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March 24, 2011

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"Luckily, there may be some apps for that. One is called a "primary"; another, a "third party." But that brings me to Exhibit You, and Exhibit Me."

A stirring call for the election of Sarah Palin in 2012.

Ever hear the one about the difference between stand up comics and politicians? They both say things that the crowd loves to hear. But at the end, the crowd laughs at the comic, while the politician laughs at the crowd.

@rea - I don't think Sarah Palin is so strong that a primary challenge to Obama risks her election. I actually think that a (1) good, principled challenge that either (2) succeeds or (3) falls short but is met halfway (however unlikely any of those are) could strengthen a Democratic run in the fall of 2012. For a similar view, see Tikkun editor Michael Lerner's op-ed in the Post late last year: "Save Obama’s presidency by challenging him on the left."

Yes, Obama has disappointed in many respects, but let's not overlook either his political constraints or his accomplishments. Besides, Lerner is nuts.

His idea is that the way for Obama to counter a conservative challenge is to move sharply (and in some ways stupidly) to the left. How does that make sense? It doesn't.

The way to affect policy, IMO, is not to waste energy running Susan Sarandon in a presidential primary. It's to work to elect local, state, and congressional candidates who can start to move things, by pressuring Obama meaningfully, by demonstrating that progressive ideas have popular support, and by getting them enacted.

the way for Obama to counter a conservative challenge is to move sharply (and in some ways stupidly) to the left. How does that make sense? It doesn't.

I am of course unalterably opposed to any stupid moves to the left. :) But let's have the courage of our convictions, if we have any: if the ideas and programs that result are significantly better than those that result from, say, muddling around looking for a compromise with Neanderthals, then it makes sense to push them. In today's real world, that happens by finding a reasonably knowledgeable, credible national candidate to push them. (Probably not Susan Sarandon, I agree, though I'd give her a listen before deciding.) I'm all for party- and/or faction-building along the way. But having a standard-bearer helps a lot.

All that said, I'm not averse to any of what you suggest ("elect local, state...getting them enacted.") I just think we tried it, and it didn't work -- things have remained far too much the same. Despite having 60 Senators, a substantial majority in the House, and the Oval Office, we have rather little to show for it, IMO. So I blame the Democratic leadership -- all of them, and a primary challenge seems like a reasonable, even constructive way of acting on that belief.

First I thought this was a post about the Metro's luggage search policy. (It's security theater, with all of the stupidities of the genre.) Then it turned into a post about how Obama has failed to take an (appropriate) stand on various issues.

I guess the overall theme is just that some (more likely most) politicians do not end up delivering, when in office, quite what their principles would have led one to expect. But I'm not sure how much of this is for good reasons (reality-check when actually trying to govern) and how much for bad (principles being abandon when no longer convenient).

"I guess the overall theme is just that some (more likely most) politicians do not end up delivering, when in office, quite what their principles would have led one to expect."

I see why one might think that, so next time I'll try to write more clearly. It's not that they don't deliver what their principles would have led one to expect. It's that they trade on the appearance of professing principles they did not in fact have. That's the charge; you may find them innocent of it.

It's not that they don't deliver what their principles would have led one to expect. It's that they trade on the appearance of professing principles they did not in fact have.

I'll have to go with the Scotch verdict on that one: not proven.

Unless you happen to know the politician in question personally, it is generally extremely hard IMHO to know what is a real principle and what is principle which is being professed only for convenience.

I admit that there are exceptions: it is hard to believe that, for example, Romney** is professing principles he really believe -- given how contrary they are to what he both said and did in the past. If he were to come out and say "This is what I have learned which has caused me to revise my views on X," that might be a matter of learning from experience -- always a good thing. But merely reversing ground and coming up (by chance?) with a position which looks likely to do better in an election?

Still, if someone has consistently espoused one set of principles, the default assumption would seem to be that he really did believe them. He may have been wrong. He may have since learned better. But there isn't any obvious reason to believe that he took a position on something at age 25 in the foreknowledge that at 50 it would be important.

** for those with long memories (or just a knowledge of obscure bits of history), another example would be George Wallace. Who first ran for office as a moderate on racial issues. And, when he lost, said "They out niggered me. I'll never be out-niggered again!" And went from there to become a icon of the die-hard segregationist South.

Nephew: "I see why one might think that, so next time I'll try to write more clearly."

Right, and also less generally. Maybe you should focus on one issue, that's possible to discuss, rather than:

"It's that they trade on the appearance of professing principles they did not in fact have."

The second statement requires us to read Obama's mind or heart - not something I'm particularly willing to do. I'd rather focus on whether what he's done is reasonable under the circumstances, even if he hasn't been a "purist" with regard to some of the values he's endorsed. That makes for a more meaningful discussion.

