This is former New Left journalist Robert Scheer's basic argument in his recent column in The Nation. After rightfully pointing out that Obama "has blundered into a deepening quagmire in Afghanistan, has continued the Bush policy of buying off Wall Street hustlers instead of confronting them and is now on the cusp of bargaining away the so-called public option, the reform component of his health care program," Scheer points out that
Those are not happy sentences to write for one who is still on the e-mail list of campaign supporters urged to back the president in the face of attacks that are stupidly small-minded. But to remain silent about his errors, just because most of his critics are so vile, is hardly an example of constructive concern for him or the country.I think that hits the nail on the head. As Obama seems on the verge of trading away the public option on health care just to get a deal passed, dissent on his left will inevitably get louder. That's a good thing (even if it comes too late to get a health care reform bill with some teeth in it).
To the extent that any president actually ever does anything semi-progressive (which is truly a rarity, to say the least), they do it because a mass of people forced them to do so, not because their supporters sat back, listened to pretty speeches, and waited for the big guy to do the right thing. Obama needs strong criticism and pressure from supporters, fellow travelers, and radical opponents on his left flank in order to make even halfway decent policy choices, and so far we simply are not doing our jobs in that respect.