We’re Not Politicians, We’re Bloggers

02/10/2011

So I know I just had a long rambling post about treating politics like a game, but this is a related topic that has come up a lot lately in arguments I’ve had with fellow commentators on liberal blogs.

Basically, related to the urge to treat politics like a game, has been an urge for a number of liberal commentators to go from merely understanding and commiserating that Obama and current Democrats have a hard job and have to make unpleasant compromises to get something passed to essentially acting and arguing as if they were a current Democratic Senator and on-line debate must be constrained solely to discussions of the current compromise options and only then during the time the other Senators and congresspeople are having their debates.

Now, it may be the case that I have merely run into a handful of actual congresspeople taking a rest from their busy jobs and forgetting that they aren’t actually in the deliberative chambers, but I think it highly unlikely that that is the case.

I think it’s more the case that people wanting a stronger sense of connection with the process have basically inserted themselves into it, often as a defense for the “Team” of Democrats or beloved politicians as a rhetorical strategy of remaining positive no matter what is passed. Possibly born out of defensiveness against a particular style of argument I’ve complained about in the past.

But whatever the origins of the argument style, I nonetheless have to break the bad news.

You are not a member of Congress. These blogs or conversations with friends are not grave deliberations where you may have to make hard compromises to get a bill passed. You, like me, are a peon on the internet, trying to do activism for left-oriented causes the best you can.

And the thing is, while that can seem more powerless and less exciting than being in the legislative body, it really shouldn’t be. There is a distinct role that grassroots activists, those of us on the ground play.

And it isn’t just getting the vote out every 2 years.

Those of us on the ground are part of those who argue from our hearts, telling our life stories, sharing pains and opinions, and building the social support for various causes.

That last one is very important. It means we don’t follow the example of our legislative victories or compromises.

It instead means we precede them. We don’t need to “censor” our beliefs because they are “too out there” for our team. It means we advance “unpopular” beliefs until they become common sense.

As I began to discuss in my last post. All of those great liberal accomplishments we take for granted began as really really “weird” ideas, ones there was little support for, and which often were considered utopic, legislatively impossible, and so on. Slaves free men, equal in legal status to a white man? Women not only not property, but having the right to vote and not only the right to vote, but the right to work outside the home, to compete in sports, perhaps in equal number to men? Gays not only not to be treated as plague vectors, but to have their relationships treated as equal to those of straight individuals? Consent actually important in sexual matters?

Not all of these battles are finished, but they are certainly far more popular now than they have been and it never would have been that way if activists had merely sat back and gone “I better not advance any idea that isn’t supported or advanced by the current congress”.

Additionally, these rights have been constantly undermined and attacked and it has been important over the years to argue against giving in to political pressure by the retrograde in our society.

Many times these battles, harsh words were said against those who are on the most part considered heroes. Not only against great politicians like FDR, LBJ, Kennedy, and so on, but also great activists like MLK Jr.

It’s part of the battle, the advancement of the improvement of people’s lives and the fight to improve the social environment we all have to live in. Hopefully so the “political environment” is improved as well in the form of binding legal protections.

It leads to a large amount of criticism. No activist or politician is perfect on every issue and political gamesmanship can lead to some political bargains seeming less toxic than their effect on the ground.

But that’s part of the necessary symbiotic nature between activist and politician. The pressure on the social causes increases the options a politician has and the criticism and pressure to do better reminds the politician of the stakes at play and keep them grounded.

If we were to cease this and instead only praise “Our Team’s Actions” whether good or bad and only discuss issues within the constraints of what is considered at the moment, then the politicians have less to work with and are more at prey to machinations to support worse compromises and tackle fictional issues (such as the deficit, which no one really cares about, least of all those crowing about it the loudest) rather than the real ones (such as the lack of a real safety net in this country, and so on).

And frankly, many of the politicians we admire, thus prompting some to want to act as if they are them, understand this interaction. It is why Obama echoed FDR’s calls to “make him do things”, to put the pressure on him to do the right thing. It’s why Harry Reid honored Dan Choi rather than treat him like an enemy despite the massive pressure Mr. Choi had put on him and his office.

It’s because they understand the role we play on the grassroots.

The way we speak our minds more directly, the way we let them know that these issues are not a game, that we are paying attention and that we are fighting for a better world that addresses the problems and issues we have today.

We don’t have to censor ourselves. We should be criticizing even members of our party, even ones we are fully intending to vote for and help elect in the next cycle. We should be fighting for the advancement of the “utopic”.

Why?

Because that’s our job.

(Note, this debate leaves off the question about whether it’s necessarily good for politicians to pre-surrender principles and be easily swayed by what the media considers the “politically possible”. Personally, I wonder if it’s really a good political strategy because it seems to create situations where you are compromising from a position of half-shit-sandwich which doesn’t leave much room for good strong meaningful bills, especially with the massive problems we have these days. But I can understand that the deeply broken political system and the way the media has rigged the game can make things painful and thus something is better than nothing. Either way though, the drama and questions faced by our leaders should not be emulated. There is no reason why commentators on blogs, activists on streets, and people in their daily lives should be limiting themselves in their considerations, support, or negative reactions to only the “politically possible”. That’s just stupid.)

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