Tag Archives: pragmatism

…But I’m still not a Democrat

I’m not a Democrat.

Even though I’ve voted for far more Democrats in my life than Republicans, I still consider myself a political independent. By the way, let me include Libertarians and Green Party candidates in there as well.

Given that I’m admittedly left-of-center and that I just spent the last six months volunteering for the Obama campaign, you might think it inauthentic on my part to insist that I’m not a Democrat.

Even so, I am not associated with any political party. I voted in the GOP primaries in 2008 because I believed that my vote would be better served by voting for John McCain than participating in the Democratic party’s 2008 Florida-Michigan debacle. Moreover, when I voted in the primary, I was unsure where my loyalties would lie on election day in November. At the time, I believed Obama and McCain were the strongest candidates so I cast my vote for McCain, hoping in vain that Mitt Romney would not carry the Mitten.

I didn’t get my immediate wish, but Obama and McCain did show-down for the presidency in the end.

In the years since, I’ve solidified my stance as a political leftist. However, I first and foremost remain a pragmatic. I don’t believe in mindlessly touting ideology when our country is better served by communitarian pragmatism. After all, I think the majority of us want the same things for our country and for one another: Prosperity, economic opportunity, freedom of self-determination? The question should be, though it is not always, about the means rather than the ends.

While a lot of people are cynical about our political process (myself included), getting to talk to actual voters rather than simply listening to our 24 hour news cycle does wonders to combat this.

In a period of six months or so, I only had two bad experiences talking to voters – and they were both within about five minutes of one another. Most people recognize that you are sacrificing your free time to do something that you really believe in – the same would have been true had I been canvassing for the opposing party.

I consider myself first and foremost interested in the well-being of the country as a whole; this supersedes identifying myself as a Democrat or a Republican. I just happen to think that Democrats offer the best way forward at the moment.

At the same time there are many things I would like to see the Democratic Party do: How about end the war in Afghanistan? Maybe stand up for the people of Palestine? OK, what about real education reform? Universal healthcare, possibly?

I once was a Republican and now I see; I see that political parties are first and foremost interested in advancing their candidates and attaining majorities; they are secondly concerned with the welfare of the country.

I am pleased that Democrats did so well in the last election – but the election is over and we have two years to go before the next one. Victories must be earned and I hope that the Democrats we’ve just worked to elect will prove themselves worthy when they are up for reelection – on all of our behalves, not just for those who voted for them.

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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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Filed under US Politics