A simple creed that sums up the spirit of a zzzzzz
Do you sometimes get the idea that you were hallucinating throughout the year 2008? Here's a little reminder from yesterday's HuffPostHill. The first quote is from that lecture the 2012 Obama re-election campaign sent around this past week-end:
"One of the challenges of this generation is, I think, to understand that the nature of our democracy and the nature of our politics is to marry principle to a political process. That means you don't get a 100% of what you want. You don't get it if you are the majority; you don't get it if you are in the minority."
As you guys talk to your friends about getting involved civically, don't set up a situation where you're guaranteed to be disappointed. It's part of the process of growing up.
OBAMA 2008: Remember this?
"We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics who will only grow louder and more dissonant in the weeks to come. We've been asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.
But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope. For when we have faced down impossible odds; when we've been told that we're not ready, or that we shouldn't try, or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people. Yes we can."
Or, maybe not!
In fairness, in the lecture, he did go on to explain that growing up and accepting that you can't always get what you want doesn't mean you aren't principled, but that you are just pushing a boulder up a hill and other people are pushing it from other directions and it might slip back.
What's wrong with his commentary is his telling those young people that they should see his argument as a template for their own role as engaged citizens. I can't think of anything more antithetical to his message in 2008 than "don't set up a situation where you're guaranteed to be disappointed." It's actually rather stunning.
And it's completely wrong in terms of the role of average citizens (and especially young activists) in the political process. They are supposed to push for what they believe in with passion and single minded commitment. They shouldn't worry about "what can pass" congress or the limits of the political process. That's the job of politicians and political hacks.
Clearly, the president is more than a little bit annoyed by liberals on the outside who are agitating for difficult change and expressing their ire at what they perceive to be his unwillingness or inability to fight for it. But it's as much a part of the process as his meeting with John Boehner on the terrace and hammering out an agreement. It's as much a part of the process as Boehner making deals with his own coalition and Obama and Pelosi making deals with theirs. It's the responsibility of engaged citizens to agitate for what they believe particularly when the Party that represents them is not even publicly articulating their beliefs. Otherwise, it won't get said at all. And if that's the case, then these "necessary compromises" aren't compromises at all, are they?
Presidents have had to face this before. As Dday wrote in this addendum to his earlier post on this subject, FDR was met with strong resistance from liberal activists when Social Security was passed as a lesser bill than they believed was necessary. But it was that energy, translated into hard core political involvement, that resulted in Social Security being strengthened and expanded over the years. Certainly, if left to the devices of cautious politicians, it's doubtful that it would have happened on its own. The forces arrayed against it were formidable from the beginning --- it's not as if there's any benefit in it for the donor class or the people who hire the politicians once their time in office is done.
As dday put it:
A man Barack Obama claims as a hero, Martin Luther King Jr., understood this. He famously said:
... One spoke to me one day and said, 'Now Dr. King, don't you think you're going to have to agree more with the Administration's policy. I understand that your position on Vietnam has hurt the budget of your organization. And many people who respected you in civil rights have lost that respect and don't you think that you're going to have to agree more with the Administration's policy to regain this.' And I had to answer by looking that person into the eye, and say 'I'm sorry sir but you don't know me. I'm not a consensus leader.' [Laughter - Applause] I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of my organization or by taking a Gallup poll of the majority opinion. Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.
Politics cannot survive on incrementalists alone. It cannot survive with only an inside game, and a political science conception of the art of the possible. Ultimately it needs people on the outside who look at what the incrementalists have produced, and say "No." It doesn't make those people juvenile, it doesn't make them unrealistic. It makes them an integral part of the democratic process.
If you want people to push the boulder up the hill --- and come back again if it slips --- they need to have the idealism and energy and passion that only comes from believing that your cause is worth fighting for over the long haul. Saying "don't set up a situation where you're guaranteed to be disappointed," is hardly going to inspire that. President Obama sounds petulant in that video --- complaining about the Huffington Post is beneath him --- and telling everyone to lower their expectations is about as inspirational as lukewarm soup.
And it's a very far cry from "now go out and make me do it."
Or "yes we can" ...