly laughed off a legitimate question about drug policy. Online voters could choose which questions they wanted Obama to answer, and one of the most popular questions was whether or not the president thought legalizing marijuana would help the economy. Regardless of one's stance on the matter, it is simply undeniable that the continued prohibition of marijuana in this country is a serious issue with serious consequences, both domestic and international.

Instead of treating the question with the respect it deserved, he laughed it off and mocked those who voted for it. From the transcript:

"I have to say that there was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy -- (laughter) -- and job creation. And I don't know what this says about the online audience -- (laughter) -- but I just want ... this was a fairly popular question; we want to make sure that it was answered. The answer is, no, I don't think that is a good strategy -- (laughter) -- to grow our economy. (Applause.)"[emphasis added.]

Hahahaha, he's right! It's so funny! I mean, what kind of stoned losers would care about epidemic levels of the incarceration of non-violent drug users?! Or how our drug policy has wreaked havoc on Mexico and Columbia?! Look, burnouts, go back to your Sublime cover band already, and stop wasting the president's time with questions that already have clear answers.

Again, whether or not you believe that decriminalization is proper policy is not the issue here. The issue is that Obama fielded a legitimate question from the left and treated it like it was idiotic and childish. Read over that transcript again, but add a Texan drawl and a chimp-like smirk. Isn't it easy to imagine W. responding to that question with in the exact same manner?

The next incident of Obama throwing the left under the bus concerns a statement he made recently about the coup in Honduras. He had been coming under heavy criticism from the left for not doing more to exert pressure on the illegitimate coup government, but instead of addressing those criticisms head-on, he created a ridiculous straw-man argument and simply dismissed his critics as hypocrites. From the MercoPress report:

""The same critics who say that the United State has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say we are always intervening and the Yanquis [Yankees--JK.] need to get out of Latin America" Obama told a closing news conference at a US-Mexico-Canada Monday summit in Guadalajara.


"If these critics think that it's appropriate for us to suddenly act in ways that in every other context they consider inappropriate, then I think that what that indicates is that maybe there's some hypocrisy involved in their approach to US-Latin American relations," Obama said."

The issue here, as in my first example, is not about what policy you think is best for the government to take in regards to the Honduran coup. This is about Obama deliberately mischaracterizing his critics' positions, and then simply dismissing them out of hand as unserious.

Laura Carlson, Director of the Americas Program at the International Relations Center, speaking on Democracy Now!, responded to Obama's statements by saying:

"I was shocked and insulted at that statement, as one of those people who's been calling for stronger statements--sanctions from the United States. It was a snide and petty remark. And besides that, it's just not accurate.

Intervention is when you get involved in external affairs. What we've been calling for is for the United States to do exactly as the European Union and other countries across the world have done, which is to apply the sanctions that are called for in US legislation to cut off aid to an illegal military coup, or also to withdraw an ambassador who no longer has a valid counterpart in the country. So that's not intervention; that's simply following and being consistent with the policies and the laws in the United States."[emphasis added.]

That's what his critics were calling for. I'm not aware of any respected leftist intellectual who was calling for direct military intervention. Even if one is able to find examples of that, it doesn't change the fact that the position that Carlson stated was, and continues to be, what most progressives have advocated on behalf of. Again, Obama was faced with a legitimate criticism by the left, and refused to acknowledge it. Instead, he immediately dismissed it as "hypocrisy" and moved on.

My final example is from a few days ago. During an interview with a Philadelphia-based radio show, Obama, once again, mocked and infantilized his critics on the left. Responding to a question by the show's host, Michael Smirconish, about recent comments made by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about jettisoning the "public option" from the final health care bill, Obama responded,

"The press got excited and some folks on the left got a little excited...."

What a fantastically dismissive thing to say about health care reform advocates who feel discouraged and betrayed by the administration's willingness to consider a bill that doesn't include a public option. They are "excitable"--you know, like children are. Their anger, and the backlash that Obama is facing from liberals, stems from a purely reactionary mindset, apparently. Yes, why on Earth would the announcement that the health care bill might no longer contain any teeth at all cause the left to cry foul? If they were more serious and thoughtful, they wouldn't be so excitable.

Some might argue that Obama was speaking extemporaneously, and therefore should be given a pass. We can't know for certain whether or not he planned to use those exact words, but I would argue that if he was in fact speaking off the cuff, then that makes his statement even worse. If his honest, immediate response when talking about progressive anger is to casually dismiss it, that's horrible.

These three examples, over a relatively short period, show the beginnings of a president who--like many Democrats--is desperate to prove that he's not too liberal. Just as the most important thing for a media outlet to do is to prove to the Right that they're not in bed with the Democrats--even if that means completely abdicating their journalistic duties--so too is it seemingly necessary for Obama to prove that he'll throw the left under the bus whenever it suits him. And what these recent polls are showing is that if Obama continues to treat those who mobilized en masse to work for his election with scorn, derision, and disrespect, he can, and should, expect nothing but the same in return.