Saturday, December 18, 2010

Verities, Balderdash and Dunkirk.

As a progressive, I am blessed(?) with two undeniable truths: one makes me incredibly proud; the other makes me cringe.

First, my side is right. Seriously, on every major issue there is – from helping the poor to caring for the environment to safeguarding public education to religious tolerance to protecting consumer rights and defending equal rights for all – progressives can take pride in the knowledge that they have the moral high ground on each and every one of them. By comparison, the Right would make Ebenezer Scrooge look like Gandhi.

Second, and this is the difficult pill to swallow, on many occasions, we on the Left come off looking like the flip side of the same rotten coin when it comes to the tactics we use and how behave when we don’t get what we want. As deplorable and as partisan as the Right gets, the Left, more often than not, chooses the path of one-upmanship.

Yes, you heard me right. Despite having the satisfaction of knowing we are light years ahead of our opponents, we act every bit as childish when push comes to shove. Witness the brouhaha over the tax deal. Yes, it was deplorable to allow tax breaks for millionaires to be continued, especially in light of the fact that they are virtually worthless as a stimulus for the economy. But to hear liberal and progressive Democrats go on and on and on and on about what a sellout it was and how the President should have held out, reminded me of listening to children whine about having to go to bed. Oh, please, just five more minutes. Please?

And exactly what was the President supposed to hold out for, a moral victory in the face of certain political defeat? Didn’t we already see that in November? Haven’t we spent enough waking hours ripping conservatives for being this intransigent? Now look who’s willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater?

I have tossed and turned on this matter at great length and have come to a sobering conclusion. As a lot, progressives need to grow up and see the world they live in, not the one they wish they had. Someone needs to get a five million gallon tank, fill it with water, gather up every single progressive and throw the contents right smack in their collective faces to wake them up. After sitting through two years of bitching and moaning, in which liberals ostensibly got much, if not all, of what they wanted – though I agree not the way they wanted it – I’m quite frankly aghast at how completely irrational and spoiled rotten they have become since the midterm results. I know losing is tough, but come on guys, you still have the Senate and White House in Democratic control; it’s not like you were exiled to Siberia or something.

Yes, the Republicans are going to try and push you around, and yes, on a few occasions, they are going to get their way, but look at the score sheet. For the last two years you have won virtually every political battle, and the one’s you didn’t, you have only yourselves to blame for losing. Republicans, by and large, sat on the sidelines and sucked their collective thumbs.

How quickly things can turn. Now it’s the GOP that is flexing its muscle and huffing and puffing, and, yes, provoking the Dems. Do you not realize how fortunate you were that your president and mine decided to act responsibly and compromise? If you think this was a hard pill to swallow, imagine being branded the political party that allowed a tax increase, and at the same time kept millions of unemployed from getting the relief they needed. Because that was the label you were about to inherit, courtesy of your ideals and obstinance.

Empty victories are hollow and meaningless and help no one; standing on principles that inevitably lead to defeat is the definition of insanity; and absolute pious indignation in the face of reality is delusional and dangerous, given the current political environment we live in. Progressives, if they are to have any sphere of influence over the next two years, are going to have to accept two hard facts: 1. Most of the country is not driven by ideology, either rightwing or left. They are, for the most part, interested only in results-oriented solutions and elect their leaders accordingly; and 2. Survivors know which fights they can win and which ones they can’t. Democrats must become survivors, if they are to have any shot at winning. Compromise is not a four-letter word.

When the British were getting the hell kicked out of them in continental Europe at the start of World War II, they decided to retreat at Dunkirk. That decision allowed them to regroup and years later they entered the continent again along with the Americans at Normandy. Had they behaved like most of the Democrats in the House, the history of that war would’ve been vastly different.

Progressives must learn the difference between discernment and foolish pride. The former calls for a valiant and spirited debate that in the end permits some, but not all, of their agenda to survive; the latter, while certainly valiant and spirited, will inevitably lead to defeat and political extinction. Healthcare, financial reform, the budget deficit; all will be fiercely contested over the next twenty-four months. There will be plenty of things for progressives to get their dander up about, trust me. Biding one’s time is a skill one develops and hones over a lifetime. It’s a tough challenge, but somehow liberal Democrats must learn a lifetime’s worth of wisdom in a very short period of time. They can ill afford any more foolish banter among themselves in a useless gesture that impresses only their rank and file, while allowing the GOP to ransack the country.

You can’t always get what you want. The Rolling Stones sang that song many years ago. Liberal Democrats would do well to memorize the lyrics. America can’t afford two political parties entrenched in their own private Idaho. One will do. In the end, while most voters aren’t nearly as sophisticated to see the forest for the trees and have the attention span of a gnat, some will be impressed enough to acknowledge at least a willingness to show some conciliation. Barack Obama is betting the ranch that enough of them will be swayed by his overtures to win back the control his party lost in November. History is on his side, if only progressives would take the time to read it.

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