Sunday, September 7, 2014

What Do I Stand For?

One of the few readers of the blog posed that question to me. To be fair, it's a good question. Since I have so few readers of the blog, much less those who take the time to comment, I feel obliged to respond.

Before I answer it, though, I just want to say up front I'm a Mets' fan. How is that relevant? Were it not for a fielding error by Bill Buckner, I would be rooting for a team that hasn't won a World Series in over four decades. The hockey team I root for has won exactly one championship in 74 years. I know all too well what it's like to be disappointed and that feeling informs my opinion on a variety of matters, one of them being politics.

I have nothing against principles. They ultimately define us. But one of the things I have painfully learned in my almost twenty years in sales is that those who hold onto their pride and refuse to compromise often go home empty handed. Like it or not, a little give and take is what separates successful salespeople from the unemployed. I have a saying: a little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.

I love statistics. It was the only math course in college I excelled at; to be honest, it was the only math course I passed in college. Wins and losses, batting average, on base percentage, earned run average, that sort of thing. All baseball related.

Once I delved into politics, I started applying some of that statistical acumen. I began to notice some trends, even at an early age. Though Democrats controlled Congress, they were routinely losing the White House. With the exception of Jimmy Carter in 1976, they had lost every presidential election from 1968 through 1988. That's five out of six. Not a very good percentage. And one could argue that had Jerry Ford not pardoned Richard Nixon, it might well have been six out of six. That thought was frightening.

How was this possible? As a progressive, I was deeply concerned about this trend. I knew my side had all the correct positions, but that didn't seem to matter. Every four years, our candidate would get beat. It was like watching a movie about the Titanic. You knew the ending, but you couldn't help but hold out hope. Maybe this time the ship will miss the iceberg, I'd say to myself. But, alas, that wasn't the case.

A lot has been said about how presidential candidates win. Do they hold onto their values come hell or high water or do they pivot towards the center and moderate them? I knew full well, having seen Ronald Reagan a number of times, that he was a conservative. Not only a conservative, but a Barry Goldwater conservative. He won the Republican nomination by running to his right. But Reagan was an actor; not a terribly good one, but good enough to fool millions of people into voting for him twice. He ran on that old, tried and true theme, restoring America's greatness.

Maybe, in retrospect, he would've won no matter who the Democrats ran against him. Carter looked like a man who had just finished ten rounds with Mohammed Ali. He must've aged ten years during his one term in office. It also didn't help matters that Ted Kennedy challenged him in a bitterly-fought primary in 1980.

But I steadfastly maintain that Walter Mondale was a lousy choice for the Dems in '84. Contrary to popular perception, Reagan was vulnerable that year. The economy was not doing as well as he and his party had hoped for. A considerably better candidate could have beaten him. But even if you still think that Reagan was unstoppable, explain how George H. W. Bush won by such a wide margin.

Again, the Democrats nominated someone from their breadbasket - the Northeast - that a good percentage of the country couldn't relate to. If you can't beat a candidate with no ideas and a VP who is brainless, how inept do you have to be?

The message I got out of the '80s was simple: ideals mean nothing if you don't win. Bill Clinton changed all that. He won; in fact, he won twice. Not since the days of FDR and Truman had a Democrat done that. Clinton was hated by the Right and mistrusted by the Left. He was willing to strike deals with his opponents, often at the expense of his base, who, let's face it, he threw under the bus on more than one occasion. He practically invented the term pragmatic progressive; though to be fair, Clinton was hardly a progressive.

Al Gore was, I admit, a lousy candidate. He had all the emotion of a pet rock, and I hated his wife, Tipper. The kiss the two of them shared at the Democratic convention still makes my skin crawl to this day. But he should've won in 2000. Not every presidential election is a landslide. Some come down to the wire. There was no way in hell Ralph Nader was going to win the presidency. He knew it and his supporters knew it. Group after group begged him to drop out of the race, but he steadfastly refused. I submit, and will hold to my dying day, that those who voted for him knew all too well what they were doing and they will have to live with the consequences of that decision for the rest of their lives.

If you are a reasonably intelligent person and you sincerely believe that the history of this nation wouldn't be considerably different with a President Al Gore at the helm, you can stop reading now. You're as dumb as the guy who eventually got the job. And you're also as much to blame for the mess that guy made as he was; a mess that will take decades to clean up.

So, with all that in mind, let me answer the above question.

What do I stand for? I stand for common sense; I stand for competence; I love ideals but despise idealists. I stand for results (yes, winning and losing counts, in politics as well as in sports). I don't believe that terms like principle and salesmanship are mutually exclusive. To that extent, I stand for candidates that can communicate their principles to a cross-section of the country. As any first-year marketing student would tell you, it isn't so much what you say, but how you say it. Good ideas may be good ideas, but they will never see the light of day if you can't sell them.

