Another day, another self-congratulatory list of President Obama's progressive achievements. Many specifics regularly included on these lists are hotly debated, with many of us finding some of them to be examples of downright insults to progressive ideals ("toppling" leaders of sovereign nations through violence has never been on my wish list). But beyond that, I find the very concept of these lists, in the context in which they appear, to be an insult to progressive commitment to transparent, participatory democracy. Beyond the fact that equally long counter-lists can be made of actions taken by this administration which are extremely damaging to core progressive values and to hope of achieving long-held goals, there is an assumption underlying these lists that political realities are best determined through defining personalities rather through focusing on policy, one issue at a time.
The net result of Obama's actions has been to protect and further entrench the wealthy and powerful as well as their influence over politics. There are any number of studies quantifying the continuing concentration of wealth during this presidency, at an ever accelerating pace. There has been nothing to suggest any inroads have been made toward ameliorating the influence of this concentrated wealth on government; all indications point to the contrary. Obama's administration has undermined constitutional protections and further instituted secrecy and fear that leave government unaccountable while working powerfully against core progressive notions involving such things as war, poverty, and the role of government. Any purported progressive accomplishments he can claim to have made do not represent reflections of the will of progressive citizens so much as indulgences of those whose control of government he has further entrenched; such progress is therefore subject to being revoked by the same forces that allowed them to occur. Not to say popular pressure has no influence; rather to point out that some actually progressive things are permitted so long as they don't require sacrifice by the wealthy and powerful.
Obama has undermined the constitutionally mandated structure of government and the rule of law. Both are necessary ingredients for progressives to exert real influence over their government and to achieve the kind of society they work toward. Therefore any seeming progressive achievements are merely crumbs from the tables of the masters during a time of general undermining of progressives.
To underscore this point, whatever things Obama has done that look progressive he has done while castigating and undermining actual progressives. He has delivered the message time and again that progressives are imprudent, ideological, and not worthy of being listened to. Expecting progressives then to salute him as their great hero, who has protected them from themselves while graciously doing for them only the things he in his wisdom sees fit to do--well, it just ain't gonna happen. Progressives believe in participatory democracy.
Finally, the ubiquitous ad hominem that dominates the discourse of current propaganda is an implicit aspect of these lists of achievements. Were the point simply to acknowledge some things that many of us might be glad about, that would be one thing. But the point is to define Obama himself, as a person, to say that he himself is a progressive and thus to inoculate him from criticism for his many stunningly anti-progressive actions. I have no argument with people who celebrate those achievements they support while at the same time decrying such things as illegal drone strikes, unprosecuted war crimes, prosecution of whistleblowers, and unprecedented government surveillance. But what I see is the illogical, undemocratic argument being made that, because a list can be made of progressive things Obama has done, he is a progressive president and therefore is not guilty of any of the obviously anti-progressive actions he has taken. At best, we are being asked to be pragmatic and bipartisan and swallow actions offensive to core progressive values because some good things happened.
The accuracy or inaccuracy of any such list, to me, is secondary to the basic way in which such arguments are offensive to core progressive belief in participatory democracy and in certain long-held principles.