A Pragmatist’s Lament

by Andrew Osborne

Conservatives, I’m not arguing with you today.  I’m way too busy arguing with liberals and independents.

And the topic is this:  why vote for Obama and the Democrats when they’re so durn disappointing on [insert political issue you’re disappointed about]?

Well, in a general sense, it all comes down to our endless national tug-of-war.  The conservatives are pulling relentlessly and passionately to the right.  Just to keep things middle-of-the-road requires an equally relentless pull to the left.

Progressives get frustrated by pulling and pulling and pulling left and never getting very far from the center, so they figure fuck it.  They get demoralized by the futility of it all and grouse and demoralize the rest of the team, and the left loses its grip and we get pulled even further right…because the conservatives NEVER stop pulling.  They do what they’re told and never stop pulling to the right.  And then we’re even further right, and those on the left who are still pulling have to pull even harder just to get back to the center, to make up for the ones who gave or got demoralized.  Hence, my frustration with those who aren’t pulling, especially when all they’re doing is criticizing those who still are.

I mean, for all the left’s frustrations with Obama, does anyone really think he has the same goals and beliefs as W. Bush or Romney?  If that’s, indeed, what you think…well, I don’t know what to say.  But let’s assume for the sake of argument Obama really does want to be as good as the good ol’ Democrats of yesteryear on social welfare, labor, regulation, etc.  And I’ll put aside for the moment the complication that different smart people can have different ideas on how to achieve complicated goals, and also the fact that even the best people don’t always get things right all the time (i.e. — Kennedy/LBJ & Vietnam, Truman nuking two civilian cities, Lincoln trying to appease the slave states, etc.) — plus, don’t even get me started about what Obama HAS accomplished, and especially what he’s accomplished compared to George W. Bush.

So — again, for the sake of argument — let’s say Obama actually WANTS to do the right thing (and let’s also leave aside the particular example of his recent statement on gay marriage, which is a whole other can of worms).  First, he can’t do everything at once, so he has to act in a strategic order.  And then people bitch if he doesn’t get to their thing first, or as quickly as they want, or in the exact way that they want.

He also can’t go for things he doesn’t think he can accomplish, and/or that the public just flat-out refuses to accept and/or understand and/or support.  And the things he CAN accomplish he can only do through compromise and deal-making, since he’s not a dictator.

That’s a tough chore under any circumstances…but not only is he facing unprecedented hostility from the right, but every day he’s not making the left happy they’re shitting on him, too.  So Obama doesn’t make anybody happy and Romney wins and maybe gets a Republican Congress that the bickering Democrats have even LESS chance of opposing, and then we get back to all the TRULY horrible shit that happens when Republicans are completely in charge.

And that’s just Obama…but the same applies to Pelosi (who I disliked at first but who eventually won me over), Harry Reid, Barney Frank, etc., etc.  (And I’m not even talking about the total shit-bag “allies” they’re forced to work with, like, say, Joe Lieberman).

However, the bigger problem with progressive ennui is that while it’s bad enough for the left to bitch, give up and lose ground on the national level, the really bad shit is happening in the boring state and local races where the conservatives keep creeping in like mold onto school committees, city councils, etc.

Here’s the kicker, though:  nothing I say even remotely matters, because I don’t actually get involved with politics or government beyond voting every couple of years, arguing about it here and on Facebook and making the odd donation.

Now believe it or not, I actually bitch about Democrats all the time with my sheltered liberal NPR-listening friends and family here in New England.

Mostly I bitch to my idealistic Kennedy liberal of a mother, because she’s so naive about how things really work and how bad the Democrats really are.  And sometimes, I bitch so much I really demoralize her.  And then I feel like a complete asshole, because she’s one of the few people I know who actually goes out and gets signatures, works phone banks, attends Democratic town committee meetings (in a super conservative working class town) and talks with the local, state and national politicians who actually do the day-to-day business of attempting to govern, and thus know far better than I how mind-numbingly complex and difficult that shit really is.

It’s easy for conservative politicians.  They’re (mostly) greedy and/or ignorant.  They act out of self-interest.  If they win, they get rich (and maybe get to put their fear and bigotry into a  constitution).

But if you’re a progressive, your basic impulse is to help others and maybe open the minds of ignorant, fearful and even downright sociopathic people who will do everything in their power to stop you and then generally not thank you even if you actually succeed in making their lives better in any way.  For all my frustrations, I try to be thankful for the people who even bother to make the effort, and celebrate them when they succeed at the difficult task of simply not allowing the country to fall into anarchy and/or “might makes right” neo-feudalism.

And, again, all this shit is insanely complicated, and I don’t flatter myself into thinking I understand more than a thimbleful.  I don’t understand foreign policy or the global economy except in the vaguest, most general terms, any more than I know how to replace the timing belt in my car…so I may have an opinion on various pieces of legislation I’ve never actually read in the same way I have a general sense of how my (far less complicated) car works, but for the most part I leave stuff like that to professionals I trust (because I’m way too busy trying to keep my own stupid life on track to figure out how to deal with North Korean nuclear threats and the collapse of the Greek economy)…

…and in my lifetime, I doubt I’ll ever trust the Republicans again, so the Democrats will have to do (either that or I’ll just have to leave my metaphorical car up on blocks on my front lawn).

And for those who yearn for the good ol’ days of non-disappointing liberals…

…FDR was allowed to be a great (super-rich) liberal because this selfish, ignorant, bigoted nation was starving and needed someone to save them.  The great liberal LBJ managed to pass civil rights because he was chummy with conservatives and the blacks had already done all the heavy lifting.  And Jimmy Carter may have been a great liberal and a swell guy, but he squandered the country’s universal hatred of Nixonian Republicans and allowed Reagan/Bush to regain power for 12 years (after which the “disappointing” New Democrat Clinton looked berry, berry good to me).


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