As it is, the post is very weak, IMO. As should be obvious from my other arguments here, I agree with rea, that it's a cri de coeur for the Collaborators - those who would be just as happy electing someone from the right wing to prove how pure they are. If you have some evidence or supportable theory that splitting the Democratic party would result in electing a more progressive Democrat, please explain how. The last several times something like that was tried, it resulted in the election of a Republican. I don't see how any Democrat of any stripe would want any Republican elected in 2012 under any circumstances.

sapient: " I don't see how any Democrat of any stripe would want any Republican elected in 2012 under any circumstances."

Sorry, I meant any "unaffiliated, progressive leftie, or any other designation who doesn't want a fascist in government" ...

Did not mean to accuse anyone of being Democrat. Which I am, unabashedly.

I feel whip-lashed. Your first example is pretty clear. Mr. Benjamin doesn't seem to have taken the lessons one would normally expect one to have learned being associated with the ACLU to heart. His balance of freedom against 'security' makes it appear as if the freedom side of the equation isn't very important to him.

The Cohen example isn't nearly as clear. The thrust of his article seems to be about pension gaming, which strikes me as a legitimate gripe.

The Obama segue really loses me though. Yes he didn't do everything you could have wanted, but given the hand he's been dealt (horrific economy, spineless Democrats in Congress and nutso Republicans in Congress) I'd say he's done an overall good job. It certainly isn't as clear a case as the Benjamin example you start with.

I'm not averse to any of what you suggest ("elect local, state...getting them enacted.") I just think we tried it, and it didn't work --

We tried it for a brief moment, barely two years, and Dr. Dean's 50-state strategy got us the first black American President and a 60-Democrat Senate (albeit one stuffed with Blue Dogs)

Whereupon the national Democratic Party, (finding that true grassroots involvement threatened their from-the-top control and was far too likely to support actual liberals over Blue Dogs) dismantled the very structure that provided the 2008 victories, only to lose ground in the next election because the Democratic grassroots had become disaffected and disconnected.

So we tried it for a couple years, and just as it began to work the national Party decided that victory at the price of rocking boats was too expensive, and cancelled the grassroots organizing.

Please don't overlook the "local, state," part of what I said.

As we've sadly learned recently, a lot can be accomplished in state legislatures. And of course strong state parties make strong national parties.

@sapient, @wj: I'm interested in this notion that I'm mind reading. Proposition: if candidate X addresses the National Chocolate Fans Convention (NCFC) to say that "it is my principle is that given a choice, I will eat chocolate ice cream before vanilla. You can take that to the bank," but subsequently chooses vanilla over chocolate time after time, then -- I cautiously assert -- X has perhaps disproven s/he operates by a chocolate-over-vanilla *principle*, though s/he may still have a *weak preference for chocolate when convenient*.

Are we agreed so far? Can we further agree that the NCFC may be justified in feeling hoodwinked; bamboozled; conned; deceived; betrayed; even practiced upon? Might NCFC be rightly impatient with those accusing it of "mind reading" when it claims candidate X in fact does not have a principled allegiance to chocolate?

@joel hanes: and who leads the National Democratic Party?

Not to ignore the other responses, but I've whittled around on this one for a while and I'm tired. Good night, all.

There have been lots of thoughtful posts and comments about real issues involving Obama's decisions. Making up hypotheticals isn't constructive.

I think Mr. Nephew's post is right on the money.

If you have a "principle" but then you always (always always) negotiate it away (like Obama), or ignore it in favor of 'security' (like Peter Benjamin), or toss it aside in an effort to seem hip or contrarian (Richard Cohen), then you did not have a principle at all. You had, as Mr. Nephew so aptly puts it, a "decorative value." You do not have to look deep into a person's heart to see this; you only have to watch his/her actions.

kent: then you did not have a principle at all

So what's your point? That Obama is a bad person? I notice that even though he "always always always" (according to you) negotiates his "principle" away, neither you or Nephew is willing to discuss a particular case of his doing so.

The common law of our country is based on certain legal principles. Each case comes before a judge with thousands of cases having been decided in the past, with these principles being tested as they're applied to facts. As every judge and lawyer knows, every set of facts is different, so principles, as applied to new facts, don't change, but sometimes don't quite fit. Either new principles are created, or a more nuanced understanding of old principles occurs. It's not compromise; it's a reasoned application of old principles to new circumstances.

There's a word for a set of principles that don't yield to circumstances: "dogma."

There comes a point when the lesser of two evils is still too evil to choose. Has Obama, with his embrace of the Bush-Cheney security state, gotten to that point? Has the Democratic party, with its indifference to the erosion of our civil liberties and its eagerness to do the bidding of the very wealthy, also reached that point?

Each of us will decide for ourselves, but I find it very dismaying to have to actually consider the question. Our political culture has truly gone awry.

Defend Obama and the Democrats if you wish, but don't make the argument that we must choose between evils. At some point, the real choice is not between two poor choices, but between embracing one of the two evil choices, or working to replace both evil choices with at least one good one.

I believe we've reached that state.

NICE POST FOR US, WE CAN LEARN IT MANY MUCH!!!

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