Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Politics: The Art of Getting Enough

Lawrence Lessig at Huffington has a post about the "pathetic and puny" DISCLOSE Act which pretty much sums up the leftie opposition to Obama: Big problems require big solutions. And since a small solution might be treated as a substitute for the only solution, it’s worse than no solution.

And first off, that doesn’t even remotely make sense, unless we assume that we’re guaranteed a solution. But we’re not. And more likely, if we don’t get a small solution, we’ll get nothing. And a little of something is still better than a lot of nothing.

And the crux of this line of thinking is that the system is broken and requires real answers. But by historical standards, our system is fantastic. Look back at what the original progressives were fighting for, and you’ll realize we already have most of that stuff. Yes, we’re far from perfect. But things are a helleva lot better than they’ve EVER been in this country.  If anyone could point to some dream period where things were better, I'd like to see it.  But it never happened.  Sorry, folks, but this is as good as it's gotten.

Not that that’s any reason to sit on our laurels, but seriously, let’s not blow things out of proportion. In relative terms, it wasn’t that long ago that a large portion of the people in America couldn’t even vote, and politicians would outright purchase votes with jobs and booze. Many of the things we take for granted weren’t even thinkable a hundred years ago. Hell, we’ve made huge progress since FIVE years ago. Anyone who thinks we’ve got problems now is seriously delusional.

Putting the Promise in Compromise

And finally, I’d like to address the Progressive Obama Syndrome. You know, the one where progressives are upset that Candidate Obama isn’t the same guy as President Obama; and they’re all fighting over whether it’s cooler to have supported Obama and been betrayed, or to have always known he’d be rotten and be proven right.

And we heard the same things about Bush, and Clinton, and Reagan, and really, just about ANY politician who was held out to be better than the typical politician. And then they get in office and POOF!, they sell-out and show us how corrupt they really were, and how we need a REAL hero to be elected, and THEN we can finally get the change we believed in.

And yeah, maybe that theory’s true. Maybe we DO keep getting suckered by the fake messiahs and the real messiah will someday rise up and save us all from the corruption around us. Or maybe…just maybe…the problem isn’t that these guys are flawed. Maybe the problem is the idea that we can EVER expect ideological purity from people who have to deal with reality.

And really, there’s no “maybe” about it. That’s the case. It’s easy to make promises before you realize what you’re up against and it'd be dumb to try to create a political platform based solely on what you knew you could deliver.  Obama's a smart man, but he's not a fricking psychic. 

And if you actually expect to get anything done, you have to turn those promises into compromises. Not because the people involved are so corrupt, but because this isn’t a dictatorship.  You can’t always get what you want, because our system is designed so that we share power. And there’s nothing inherently corrupt about powerful people wanting to hold on to their power.

A Nation of Dictators

And that’s not a bug; that’s a feature. That’s the way it was designed. The Founding Fathers, in their infinite wisdom, realized it works best if you divvy up power, even if that makes things harder to get done.  We all want a say in how things are done, and that's what democracy is all about. 

It's not about finding the "right" answer, but maintaining the "right" system.  The question isn't whether the system works towards helping the most people, but whether it prevents us from tearing ourselves apart.  And based upon that standard, we're still doing alright.  There are a whole lot worse things than corrupt politicians and oil spills.

Because yeah, it’d be great if Candidate Obama could come into office and do everything he said he would. But then Bush could have done all the things HE wanted to do, which could have included making sure someone like a Candidate Obama couldn’t be a President Obama.  And hell, Candidate Reagan promised to destroy Social Security and Medicare.  Aren't we all a bit glad that political reality stopped him?

And then of course, there’s the issue that NONE of us want the same thing. Yes, people are easily separated into like-minded groups, so we can label some people “progressives” and “liberals” and “conservatives,” etc. But none of these people actually want the same things. Life just doesn’t work like that.  Even a group of co-workers all working for the same goal can have trouble enough just during a pointless staff meeting. How anyone expects a nation of dictators to get the change they believe in is beyond me.

So, yes, it'd be great if the corporate structure didn't consolidate so much power into such single-minded entities, and I'd sure like it if oil wasn't spilling into the Gulf.  But in the grand scheme of things, those are pretty small problems compared with how things could be.  Again, that's no excuse to allow ourselves to give up any hope of getting what we need, but it does put things into a little perspective. 

And the better perspective is, yeah, President Obama isn't nearly as perfect as Candidate Obama seemed, but it's sure a helleva lot better than the alternative.  And if it bugs you that Obama's got you by the shorthairs that way, tough.  Unless you want to see Congressman Barton apologizing to Big Oil as the top member of the House Energy Committee, you don't have a choice.  Because that's what we're really looking at, and the "big" changes progressives are holding out for might be entirely in the wrong direction.

1 comment:

Betsy said...

Ah, Dr. B, Perspective is perhaps the greatest gift of all, and a very rare one. I am grateful every time you share yours with us.
Many thanks.