If we "have to take the world as we find it," as the defeatist David Axelrod advises, explaining the Administration's willingness to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich, (soon, it seems, to be Obama's tax cuts too), why should Democrats, or libertarians, bother to vote? Today, "the world as we find it" promotes astounding income inequality, the decline of public services and infrastructure, an apparently endless state of war, and an expansive, bi-partisan security state that enjoys unchecked, unaccountable power to summarily detain, torture, and assassinate people (whether they're rightly or wrongly assumed to pose threats) while spying on practically everyone (or appropriating power to do so) and sexually abusing us at airports -- to make us feel safe. If we must "take the world as we find it," why not resign ourselves to these and other failures, indignities, injustices, and atrocities? This is not a rhetorical question.
Of course, "take the world as you find it" will not be Obama's campaign slogan in 2012. (In 2008 he told us we had the power to "save our planet," not resign ourselves to its degradation.) But considering his frequently lamented tendency to fold rather than fight, there's no reason to think "resign yourself" wouldn't continue to be the President's guiding principle, should he somehow manage to get re-elected, despite having alienated the left without ameliorating hostility on the right or gaining support from labile voters in the center. (Clive Crook concisely explains the sorry dynamic here.)
I'm not denying the legislative accomplishments of the past two years (notably health care and financial reform), or endorsing an all or nothing approach to legislation; although I'm also not forgiving the Administration's abandonment of efforts to close Guantanamo, try terror suspects in civilian courts, or hold officials accountable for torture and its attendant cover-ups. But, (like a lot of people) I am struck by what the Administration's partial successes and total failures share: an apparent belief in the power of appeasement.
"You take the world as you find it" is what you might explain after negotiations have concluded (in an arguably unavoidable compromise), it's not what you announce before they've begun. You don't need to be a particularly shrewd or experienced negotiator to sense that "I'm a push-over" is probably not an effective opening gambit. And you can't blame liberals for being dispirited when, having hoped they were electing another FDR, they find themselves saddled with Neville Chamberlain instead.
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