Thursday, March 15, 2007

Politics and Principle

There are several articles implicitly or explicitly urging radical progressives (perhaps such as myself) to adopt a more realistic attitude towards national politics. Politicians have to compromise to get anything actually done.

Michael Tomasky asks, "What would happen to [Nick Lampson, D-TX], and who knows how many other Democrats in red districts, if they did what anti-war activists wanted and supported Berkeley Congresswoman Barbara Lee's effort to de-fund the war almost completely?"

Harold Meyerson argues that "the [anti-war] protesters are... making the unattainable perfect the enemy of the barely-attainable good."

Even skippy chides blogtopia's (y!tctp!) general malaise.

I call bullshit.

It's bullshit first because of the 3/4 cake paradox: If I (a "reasonable" person) suggest dividing the cake in half, an my opponent demands the whole cake, the "split the difference" principle entails that he gets 3/4 of the cake. The next time, he'll demand the whole cake again, and we'll split the difference at 5/8. The "reasonable" person ends up with just a sliver.

If the "centrist" position is going to hold up, we must have uncompromising progressives calling for the whole cake: The Republicans and Conservatives will not suddenly become altruistic; indeed they are (if you'll forgive me stretching the metaphor) demanding that we bake another cake (the "surge")--at our own expense--and give them both.

Yes, legislators have to make compromises. I'm not stupid, I understand this fact, and I think that most progressives also understand. But compromise must come at a cost: We cannot ever afford to depend on our representatives to be "principled". It's our job to be principled; it's their job to cut deals. We, therefore, have to make sure that compromises have a cost, in public relations, in reputation, and especially in votes.

The Republicans and conservatives scream bloody murder for every soldier that doesn't kill brown people, every dollar that doesn't solidify our imperial power (and line the pockets of the ultra-rich). We have to scream just as loud for every dead and maimed soldier, every dead and maimed Iraqi father, mother, son and daughter, every dollar spent perpetrating a grievous crime against humanity.

If our representatives can't stand the volume of the debate, I hear there are quiet, stress-free jobs cataloging butterflies in many of our finest universities.

It's bullshit because while we can't depend on our representatives to be principled, we still can expect principle, especially in their public speech. It's not just their job to be judgment-free servants of the popular will; it is also their job--as well as the job of our party leaders and pundits--to use their positions to actively shape the public debate, to construct the narrative.

By selling "compromise" per se while they're constructing it, they're selling out our principles, the principles that got them elected, the very principles responsible for whatever greatness and moral standing our country has ever had. The time to sell a compromise is after it's been reached. We're not mad at Pelosi and Obey as much because they have to compromise with Republicans and conservative Democrats (although we do have to make them pay for a compromise), we're mad at them more for undermining our principles before they even get to the bargaining table, making the eventual compromise less advantageous.

It's bullshit because it's bad tactics and bad strategy. Every sports fan knows that when you're coming from behind, when you've gained some momentum and your opponents are off-balance, you should get more aggressive, not less. We've got these conservative bastards on the ropes, and do we finish the job? No. We back off and let them catch their breath. We actually let them get in a few shots just out of some misguided notion of bipartisanship, charity or fairness. This is crazy. We should not only demand Congressional approval for going to war with Iran, we should demand Congressional approval for Bush to take a shit, and enact legislation mandating which brand of toilet paper he uses and which hand he wipes his ass with.

Yes, we progressives are making progress, good progress. But we haven't won yet, and that's exactly why we should be making more noise, not less, standing tougher on principle, not weaker.


  1. Alas, at times I think that the kind of ruthless spirit that makes one go for the jungular is the same sort of spirit that makes it likely that person will run for office as a Republican.

    If only that weren't so. Maybe it isn't. I hope it isn't. Evidence thus far proves otherwise.

  2. The desire to be good does not entail that we cannot also be strong.

    It is true that I strongly dislike Republicans and conservatives. But I don't want to beat them, and beat them decisively, just because I don't like them, or because I want to punish or otherwise hurt them. I want to beat them because I want the country to be good.

    I do think I should be magnanimous to my opponents, but only after they have been defeated.


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