Wednesday, May 12, 2010

This Is Reality

There’s a great moment in the film E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial when Elliott is trying to help E.T. get back to his home planet by taking him back to the woods where his mother ship will land. One of his friends says, “Can’t they just beam him up?” Elliott retorts, “This is reality, Greg!”

For some reason I was reminded of that when I read this post by Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog:

[…] while I’d like a president (and subordinates and appointees of that president) to be principled progressives rather than eager-to-please seekers of common ground, I prefer eager-to-please semi-progressive seekers of common ground to the sociopaths of the GOP, who’d happily burn this country to the ground if it meant they’d be the lords of what smoking embers remained. So I’ll continue to voice objections to what displeases me about the Obama administration, but I’m not forgetting who the real enemy is. I’m not going to attack Elena Kagan using GOP frames, as Jane Hamsher does. I’m not going to declare this administration indistinguishable from the Bush administration, as Glenn Greenwald so often seems to do.

[…]

Part of my frustration with Firebagging in general is that progressives simply lack the muscle to drag not just the administration but Congress and the country all that far to the left by sheer force of will, and Firebaggers don’t seem to understand that. Unlike the teabaggers, we don’t have a multimedia news organization at our disposal that’s endlessly fed money by hit Hollywood movies. We haven’t had a Wurlitzer in operation for thirty years persuading the mainstream press that attention must be paid to us because we’re the really really authentic Americans. Our propagandists don’t dominate AM radio on every square mile of U.S. territory. We haven’t even begun the work of persuading — not hectoring, but persuading — heartland swing voters that our ideas aren’t scary, aren’t hostile to American values, and in fact are in sync with their values. We certainly haven’t persuaded enough to heartland voters to make heartland members of the House and Senate sit up and take notice, the way they carefully notice whether they’re protecting their right flanks.

We’ve got a lot of work to do to get our message across. We’re not going to get there by regularly joining right-wingers in Obama pile-ons.

Aside from the fact that the GOP and the tea partiers have a built-in and well-run support mechanism, they have the luxury of being out of power. They’re not a majority in the House and the Senate and they don’t have a president in the White House. Therefore they can let the loons on the fringe get all the attention and air-time because it provides entertainment without consequences other than showing up on Fox News at all hours and Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Persons” segment. They are enabled by producers on Sunday morning chat shows where people like Liz Cheney and Michele Bachmann get air time. They can attend rallies with people carrying firearms and issuing not-so-veiled threats against the life of elected officials, and they can carry on about wanting their country back without having to explain what exactly is that they lost or stand up to the scrutiny of proposing to keep the government out of our lives while insisting on getting their Medicare checks and demanding that feds show up the next day after an oil spill. It’s easy to be pure and puritanical when there are no consequences.

Perhaps it’s because the Democrats are so unused to being in charge, but I actually think it comes down to the fact that they are willing to govern rather than rule. They’re willing to openly admit that someone on the other side might have a good idea. That really irritates the purists. (It’s a trait that runs on both sides, but the GOP is more than likely to have amnesia when they’re reminded that Ronald Reagan did work with Democrats, he raised taxes, he expanded the government, and he ballooned the deficit.) But when you actually have to run the zoo, you have to make choices and compromises. Reality has a funny way of making even the most doctrinaire see that just making demands doesn’t get the work done. Nor does the threat of taking your toys and going home. All that does is end the game. (If you’re serious about mounting a primary challenge to President Obama in 2012, remember how well that worked for President Ted Kennedy in 1980 when he overthrew Jimmy Carter and went on to beat Ronald Reagan.)

So, as Steve M says, feel free to grumble about the Obama administration when they mess up; I have never held back when I didn’t like what they’re doing. But subverting what little power they have doesn’t help. Unless you actually like the idea of Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty in the Oval Office, come up with a plan to make the case for moving us to the left that doesn’t involve self-destruction and delusion.