Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Can’t we all just get along (with each other)?

with one comment

For what its worth- in good conciliatory fashion- I think both the positive takes on Obama (by our own Weiner) and the negative takes (by myself and Wotty) are both largely correct. We’re just ultimately talking about different things.

I’m interested, by and large, in talking about what Obama ideally should be doing. The purpose is to set goals, to hold the President accountable, and to constantly push in the direction we want him to go. If Obama is only critiqued from the Right, then you can bet he’ll take the Left for granted and consistently compromise in the wrong direction. Further how can we ever realize a just society, if we aren’t constantly reminding people of what it should look it (and how the present fails)?

(It’s also pretty emotionally satisfying to be self-righteous. If you haven’t tried it you really should. It’s a ton of fun…)

On the other hand, Weiner responds in good pragmatic fashion, given the circumstances Obama’s achieved some significant and important policy goals. Realistically, this is what he can do. He’s hemmed in by intransigent Republicans, insane Senate rules, and more than a few Democrats who aren’t very good allies. Add to that the fact that he inherited an economic crisis of mammoth proportions, and he looks alright. And it’s counterproductive and irresponsible to undermine a movement that might be the best we can possibly achieve right now.

Obviously, both views are reasonable. Until the Revolution happens, we’ll need both Frederick Douglasses and Abraham Lincolns, John Lewises and FDRs.

Which gets to the crux of my post, which is that the worst thing happens when people on either side of the idealist/pragmatic divide misunderstand each other. The left idealist assumes the pragmatic is a sell-out, acting in bad faith, while the more moderate pragmatist becomes defensive and accuses the idealist of irresponsibility and fanaticism. We saw this in the Health Care debate when insider wonkish types like Ezra Klein were aghast that activists like Howard Dean were calling for the Senate Bill to be killed. Of course, Dean was hoping to improve the bill, and you don’t improve something by saying you love it, but Klein and Krugman and others responded (rightly) that the Senate bill was still a vast improvement. Not only does this stuff create unpleasantness among friends, it risks destroying the coalitions that are needed to change society.

In reality, of course, both sides need each other. Us crazy pinkos need people who are willing to compromise and engage in that patient coalition building that actually gets stuff done, but the pragmatists need direction, they need left-wing foils in order to seem moderate, and they need allies with a backbone.

In other words, people play different function in the public discourse. That’s the way it should be.

An activist I worked with in Connecticut once told me that his life’s work was to go around screaming “Eat the Rich!” as loud as he could so that someone else out there would be able to say “Oh, let’s just tax them” and sound reasonable.

Point is, we disagree but are still on the same side. We are not, though, on these people’s side.

(Apologies to Weiner, by the way, for simplifying his argument into a stereotype. It just made my post easier…)


Written by Peter Wirzbicki

February 8, 2010 at 18:24

Posted in Obama, politics

One Response

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  1. I think I agree. I don’t know. If it was a little more balanced out, but the so-called ‘pragmatics’ or whatever – i hear pragmatic and i think of technocrat, which is a foul word so…- but with issues that matter (health care , environment, civil rights, etc) i kinda say fuck that…i mean, it’s like, and so in the meantime Status Quo Power structures further entrench themselves and today we have the gov’t and society we have…do you see what I’m saying? And in the meantime real living people suffer horribly and the environment is even more destroyed and we’re still in iraq and afghanistan and it’s all bullshit…instead of coming to the table to play the game, you go to the table and smash the fucking thing. More aggression, should be the motto. And the point about the health senate bill is that IT NEVER SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN TO THAT in the first place. That’s the point. That there wasn’t even a fight for the good stuff, it was almost automatically settling and that’s the danger of this pragmatic/technocrat dominated way of.


    February 9, 2010 at 10:54

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