Thursday, November 1, 2012

Pearls Before Swine

Okay, this is something I just don't get, and it has been a frequent complaint by Democrats.  First, the demand that "our elected officials should be cooperating like this all the time, not just in the face of terrible disasters."  Really?  So Cleage approves of Democratic politicians' willingness to cooperate with George Bush, ratifying his tax cuts for the wealthy and his nomination of some of the vilest people available to important posts, going along with his criminal invasions of other countries, passing on his use of torture and ignoring his contempt for the Constitution?  Really?

Somehow I doubt it.  What I think Cleage means is that Republicans should "cooperate" with President Obama, and maybe with any Democratic President.  Ironically, they have often done so, though usually in the worst cases, like the NDAA.  If Mitt Romney wins the election next week, will Cleage demand that the Democrats work with him as he slashes Social Security and other support programs, invades Iraq, repeals Obamacare, bans abortion, and legalizes polygamy?  Or will Democrats be exempted from the requirement of "cooperation" when a Republican is President?

I suppose the underlying idea is that politicians should "cooperate" to do the right thing and the best thing for the nation and the world.  That sounds really nice, but under the best of circumstances people differ about the best and the right thing to do.  You could make a case that the Republicans should have cooperated more with Obama than they have in fact, because the policies he was trying to implement were mostly Republican policies, and they opposed them simply because he was a Democrat.  Much the same happened when Bill Clinton was President, after all: he was aggressively business-friendly, pushing through the North American Free Trade Agreement, trying (but failing) to pass GATT, and "reforming" the welfare system while nurturing a couple of major market bubbles -- in Internet stocks and housing -- that made lots of money for the rich before they came crashing down.  The Republicans never appreciated how helpful Clinton was to their aims, just as they don't appreciate Obama now.

It is reasonable to call for cooperation on shared goals, but I don't think Cleage really wants to acknowledge that Obama and his opponents share so many important goals, though they certainly do.  Where one side wants one thing and the other wants the opposite, cooperation really isn't the right approach, especially when one side believes that the others side's aims are wrong.  Then it's entirely appropriate to dig in your heels and refuse to budge.  You might still be wrong -- as I've said before, consistency is only a virtue if you're consistent about the right things -- but refusing to cooperate for the right reason, on the right issue, is a virtue.  Surely Cleage, with her background in the Civil Rights Movement, knows that.

It was hypocritical of the Congressional Republicans to refuse to raise the debt ceiling for Obama last year, when they'd done it without complaint for Bush and his predecessors.  They were caught flat-footed when Obama wanted to "intervene" in Libya, because they couldn't very well defend Qaddafi but didn't want their nemesis Obama to look good by shedding Muslim blood while posing as a champion of democracy.  Similar difficulties arose when our good friend Hosni Mubarak experienced some trouble in Egypt: on the one hand, democracy against dictatorship is Good, so Obama should let Mubarak fall; on the other, Mubarak was repressing Muslims, so Obama should support him -- preferably he should do both at once.  Even his violation of the War Powers Act after the Libyan intervention didn't bother them much; why should it?  And so on.  But addressing these points would require pointing out where Obama was wrong, so Cleage and her fellow devotees can't really go there.

Which brings me to my second point.  We have been told indignantly over the past four years that it's foolish to expect idealism or principle to triumph in politics. That's not what politics is about.  At the same time, Obama represents the triumph of idealism and principle.  Anyone who expected Obama to stand by his progressive-sounding promises was naive or a cynic. True Obama supporters, by contrast, are just cynical enough.  They understand the necessity of Realpolitik as Obama practices it.  Politics is a brutal, heartless game, a blood sport, and we should cheer on our star player without being Monday-morning quarterbacks; we can't know what he knows, and we must trust him.  Whatever Barack does is good, by definition.  He knows best, certainly better than we do.  The true believer must hold the two opposing beliefs in mind at once -- Obama is pragmatic, dirtying his hands in our service; Obama is a shining idealist, fighting amoral opponents with the power of true goodness -- unified by faith.  Those who fall away due to lack of faith are anathema; don't even mention those who never had faith to begin with: their god is their stomach, their glory is in their shame, their destiny is destruction.  Obama is great by ascription; there cannot be any valid criticism of him, because by definition he is always right.  He may perhaps disappoint, but even there the fault lies with you for being disappointed.

The trouble with reason and principle, to loyalists like Cleage, is that they are unpredictable: they may lead to unacceptable conclusions.  You might discover that what you wanted to believe is not true after all.  You might end up criticizing or -- horrors! -- condemning someone you revere.  What counts to a loyalist is the conclusion you reach, not the process by which you reach it; the loyalist starts with the conclusion, and works backwards.