( – promoted by buhdydharma )
(Cross posted from Daily Kos, published last Wednesday. I made just a few modifications for this site and no doubt missed others.)
It has been a while since last I posted. ek — the wily ek — convinced me to come here and post this. I thought that it might be provocative despite being meant with affection, but he thought it would be worth your collective time.
It’s a good time to note, by the way, why I haven’t been here much. It’s the same reason I’m not on Open Left, Boo Trib, and countless other progressive blogs: I have simply found that for whatever reason I operate best when I limit myself to one blog; it lets me keep up with the conversations I start. If I switch around, I write diaries and comments that I won’t follow up on for hours, days, weeks, months…. It feels to me as if I’m being rude. So, given my limitation, which I’m glad that others do not share, I contribute only on El Permsimmon Grande, although I’m always (well, almost always) happy to see my Docudharmatic friends there.
Best holiday wishes to you all and I hope that you are happy and hopeful — even if hesitant in ways — over the political transition now underway. I’ll try to come around more and prove myself a liar in the preceding paragraph. If I don’t, feel free to hound me; apparently it works. (And also feel free to port anything I write to here.)
Two years ago on DKos, in the wake of the 2006 election, came a rumbling on the right column of the front page that led to a series of withering assaults on Markos and some of the contributing editors. Two years ago tomorrow, in fact, saw publication of a great example that will give those who were not yet here a sense of the arguments then taking place on the site: “Calling Bullshit on America,” by OPOL. He and I “shared words” in the comments section of that diary and many others; it’s funnier now that we are friends. His diaries — while still pungent and potent — have ratcheted down a little and I have come to better appreciate his talents.
The fight back then was between Pragmatists and Purists. I was one of the loudest Pragmatists commenting on the site. I’m still a pragmatist. And here, today, we hear shouting once again from the right side of the page towards many CEs and others who dare criticize Obama’s choices — and again I find myself disagreeing with my fellow diarists.
I disagree because I don’t think that their position is pragmatic at all.
1. Pragmatism two years ago
Two years ago, those who were not yet on site may be dumbfounded to learn, there was great upheavel over what quartet would be elevated to the ranks of the front-pagers. (This year, the sole new Contributing Editor, Jed L, ascended without a murmur of protest that he did so alone. It was a well-earned promotion, but the interesting thing was the lack of discussion as people promoted their vested interests of who deserved the position.)
The big issue of the day was impeachment. I was an impeachment skeptic, though I later changed my mind about Cheney and ultimately about Bush as well, albeit on a more limited range of charges than many would have suggested. (The most thoughtful impeachment proponents, in turn, honed their arguments, eventually centering on the pragmatic argument that impeachment investigations would elevate the status of the investigation to the point where it would be harder for Bush and Cheney to resist — an argument that I still think stands.) Markos made his thoughts know clearly in one OPOL diary that he derided as “impeachment porn,” leading to an out-and-out revolt by the site’s most popular diarists of the day. (The term became a catchphrase for many months thereafter.)
At this time, I was writing diaries psychoanalyzing pro-impeachment advocates, comparing the Purist position on impeachment to a religion, arguing the legal basis of impeachment with Vyan, appropriating Melville for the cause of pragmatism, and finally taking dead aim at what I called “impeachment underwear gnomes.” My point is: with the exception of DHinMI and a few others like him, I’m about as pragmatic as they come on this site. The links above offer my bona fides.
I’m also a strong Obama supporter (since the Nevada Caucus results came in and I bade farewell to Edwards), volunteered for him extensively, and am optimistic about his administration. So why am I so irritated by the attacks on those who challenge Obama’s appointments — none of which, by the way, I think are completely out of line, though I’d surely like to see some results from them quickly — that finally boiled over earlier today?
Simple: it’s because they are not Pragmatic.
