As any reader of this blog could not have failed to notice by now, I do not think that the Obama presidency has been a victory for the Left or progressives. I can't say I ever expected it to be such a victory. I do not think that our society is (in any substantive sense) more just than it was before he took office, although there have been a few marginal improvements, "low hanging fruit" as some would say, here and there. I don't think that the Democratic Party is a force for progressive change, and I think a quick glance at the record of the party since it returned to power in 2006 makes the point rather obvious.
Still, there is a species of (ostensibly) Left criticism of Obama that makes me uneasy. It usually manifests itself in an excessive emphasis on Obama's individual psychology, his alleged weakness of will, or whatever.
I should say I think such analysis is a blind alley. It really is the system, in many important respects, that deserves the emphasis. It's only by ignoring the way our society functions that won could actually be surprised to find out that the Presidency isn't a fountainhead of progressive energy.
One interesting dimension of this misplaced emphasis and excessive criticism of Obama, the person, is the racial dimension.
Many Black people, rightly in my view, are skeptical about these sorts of attacks on Obama. With so many explicitly (or thinly veiled) racist attacks on Obama (for being a "foreigner", a Muslim, anti-colonial renegade, etc.) this skepticism is well placed. Moreover, there are similar "criticisms" of high profile Black men to consider here as well. Think of the way some white people boldly claim that they hate Kobe Bryant or Kanye West or Barry Bonds or Terrell Owens or Michael Vick. We could go on here. To be sure, many of aforementioned men (certainly this is true of Kayne) have done something obnoxious at one time or another. But who hasn't? I'm not convinced that when some white guy confidently declares his hatred for, say, Kobe, that he's saying something that lacks racial content. It sounds to me like a thinly-veiled way of saying the N-word without coming out and saying it. The readiness with which such vitriolic things are said (e.g. Tucker Carlson saying Vick should be executed) speaks to deeper biases.
So a healthy skepticism from the Black community regarding the tone and motivation of certain kinds of attacks on Obama is hardly unjustified. It reflects an awareness of certain patterns of discrimination and racism. As anyone who knows or cares about such matters is well aware, there has been no shortage of criticism of Obama from the Black Left in the US. But social criticism is not the same as obsessive scrutiny of some person qua person. My problems with Obama aren't personal. They're political. To be sure, I do think less of people who are blase, and I think this is true of Obama, about much of the most irredeemable injust on this planet. But that is a political qualm. Nothing but confusion comes from excessively focusing on Obama the person. As a matter of fact, Obama seems like a very likable, extremely swell guy. I have no reason to think that Obama is a despicable person, but that's irrelevant if we're talking politics. As I've argued elsewhere, asking the question "is Obama a progressive at heart?" is a pointless. It is a red-herring. Let's talk about (rather than entirely occluding) things like institutions, social structures, relations of production, exploitation, overproduction, oppression and all the rest of it. Save the individualized psychologizing analysis for another occasion.