Saturday, October 2, 2010

Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get!

I have a confession to make. I’m not nearly as idealistic as I come across in my writings, and certainly not nearly as much as many of my progressive brethren. While I deeply respect cars like the Prius, the allure of a BMW 750i is strong and pulls at my heartstrings; truth is I feel it’ll be quite some time before hybrids will be ready to supplant performance cars as the vehicle of choice for the majority of Americans. And while I am conscious of the need to conserve and recycle, especially in these precarious times, my wife will be the first to tell you getting me to turn off the lights and take out the garbage has been a test of wills; a test I all too frequently flunk.

And while I am beholden to the principles of progressivism and firmly believe if the country were run on them we’d be a whole lot better off, when push comes to shove I’d settle for as much enlightenment as I could get and cash in the rest of my chips. As Kenny Rogers used to sing, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold em.” It’s not that I’m a compromiser; it’s just that I’m a pragmatist. I’m smart enough to know in life you seldom get all the things you want; more often than not you’re lucky if you get half of them. I also suffer from an incurable belief that there is no virtue in holding onto your ideals, if those ideals are all that you have. In other words, if you don’t have a roadmap to success, no matter how well-intentioned your motives, you’re going to fail. I don’t care how much progressives love Ralph Nader’s views, he has about as much chance of getting elected President as I do becoming an astronaut, which is none.

I guess you could say that while I am frustrated at Barack Obama’s lack of backbone, the truth is, were it not for the most devastating recession in over three generations, his accomplishments would be considerable. With the exception of his failure to close Gitmo and his continuing the Bush domestic surveillance program, Obama has managed to put together quite an impressive string of legislative victories. Yes, he caved on single payer; yes, the financial reform bill did not deal sufficiently with too big to fail; but find me another President who took on and won these battles –and others – and you’re going to have to go back a long, long way. Despite the seeming love affair with consensus building that was never reciprocated and being way too amenable to seeking conciliation with opponents who meant him ill that has plagued and defined the first half of his term, President Obama is shaping up to be a decent chief executive. If his party manages to hold serve in the midterms – and that’s saying a lot – he’ll have the chance to be quite an exceptional one.

Yes, I have ripped him, as have many on the Left, and yes, he has turned out not to be the visionary we thought we were voting for in ’08, but lately I’m beginning to feel as Shakespeare did in Julius Caesar. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Let’s be honest here, shall we? Putting aside our dreams, which are real and, I believe, righteous, the real world deals in real-world issues that transcend philosophical divides. We don’t get extra credit merely because our ideals are considerably better and more virtuous than those of our opponents on the Right. Most of the world could care less about ideology; they want results.

Look, no body likes a good fight more than I do, and nothing would give me greater pleasure than to ascend all the way to the top of Mount Olympus and shout out to the mindless minions, “Bring it on, Bitch!” The problem is that after the echo died, and with it my voice, I would be left standing there, along with the rest of you, wondering, now what. For the fact is that for all our bravado, history has proven consistently that the nation neither moves to the right nor to the left; it typically moves down the middle. What we often perceive as swings in ideology from decade to decade have their roots not in political leanings so much as in matters of competence. We see a growing tea party influence as a threat to the nation; a frustrated electorate sees it as a potential alternative to a lingering problem that the political establishment still hasn’t been able to fix to their liking. We see the loss progressive values that could undermine decades of social and environmental legislation; the average voter asks how is he going to pay next month’s mortgage.

This may seem trivial to us in the grand scheme of things, and there is some truth to that. Even the worst  economies eventually recover. The problem for us is that we are living in the present – a present that right now looks pretty bleak to an awful lot of folks; folks who vote, I might add. And those who are the most affected (i.e., the most pissed off) are energized in a way seldom seen in American politics. And they are poised to take their frustration out on the powers that be this November in record numbers.

And what are progressives poised to do this November? Sit at home and pout, that’s what. Yes, we didn’t get the healthcare bill we wanted; yes, we elected Mr. Rogers President; yes our Congressional leaders could screw up a beautiful sunset. So what? Is there a sane, rational member among our ranks who really believes his or her interests would be better served by allowing Republicans to take back a country they shipwrecked less than two years ago? Really? Seriously? You’re kidding, right?

Because unless we wake up and get up off our collective asses, that is the fate that awaits us. It is the inevitable fate that awaits all political movements who believe their ideology and principles are more important than the interests of their fellow countrymen. Our private little Idaho doesn’t mean a whole lot to the average Joe and Jane on Main Street, but by holding our breath and counting to a zillion like some spoiled brat, we could be condemning that average Joe and Jane to a fate that is far worse than the one they already know. As bad as things are, they could get worse, and that is the only thing we should be focusing on this November. Not our wounded pride, or our superior intellect, which, I might add, has a peculiar way of betraying us when we need it most.

It is time to get off the pity pot we’ve been on for almost two years and see the glass as half full. We will never get everything we want. Even the Rolling Stones got that much. But if we persist on focusing on that part of the glass that is empty – the part that coulda, woulda, shoulda been full – then we run the risk that someone else will fill it with mud. And then we can all sit home, cry in each other’s milk, and rightfully blame ourselves. For that will be the verdict that history will ultimately record: that when it mattered most, we retreated into the depths of our petty resentments and abandoned the country we all claimed to love and cherish above all else.

Barack Obama is never going to morph into FDR. It isn’t in his DNA and it never will be. We’ve tried encouragement, criticism, even condemnation, all for not. In the end what we are left with is a fairly bright and astute politician who has no stomach for a fight and who will probably continue to disappoint us in the days and years ahead, but he is still light years ahead of the man we could have elected into office two years ago. We need to accept that and move on in order to have a chance at victory, or be consumed by it and go down in flames. It comes down to this: It’s either yes we can, or no we won’t. There is no in-between.


jasdye said...

My reply:

Peter Fegan said...

I should also add, that Obama is still better than anybody over on the GOP side of the aisle, and that includes Mrs. Half-term, half-baked Alaskan.