Tag Archives: idealism

Pragmatism, idealism, and life in the trenches

There was a great discussion on Democracy Now! this past Friday at the close of the Democratic National Convention. Glen Ford and Michael Eric Dyson faced off in a conversation that wasn’t anything necessarily new, but I think instead a good representation of the chatter about President Obama from the Left over the past two years. Figures like Cornel West and Tavis Smiley have been hugely critical of the president for, what they call, ignoring the plight of the poor in this country while others from publications like Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives have additionally criticized the president for failing to articulate a progressive vision for the country to the American people and moving the goal posts too far to the right.

I’ve been among his critics over the last couple years. When we elect anyone to such a high office, there needs to be accountability and it’s the American people’s responsibility to hold the president accountable in the face of corporate money, the interests of lobby groups that don’t always have our best interests at heart, and the pressures of the military.

However, there is a very big difference between holding a politician accountable and trying to sabotage her or him.

You know why I’m supporting Barack Obama for president this year? Because Democrats represent the only way forward for the country. While I respect the criticism the Left has launched against him, particularly when it comes to those who say that the president has moved the goals too far to the right (using ideas originally put forward by Republicans for healthcare, cap and trade, etc.), this is the moment for the Left to put its foot down, hold fast, and say no further.

The Left is naive when we imagine that we are going to get a true progressive into our nation’s highest office when the game is rigged against us. There is too much money in play. At least the Democratic Party has included an amendment in their party convention to overturn Citizens United.

We need ideals, we need the Left. We need the Left to articulate a vision for the country where we have universal healthcare, where education is accessible to everyone where you don’t have to “shop around” or “start a business” to pay for it.

Politics is a lot like life. You aspire to beautiful things when you’re young and then, we’re told, you get wise to the world and the naivete you once espoused as you grow old. That’s the general wisdom.

But I think that there is something more to life than just growing up and getting wise to the world, or in more blunt terms, becoming cynical. Just because one plan doesn’t work out, that doesn’t mean that you give up on the rest necessarily. Most dreams aren’t an overnight success. Life in real world is a messy, complicated, sometimes ugly thing and so some dreams die, some dreams you re-assess, some dreams you hold on to and fight for until you see them through.

If you hold on to one single dream, if you live with a sort of narrow-mindedness that you care about nothing else, then you might wind up very disappointed, very fast.

Am I disappointed in the president’s failure to pass universal healthcare? Yes. Am I disappointed in his failure to repeal the Bush tax cuts? Yes. Am I disappointed in the failure to prosecute members of our military who abused and tortured prisoners? To say the very least, yes. It’s repugnant and anyone involved with these abuses should be locked away for a very long time, maybe handed over the countries whose citizens they so wrongfully treated.

My support of this president and his administration is not total. But we have a much better chance of accomplishing our dreams under Barack Obama than Mitt Romney. If we hold on to these few dreams and fight tooth and nail for them against the president, what’s the likelihood that we’ll see them realized? We can’t join with the Mitch McConnells of the world to make our president a one-term president simply to have an organized and unified opposition as Glen Ford said on Democracy Now! this past Friday. What did that accomplish under George W. Bush when we were all united? It brought us Barack Obama. What will we accomplish if we return to the desert?


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