Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Memo from NYC

In the body politic -- in this city, state, and country, as well as in countries around the world -- there is a constant internal struggle between stability and change. Between wanting to Change vs. wanting to Conserve.

This internal struggle, perhaps, is true of every single individual who makes up any particular body politic.

The People, those sainted masses, say they want change, say they are unhappy with the status quo, say they want things to "get better", say that they want the world to become a better place, and yet, at the same time, have a sentimental attachment to the past -- both real and imagined  -- as well as a strong belief that things were better "then" before "those people" ruined everything and that we just need to "get back" to the way things were through the power of old-fashioned "common sense."

We see this in our politics today.

Since the election of the first black Democratic president, Republicans have yelled and screamed about wanting to "take our country" back from this socialist who wants to destroy America. Democrats don't get it. They wonder, what was so great about the past? What was so great about the time when there was legal segregation, gays were closeted, women died from back alley abortions, and old and sick people died in poverty? Republicans, of course, still wish we lived in that world. Democrats don't. But Democrats also wonder what happened to the middle class, that wonderful post-WW2 institution, which has been dying a slow death for the last three decades. Democrats want to take the middle class back. Republicans, however, are very glad that it is dead.

In short, Democrats always want to improve things, to "change" things or to bring the country back to a certain mythic point in time when the benefits of society were more widely distributed, while Republicans want things to stay the same or take the country back to another mythic point in time when they were huge divisions between rich and poor.

Wanting to change things vs. wanting to keep things the same is the constant ying and yang of our politics. When it comes to elections and the wielding of political power, the burden is higher on Democrats. It is less so on Republicans. Democrats want to win elections so that they can do thing with the power they gain. Republicans want to win elections so that they can keep that same power away from Democrats. When Democrats win power, they think, "Great, let's create policies that help people" and Republicans completely freak out because this is their worse fear realized. When Republicans win power, they think, "Great, how can we keep power out of the hands of Democrats" and who cares about policy?

This internal struggle causes distortions in our politics and public policies. Democrats, liberals, view politics as a means to an end. For Republicans, conservatives, politics is an end unto itself. So Republicans are, for the most part, better practitioners of politics than Democrats (not always but usually).

This article by a former liberal Canadian politician sheds some light on the problem why, as the most recent elections show, people who care more about pure politics as opposed to crafting policy will always have the upper hand. In short, he concedes that the big problem with liberals in politics is that, because they care more about policy than politics, they are ill-suited to the nasty, vicious, ugly realities of political combat. Liberals look down on it. They think it's vile. Conservatives, meanwhile, love it. After all, it's why they're in politics to begin with! His advice to liberals:

"It doesn’t pay ... to pretend to be better than the business you’re in. You can’t succeed in politics if you give too much appearance of despising the low arts by which we govern ourselves. Fastidious distaste for the roughness and meanness of political life may work in a seminar room, but it’s fatal on the campaign trail."

My advice to Democrats after these most recent elections: play rough. Play hard. Go after the Republicans full blast. These are nasty, vicious people and anything less than full on confrontation with them won't work. Don't retreat, don't surrender, don't concede an inch. Don't compromise with them, don't make deals, don't try to get them to like you. Fight, fight, and fight some more. Never stop. Exhaust them. Harass them. Embarrass them at every chance. Most of all, embrace the "dark arts" of politics. Beat them at their own game.

Until the Republicans are fully defeated, Democratic policy goals won't have a chance. Only then will the middle class arise again.

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