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Left Behind

Do progressives have any power over the Obama administration?

Only six months into the Obama presidency, the new administration has already experienced an unusually robust assortment of criticism from fellow Democrats, at least at the elite opinion-leading and activist level. The extended progressive "honeymoon" that John Judis warned against [1] in these pages back in February has largely faded.

Obama has been faulted in large swaths of the blogosphere and op-ed pages for a wide array of missteps, if not downright heresies. Here are just a few:

*Undertaking expensive and questionably effective "bailouts" of the financial sector instead of simply regulating and/or nationalizing it.

Using vast political capital to promote a fiscal stimulus package that was too small to work, and allowing Senate "centrists" to water it down even further.

*Refusing to reverse major elements of the Bush program for surveillance, detention, and interrogation of terrorism suspects, and obstructing efforts to hold Bush officials accountable for violations of civil liberties.

*Moving too slowly to end American military involvement in Iraq, and moving too fast to make new commitments for military action in Afghanistan.

*Deferring to "centrists" and even Republicans in Congress on crucial climate change and health reform legislation at the palpable risk of destroying the progressive nature of these initiatives.

*Failing to honor commitments for immediate action to promote GLBT equality, particularly with respect to the military.

Aside from these specific issues, there's been a pervasive feeling in many progressive circles that Obama is too cautious, too "pragmatic," too subservient to Democratic "centrists," too worried about bipartisanship, too interested in outreach to people who will never support him, and too unwilling to utilize the bully pulpit to articulate and defend progressive principles.

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