Friday, January 15, 2010

Dear Progressive Community

I understand that you're disappointed in how things are turning out here in the Obama era. It was easy to believe, during the campaign, and in those heady days after the election, that the tide had turned, and that America had consciously chosen to move to the left. Or at least farther to the left than it has.

For what it's worth, it probably did. Not all of it, but enough to win the election.

But governing? Well, that's a whole other business. A messy, ugly, dirty business, compromised by its very nature. It doesn't help that the other team thinks it's more important for liberals and progressives to lose than it is for America to win, and will do and say anything to make the job of governance harder. Hell, one of their founding principles is that government is bad and shouldn't work. That's why things were so awful when they were in charge.

And now that they're not, it's even easier for them to be the great big jerks that they are and suffer little in the way of consequences for it. Thanks to Senate tradition (and a stupid one at that), 41 Senators, representing just 10% of the population, can stop any and all legislation in its tracks. It ain't fair, and it ain't right, and I don't really understand why it's allowed to function the way it is, but it's how things are. Yes, the Democrats have a supermajority, but only because people like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson caucus with them. And since the Republicans basically filibuster everything that comes to the floor (and while it's in committee, too, for that matter), and because they move and vote in lock-step, having purged themselves of all moderates except the two estimable ladies from Maine, that means that only things that are acceptable to people like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson get passed. Sucks, but there it is. Are there things that can be done about it? Sure. If nothing else, I'd like to see Harry Reid make Republicans actually filibuster. Make them stand there reading the phone book until they collapse in exhaustion. But there are good reasons not to (for instance, no other business can get done, which is less than wholly responsible).

The Democratic party is hardly perfect. It lacks discipline and cogency. Many of its members are just as venal and in the pockets of industry and the kleptocrat class as the other side. It's one of the reasons I'm only a democrat for about an hour every four years (since Presidential candidates are picked by caucus in Washington state). The problem is that it's a coalition, and an often uneasy one. Not everybody agrees on every- or even anything. Many are Blue Dogs, and represent districts and states that lean conservative. Expecting that these people are going to govern from the hard left is just crazy. It'd be one thing if we had 60 Russ Feingolds in the Senate, or even just 60 Chuck Schumers. But we don't, and deals have to be made. Which means that Progressives aren't going to get what they want all or even much of the time.

None of which excuses the collective fucking hissy fit I'm seeing all over the net and hearing from people I know.

You know what? I'm disappointed, too. In Barack Obama, and the Democratic party. I want a single payer health care system. I want the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to end. I want the financial markets regulated and the environment saved. I want nuclear proliferation to stop, and for everybody in the whole goddamned world to have enough food to eat, a decent education, and a safe and comfortable place to sleep at night. Even Africans and Muslims. Hell, especially Africans and Muslims. I want terrorists to be read their Miranda rights and given a fair trial in open court. I want government surveillance of phone calls, emails, text messages, and internet surfing to stop. Shall I go on? I think I've made my point.

I was heartened by Obama's election. I really was. Not because I think or thought that he was particularly liberal or progressive, but because he was more liberal and more progressive than anybody who's made a credible run for President since I can remember. I had no illusions that suddenly, just because we elected a black man to the Presidency, who spoke well and articulated the hopes and dreams of the best of America, that all of a sudden the entirety of the Progressive agenda would be enacted or that everything was going to magically change for the better. But given the choice between Obama and McCain, there was no choice. And things have gotten better.

But they need to keep getting better. And this whole fuck-it-all, they're-all-the-same-so-I'm-just-gonna-take-my-bat-and-ball-and-go-home attitude that I see everywhere is just fucking horseshit. Do you believe in a Progressive agenda? Do you want to make the world a better place? Then get out there and fight for it. Do something. Raise money. Call your congressional representatives. Write letters. Blog. Fight and win the war of ideas.

This is about more than you, or how you feel. Politics is not therapy. There are serious problems in this world and this country that need solving, and if you're not in the game then nobody cares what you think or how you feel.

Take Martha Coakley. I don't particularly support her. She's a milquetoast candidate who's run a terrible campaign. She might even lose. To a Republican. In Massachusetts. But you know what? I gave her money today. You know why? Because if her opponent wins, he'll support a filibuster when the reconciled Health Care Reform bill comes to the Senate floor, and there won't be the votes to override the filibuster, and Health Care Reform will die. And while it's not the bill that I want, what it represents is the recognition, on a federal level, that every American is entitled to adequate health care. That's fucking huge. That's something that will never be taken away. Social Security, when first legislated, left all kinds of people out. It didn't even include cost of living adjustments. But over the years, bit by bit, it was expanded, and fixed, and got better, and now noone even thinks about trying to roll it back. And everybody in America has some income they can count on when they get too old to work. And that's a good thing.

And it'll be the same for Health Care Reform. That's why Republicans and the Insurance industry have fought so hard against it. It's a game-changer, another nail in the coffin of conservatism's stupid notion that the rich should be left alone to fuck everybody else over as roughly and raggedly as they want.

You can be as disgusted as you want about the lesser of two evils. I'm right there with you. But throwing up your hands and not participating means that the greater evil wins. And when the greater evil wins, then shit gets worse. Period. Ten years ago everybody on the left was talking about how Al Gore was no better than George W. Bush. And enough of them voted for Ralph Nader, even knowing how close it was going to be, that Al Gore lost and George W. Bush won. You wanna tell me that things would be the same if Al Gore had been President for the Oughts? That we'd roll back environmental protections and fall for al Qaeda's trap? That he'd've given away the budget surplus in a tax cut for the wealthiest one percent of the country and put us in hock to the Chinese to go fight two wars halfway around the world? Cuz if you do believe those things, you are fucking delusional. And while Al Gore would probably have disappointed me, too, the fucking horrorshow that was the Bush Presidency could've been avoided if only the hard left had thought more about the collective good than about their own fucking feelings.

There's a lot that's wrong with this country. Always has been. Probably always will be. But if you want things to get better, you have to keep choosing the lesser of two evils, until you shift things over enough that you can choose the greater of two goods. But until then, you have to keep the pressure on. You have to stay engaged. You have to keep fighting.

It may feel good to throw up your hands and walk away. But it doesn't fix anything. It doesn't make anything better. And it sure as hell isn't going to make the world a better place.

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