2. Pragmatism today
People often confuse Pragmatism with Moderation. They are not the same thing. There is probably a correlation between them, but they are quite different. Pragmatism deals with means; Moderation can deal with means, but more frequently is used to refer to desired ends. A moderate doesn’t want a set of policies that is too radical — or even too leftist, or too much at variance with the Washington Consensus. A moderate would have opposed impeachment based on the argument that Bush didn’t deserve it. A pragmatist might oppose it because, even if he did deserve it, it would be corrosive to the political system — or because it was simply unlikely to lead to a useful result. What the pragmatist thinks is “a useful result” — that is a matter of ideology. The pragmatist may desire as radically left-wing an end as the Purist; the difference is in how much the desire to reach that end, versus the probability of being able to reach that end, governs one’s preferences.
Another example may help clarify things: a moderate might want a health care system that covers children, has mandates, uses current insurance companies, etc. A purist — and the one I link to here is as good and smart a one as they come here on the netroots — may want universal health care with no mandates. A pragmatist asks: how are we going to get there? Does it makes sense to get the camel’s nose under the tent, accept mandates for now, and then ride the eventual dissatisfaction with that system’s shortcomings to the sort of system we want, once the option of no government health care is off of the table? The pragmatist may have the same ends in mind as the purist; the difference is over means.
Purists often reply to pragmatists by saying that there’s no telling how likely the outcomes of various struggles will be, so one might as well ignore that aspect of things and simply agitate for what one wants. This is a useful debate to have; sometimes the purists are right.
Because pragmatists are often willing to go slow, pragmatism is sometimes viewed by its critics as paralyzing. This is based on the assumption that it is always better (or at least more effective) to go slow. This is a false assumption. As Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” shows us, if we didn’t already know, sometimes one achieves one’s best results by going very quickly. (Indeed, this was the strategy of the Reagan Revolution as well, where Richard Viguerie argued that the new Administration should proceed on every front at once so that the liberals who would defend the then-current system would have their resources spread too thin, and would to leave some political fights entirely unfought, leading the conservative routs.)
In such situations, the pragmatist sounds a lot like the wildest-eyed radical. “Now!”, the pragmatist cries, “noooooooowwwwww!!! Gain as much ground as we can while the time is ripe!” Pragmatism is the interest in doing what works, and sometimes what works can be very dramatic.
This is why pragmatists like me see diaries like those today, which derided those who would challenge some of Obama’s appointments as “purists” who were not “pragmatic,” or which at least characterize the disagreement that way, and our eyes bulge out.
I’ll give Meteor Blades the first swipe at this:
We can wish for change and work … (140+ / 0-)
…for it simultaneously. We can be pragmatic and idealistic simultaneously. And one can be optimistic and critical without giving way to cynicism. Smart leftists aren’t cynics because cynics don’t believe anything can or will change, so why bother. If we on the left were cynics, we sure as hell wouldn’t be activists. What would be the point?
I’d go even further. Those who think that we should not challenge Obama on issues — including appointments — where we disagree with him are not Pragmatists at all. They are not performing the calculus that pragmatists must perform, in which they ask “how do we get what we want?”
Instead, these people are a new kind of netroots Purist: “Faith in Obama Purists.” Their theme song follows Bob Marley’s lyrics: “don’t worry ’bout a thing; every little thing’s goinna be all right.”
A Pragmatist knows that some chestnuts about politics are correct. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” for example. “Power yields nothing without a demand” — where power is not simply Obama, but the political, social, and economic system in which he operates.
A Pragmatist knows that this is not the time to do nothing. This is the time to press one’s advantage. The people who do this for a living, the lobbyists, politicians, business interests, and so forth, they are not standing still. They are pressing every opportunity to lobby and to shape public opinion to make it harder for Obama not to pick the sort of nominees they would like. They know that one way to get the policy you want is to get the right people into position to make and implement it.
If they know this, why shouldn’t we? How is that “pragmatic”?
So let’s hear no further that the current debate is about Purists who want so much from Obama and Pragmatists who will take what they can get. The so-called Pragmatists who would make no demands of Obama and offer no criticisms as a point of principle aren’t trying to take what they can get — unless they are Moderates who don’t want much, in which case let them wear that label.
Here’s my pragmatic position: Obama is in much the same position as FDR was when he told progressives who pressured him “You’ve convinced me that you’re right. Now go out there and make me do what you want!”
We all want Obama to be a great President. Our role, now, is to make him be one — not with paralysis, but with passion.