When I say I have no interest in returning to the '80s, I am speaking about that wing of the Democratic Party that refused to let go of the '60s. I was too young to remember Bobby Kennedy. Maybe he would've made a great president, maybe not. But the truth is he was assassinated and Nixon won. Sometimes you have to know when to move on.

There are two reasons why the Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections: 1. they've moved to the center; and 2. the GOP has moved off the page. You don't look that gift horse in the mouth by borrowing a page out of your opponents playbook. When I hear well-meaning people drool over potential candidates that may have wonderful ideas, but can't effectively close the deal, I cringe. There is no E for effort in politics. There never has been.

I am not jaded, but neither am I naive. It would be wonderful if the country were up for a real discussion about real issues that demanded real solutions. The country isn't and hasn't been for quite some time. Good people have tried and lost, many times to bad people with nefarious intentions. My two favorite people in the Senate are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. If you sincerely believe that either of them could win a presidential election, you need to get out more.

There is simply too much at stake to play games. I have seen the Tea Party's vision for this country. It sends shivers up and down my spine. There are no perfect candidates out there who check every box on the board. For the record, I am not in love with Hillary Clinton. If I had my druthers, I would prefer another candidate - assuming she even decides to run. But I would gladly take her, warts and all, to Rand Paul or Ted Cruz. Bush was stupid; these guys are certifiable. And make no mistake about it, that is the ONLY choice before the country. As Bill Maher correctly observed, "Over the last few years the Democrats have moved to the right and the Right has moved into a mental hospital."

It may seem as though I'm choosing between the lesser of two evils. If that is how you see it, then so be it. Guilty as charged. But I will sleep a whole lot better knowing that a flawed - SANE - centrist is running the country over the alternative.

Bill Buckner be damned!

2 comments:

Prof. Walter Jameson said...

Sir:

First thing's first. Let me make clear that I did not vote for Ralph Nader in 2000, although it should not have mattered one bit. Also, let me be on the record as saying, without equivocation, that a President Gore would have been light years better for the country than what we got.

Okay, with that out of the way, let me address some things in your response. I don't think we're far apart on many issues, but a few things could use some clarification because, after all, the blog is called "Spirit of a Progressive" and not "Spirit of a Centrist" or "Spirit of a Cynic."

Let me start by saying that I don't advocate for ideological purity or stridency, nor am I against reasonable compromise in getting things done in government. In fact, compromise is a necessity in a healthy, functioning government. The thing that I am talking about is having a core belief or two, and selling that belief to the electorate. Remember the slogan, "It's the economy, stupid," from the 1992 campaign? Sure, who doesn't? At the time, candidate Clinton deftly focused on this core progressive concern like a laser light. It resonated with the voting public. Of course, once he got elected to office he promptly forgot about all of that and steadily moved to the center. But, nevertheless, it illustrates the point: A personable, likable candidate who could credibly sell a core value of his party to a nation ready and willing to listen. And where personal economic security and jobs are concerned, multi-year polls continue to confirm that the electorate is always willing to listen. And guess what? Progressives have always had a good deal of credibility in this area.

I stated in a prior posting that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush didn't run as centrists - and they didn't. They were two very likable people who espoused conservative values that seemed to resonate with a healthy portion of the electorate at that point in time. Why can't a Democrat do the same with a few core progressive values? Why must the Democrat, as you say, always pivot to the center? Do you not believe that there are some core progressive values that are worth taking to the electorate?

So that's what I was getting at when I asked you what you stood for as the writer of a blog called "Spirit of a Progressive." It's simply not enough to say that you stand for common sense, competence, results, and for candidates with good communication skills. I mean, seriously, what rational person doesn't stand for these things?

Cont.....

Prof Walter Jameson said...

Look, I've lived a long time and I'm far from being naive. I understand that not all progressive ideas are acceptable to the electorate; some are not even all that good or practical, to be quite honest about it. So be it; that's true for just about every "ism" that exists. But, I must reiterate, there are some core progressive beliefs - especially in the area of economics - that are really good, and would garner wide support and acceptance if offered by *the right candidate.*

This is precisely what I mean when I say that good ideas are good ideas. Open-minded people would certainly agree that there are some good conservative ideas as well as equally good, if not superior, progressive ideas. It is necessary for Democrats to find the right people to sell the best of what progressivism has to offer and stop cowering from it.

I don't share your fear at all about Tea Party reactionaries like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz ever gaining the presidency. For one, their ideas are not widely popular ... and two, they're just not very likable people. How does a party win with that? The answer is, they don't. A guy like Karl Rove - a very smart man, by the way - along with other Republican consultants, know this all too well. So, with respect, I believe you present a false choice (among candidate types) as a result of an irrational fear.

But, look, I said it once before and I'll say it again, you're a very good writer and I enjoy reading your blog. Obviously, I don't agree with everything you write, but you present your ideas with clarity, passion and intellect. Good writing is a lost art in the modern era and it should always be appreciated. Keep up the good work!

Thank you for the opportunity to respond.