Like it or not, America is not a dictatorship. I happen to like that, not necessarily because democracy is the best form of government for coming up with the right answers, because it isn't. If we wanted the "right" answers, we'd give dictator powers to technocrats and let them solve all our problems.
Democracy's strength, on the other hand, has to do with giving people power over their own lives in order to give them an interest in seeing it continue; much like how some businesses give company stock to their employees, to give those employees an incentive to see it improve. But for many people on both ends of the political spectrum, that's not good enough. Yeah, sure, they'll pay lip service to democracy, but if it doesn't give them the right policies, they'd just as soon choose a form of government that allowed them to get the right policies.
And we saw that on the right during the Bush years, when conservatives celebrated a rubber-stamp Congress that they've written out of existence, now that Bush's policies turned out to suck and they were forced to declare that he wasn't a conservative after all. And even now, they'll insist that the results of elections only mean something if their side wins. And that completely goes against the idea of democracy.
A chief pillar of democracy is that you support the system, win or lose. It's not about getting the right results. It's about having the right system. And if you only support the system when it gives you the answers you wanted, then you're not talking about a democracy at all.
Can't Live With 'Em, Can't Live Without 'Em
And we also see that on the left, with people who blame Obama for not giving us everything he said he would. And it's as if Congress doesn't exist and Obama can do anything he wants, were he to choose to do so. And if he falls back and blames Congress for not passing his agenda, it's all part of a kabuki theater he's using to trick us. And they'll insist that we're all just patsies and that this isn't democracy because both sides are the same; all evidence to the contrary. And that's why these people have to ignore all the great things Obama got for us, while emphasizing very tenuous similarities between Obama and Bush.
And I was thinking about this while reading a post at Washington Monthly, which points out how House Democrats are now relishing the fight to defend the healthcare law. And that's in contrast to last year, when they wanted to talk about anything but the healthcare law. And at first this seems dumb, as the time to fight was last year, before the election. And now, some might see this as more kabuki theater, in that they're only willing to fight as long as they can't actually do anything about it.
But this misreads the situation. Because our chief problem is that there were conservative Democrats who refused to support the law. For example, Lieberman and others had made it clear that they would absolutely kill the bill if it had a Public Option, so it had to be dropped. And for as much as Obama's critics on the left use that as proof that Obama's a fraud, it's well known that this wasn't his fault. There are conservative Democrats who didn't like this debate at all and were quite happy to insert as many poison pills as possible to get it off the table.
And now that many of these conservatives lost anyway, the remaining Democrats are free to act more like Democrats in defending the law. And of course, progressives on the left may say that this is reason enough for us to always oppose conservative Democrats, so that they can't sabotage our platform like this.
Unfortunately, this doesn't work either. Because without conservative Democrats, we don't have control of Congress. And rather than freeing us to pass our agenda, it prevents us from pushing an agenda at all. And without conservative Democrats, we're stuck with conservative Republicans; who are almost always going to be further to the right than any of the Democrats who are screwing us up.
Conservatives Vote, Too
And so we're screwed. If we have conservative Democrats in Congress, they'll water down our bills, undermine our agenda, and screw us up. If we don't have conservative Democrats in Congress, then we lose control of Congress and spend all our time preventing Republicans from steamrolling us. And yes, in an ideal world, we could push for all liberal Democrats and get everything we want. But that's simply not a possibility. Not right now, anyway.
For as much as places like Kentucky, Indiana, and Wyoming would benefit from liberal policies, that's simply not part of the current political background and no amount of attacking conservative Democrats will change that. Right or wrong, the people in those states are conservatives, and we're stuck working with the people they send to Congress; just as our Founding Fathers were stuck making compromises with people who were screwing things up. That's just the nature of democracy.
And so our biggest problem is democracy, as it allows people in Kentucky just as much say over their lives as it does people in California. And as much as that causes problems, there is no alternative. Because for as much as you and I know the right policies for our nation, these people think they know the right answers, too. And were we to eschew our democracy for one in which we elected the "right" people, it would be at the cost of alienating people who didn't agree and it'd soon spell the end of our nation.
And so our democracy is both a blessing and a curse. And for as much as some people don't like the answers it gives us, it's really the only option we have. And so that means we're stuck with conservative Democrats who oppose good policies for bad reasons, and tie our hands behind our back when we were already short-handed. And as much as that's a problem we have to deal with, it's a lot better than the one's we'd face if we had a system that allowed Obama to get everything he wanted.