Why the Personal Can't Always Be Political
by Ben P, Mon Oct 03, 2005 at 07:10:00 PM EDT
Basically, I have many views - or at least am open to many views - that I would never demand a national politician in the Democratic Party support. For example, I think all drugs currently deemed illegal should be decriminalized. I think at the very least marijuana should be. But I know this is not a position that could achieve mainstream support in the current incarnation, and would be electoral poison were a Democratic Presidential candidate attempt to run on such a platform. This does not mean I abandon my beliefs. But it does mean I am realistic about what can be achieved through the political process in the short term.
Simply put, it strikes me that many people here are so heavily invested personally in the political process that they aren't able to do so. And I think the reaction to Obama as well as all the hyperbolic rhetoric about the SCOTUS nominees demonstrates this. I think an argument can be made for the Dems opposing both Roberts and now Miers, as well as the sagacity of Reid's decision on the filibuster compromise. None present the Democrats with "good" options, except maybe the filibuster compromise, but even here I think the Democrats - had they chosen to gamble, which a more uncompromising would have represented - could have ended up in a worse position. Thus, Reid's decision was not a "sell out"; neither are (were) the votes on Bush's SCOTUS nominees. He took his calculations based on what he thought were the best options, both short term and long term, given the circumstances he found himself. And based on his actions more generally since he became minority leader, I am confident he did so because he has the best interest of the political and policy goals of the broad center-left coalition that is the Democratic Party at heart. The political is by definition an arena of limited possibilities: and the Democratic Party's are trying to make the best out of limited set of options.
To put it another way, in many countries, governments are formed by coalitions after elections. Probably most democracies function this way: Germany, Italy, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, and currently, Canada represent a short list of nations governed by coalitions. Superficially, the US isn't. But, I would argue, de facto, that it is, and that the superficial unity of the major parties makes people demand "purity." But in reality, the Democratic and Republican Parties are grand coalitions in all but name, whose only distinction from the ruling governments listed above is that the coalition forms before the election campaign begins, not after. Now I think there are strong arguments to be made that the coalition style governments above are more democratic and more responsive to people's needs. But, also, a counter argument can be made that they are much less stable, and accordingly, much less effective. A quick glance at Italian politics since WWII would tend to suggest this. But I digress. The point in all this is is that by choosing to participate in the Democratic Party, you have chosen to participate in a coalition. And by definition, participation in such a coalition means you aren't always going to get your way.
I'm sure we all have our issues that are currently "off the radar" or, alternatively, "out of the mainstream." My comment about drug laws serves as just one example. The point is that unless I want to give up on electoral politics on a national level, I know - a priori - that I "can't always get what I want," and that I cannot define myself and my well-being and happiness on whether or not the Democratic Party closely mirrors my personal beliefs. Because its not going to. All I can hope for is to be a part of a coalition - the Democratic Party - which is going to move the country in ways that more closely reflect how I think than the alternative - the Republican Party. And at this point in time, I'm pretty damn sure the last sentance is true.
If you want the personal to be much more closely mirrored, you need to do so on an activist or advocate at the local political level. Talk to your neighbor or acquaintance about what you believe and why you believe it. Form a union (God knows we need more). Join a third party in a local election. Vote for more left wing or "unorthodox" candidates who have a chance. Campaign for public transport. There are many, many things one can do.
But when it comes to national politics, it is simply not realistic to expect similar things. To become president in such a large country, you need the votes - to even have a chance of having your views represented - of many people who might think very differently and have a very different set of "personal" beliefs or priorites than yourself. In short, you need a coalition. To ignore this fact is to doom yourself to frustration and perhaps, even worse, to be detrimental to the causes you support in the first place.