Monday, June 18, 2012

Dear Professor Unger: You're not helping

By Richard K. Barry 

Some of my best friends are academics. Had my life taken a different twist or two, I might have ended up at some ivy-walled institution discussing Plato's Republic with undergraduates while trying to publish enough to secure tenure. I'm sure it would have been lovely. I have nothing against the life of the mind.

Still, I sometimes wish university teachers would have the discipline to temper their whole-cloth comments about electoral politics. Normative theory is important. Providing a picture of how society ought to work is an essential function. But suggesting that we ought to give up on President Obama because he is not moving the country in an appreciably more progressive direction is ridiculous. Suggesting that progressives ought to wish for the defeat of Obama and the election of Mitt Romney so that "the voice of democratic prophecy can speak once again in American life" is absurd, yet this is what Harvard Professor Roberto Unger is saying.

What does that even mean? Clearly he doesn't mean Romney would do that, so he must mean something else.

Look, I know Obama is not on the left. Many have been saying, and I agree, that the GOP and much of the country has moved so far to the right that Obama's brand of centrism is the only thing providing a degree of sanity in American politics. At the moment, I'm afraid this is the best we're going to do. To adapt a phrase, "we've been right-wing so long that center looks left to me."

Unger provides a list of positions Obama has taken to prove he is no progressive, to prove he has "failed to advance the progressive cause in America." In essence, the critique can be boiled down to Unger's claim that Obama has "delivered the politics of democracy to the rule money." I don't disagree, yet somehow Obama's greatest challenge to reelection is the charge from the right that he is a socialist. Think about that.

Much as I hate being an apologist for Obama, he had a choice: either prop up the very institutions which created the economic turmoil or let it all come crashing down.

I know some academics think the road to the promised land requires an economic melt-down first, as if there is some logical path leading from deep depression to economic justice for all. It didn't exactly work for Nazi Germany. Or maybe Unger thinks that if Obama is defeated, a real social justice movement will assert itself in opposition to President Romney. Don't hold your breath.

In truth, I have no idea what Unger means and fear he doesn't either.

What I know is that elections have consequences and that if Mitt Romney wins the presidency, more people will be living in misery and there will be far less educational and economic opportunity, one of Unger's primary concerns.

Yes, we should always keep in mind the long-run as described by brilliant thinkers like Unger. But let's not forget the world in which we have to live. Please.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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    There's more to the Roberto Unger story. This is also the principled guy who in 2005 called the government of Brazil's ex-President Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva the "most corrupt in Brazil's history" and then did an about face and accepted Lula's appointment Brazil's Minister for Strategic Affairs where he developed the plan that included the Belo Monte monster dam (and many more) and so much infrastructure development in Amazonia that it was the "last straw" causing Marina Silva to opt for resignation.

    By Blogger Lou Gold, at 4:59 PM  

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