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On leaving the left, compromise, and dialogue

First thing this morning before the coffee machine died and the phone started ringing off the hook with surprise distractions, there was a twitter direct message in my inbox. All it said was “Read this.” It was Andrew Sullivan’s collection of posts written by frustrated Democrats mirroring those written about leaving the right, decrying the absolutism, entrenchment, and obstructionist views that are equally visible on both sides of the aisle.

Nowhere was this more evident than after the President’s Afghanistan speech. And what frustrated me most about the dialogue was that there was absolutely no compromise, no budging, just complete and utter entrenchment.

There is this strange belief that seems to prevail amongst some that if it’s not absolute, it’s not worthy.

This is not how politics works. Let me offer some examples. If politics were absolute:

  • Social Security would be privatized
  • 401k plans would not exist, nor would employer-sponsored pension plans
  • Medicare would have been implemented for all Americans in 1965
  • Medicare would have been completely privatized instead of only partially.
  • No COBRA subsidies for laid-off workers would have been given

US History proves the price for progress. It took a civil war to end slavery, though that war was as much about economics and the emergent industrial superiority of the North as it was about slavery. After ending slavery, it took another HUNDRED years to even BEGIN to march toward equality.

Politics is not absolute, and it’s not absolute because there are extremes on both sides of an issue with the majority falling somewhere in the middle. The beauty of this is that the extremes push each other and a center emerges clearly.

There is no clearer example of this than comparing the list of legislative health care heroes with the list of those who oppose the climate/cap-and-trade legislation. Jay Rockefeller, progressive health care champion. Al Franken, Minnesota junior senator. Health care heroes. Cap and trade? Not so much.

This is because they represent areas and constituents whose interests do not rest in the arms of climate legislation. Like it or not, they are there to represent.

But I digress. I started this post because I get angry down to my core when I see the so-called ‘voices of the left’ slamming the President, threatening to strip their Obama sticker (thank you, Tom Hayden), and generally offering talking points to the Republicans, which they are happy to take and use on the Senate floor. (Thank you, Howard Dean). When David Sirota compares supporters of the President to the KKK and Jane Hamsher can barely contain her disdain, when young progressives start shouting that they’ve been sold out because the formal term “public option” is now shifting to the same thing in a different coat, more refined and with more potential to actually benefit them but because it’s not a public option it’s somehow a sellout…

I’m left speechless.

Seriously speechless. Idealism is terrific. I’m an idealist when I look through a camera lens. When I watch Congress, it’s time to put my pragmatic cap on and figure out what will fly.

Enough rambling. I’ll end with this. At 4pm today, I was sure health care reform was dead on the Senate floor. Given Ben Nelson’s promise to oppose any bill without the coathanger provisions, given that those coathanger provisions were soundly defeated and tabled (rightly so!), it appeared to me that sixty votes for the bill as it was right then was unlikely. Combine that with the daily hammering of the Republicans over Medicare Advantage, the scare seniors tactics, the usual onslaught of commercials with utterly bizarre messages about racism and health care reform, and the angry, angry tone of progressives’ email in my inbox, I figured we were done. Worse, I attributed that doneness to the left, who it seemed to me, were absolutely entrenched.

Now we have a compromise that actually beefs up what was there yesterday, and so effectively hems in Republicans (particularly Snowe and Collins) that we might actually get sixty votes for cloture. Hot damn, rock on.

And yet, what I see from the left is the same battle cry. It’s not single payer, it’s not a ‘public option’, it’s not, it’s not, it’s not, and dammit we’re gonna lose ground in the 2010 elections.

Not so much, unless the pie-in-the-sky politics is all words, no action. You want progressives? Elect them. The very worst thing anyone on the left can do is stay home. If that happens, you’ll get the representation you deserve.

In the meantime, call me a pragmatic Democrat. Flexible with certain dealbreakers. I’d have called for a kill if the coathanger amendment passed. It didn’t. I’d have called for a kill if pre-existing conditions exclusions were retained in any form. It doesn’t.

Whatever. Stomping feet and shouting sellout and hating on the folks who are supposed to be on our side seems like a really bad bet to me — little like reining up the race horse 10 feet before the finish.

Bonus link: The value of President Obama’s management style

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