On Unrealistic Idealism

by Justin

It’s become more and more apparent to me that the extreme polarization of politics in this country isn’t only among the politicians, figureheads, lobbyists, talk-show hosts, whatever – it’s grassroots, too. Sure, the liberal extreme will never match the fevered fanaticism of the Tea Party. That sort of militant (as in gun toting) ignorance lends itself better to insane slogans and rallies than the so-called informed opinions of their liberal opponents. But both camps seem incapable of listening to one another. More importantly, neither side understands the way this country works.

Extremism has its place in politics. It’s useful to demand impossible degrees of excellence, because otherwise the eventual compromise would be laughably insufficient. Fight for the dream. Elect a local politician that’s a raging advocate for the very specific needs of a very small group. Start a community organization that restructures the neighborhood to meet the demands of its residents. But don’t expect the man elected to represent 300 million people to operate with the same tunnel vision.

Obama campaigned for a greener future, one without an expansion of offshore drilling and with a significant drop in fossil fuel reliance. He talked an extraordinarily good game. Realistically, a much better game than could ever be played. And of course he did. It was a campaign. Who would elect someone whose posters read “Yes, we’ll try.”? I’m not saying expectations shouldn’t be high, but at a certain point the political climate should inform the Left’s judgment.

The BP oil hemorrhage sparked a lot of anger with Obama’s reversal on his opposition to offshore drilling. A lot of legitimate frustration emerged because the Federal government had an utterly ineffective agency to oversee offshore operations. The Minerals Management Service (whose director resigned today as the first head to roll in this thing’s fallout) had to defer to the expertise of the relevant industries because it had no apparatus of its own. No precedents to fall back on, no corps of engineers to swoop in and expedite things. We were on BP’s timetable to resolve this economic and ecological disaster. So yeah, the embrace of drilling blew up in Obama’s face. But he’s been in the unfortunate pickle of marrying ideals with pragmatism.

The adversarial attitudes on Capitol Hill, so extreme that banking regulation supported by 80% of the population barely squeaks through Congress. The dedication to blocking the Obama administration supersedes all consideration for policy and the welfare of the American people. Bipartisanship be damned. If you can’t slap the hand of Wall Street, how can you fight for anything even slightly controversial?

Obama chose health care as his battleground and its partisan-passing meant he needed to accept the polarized political climate. He’s also been battling the global recession, fighting for federal stimulus and a jobs package that against all odds met with GOP opposition. The idea, I guess, was that if the economy continued on a downward spiral (American welfare be damned) the Republican party could wrest control of Congress from the Democrats. And then an era of reckless abandon could again resume. Point is, Obama has his hands full. He’s got to pick his battles and maintain an awareness of the obnoxious games politicians have to play.

If the administration gives more fodder to the Tea Party by driving up gas prices and jeopardizing jobs, however vital to our planet’s future it may be, then maybe the GOP gains enough seats to give us a few years of pure stagnation. I hate that I slip into the trap of Us versus Them, but it can’t be helped. If Obama wants to stay in office and continue to make lasting changes, he has to play ball. He can’t be the relentless idealist we say on the campaign trail, at least not in practice. It’s unfortunate that this is the nature of the beast, but I’d rather have someone on our team play the game very well and leave a mark than just abstain on principle. Jimmy Carter was a dreamer through and through, and (if a rudimentary sense of history serves me at all) has a poor legacy as president. Great man, Nobel laureate, but not a strong or effective leader.

The battle for the planet is more important than the economy, the health care system, or any ideological schism. In the end, that’s the great concern for this generation and each one that follows. I wish Obama had flexed the Democrat’s filibuster proof majority to push through a new energy bill and driven us into debt subsidizing alternative energy initiatives. So be upset about Obama’s priorities and the war he chose to wage, not about some inflexible principle.

I’m writing this not in defense of offshore drilling – absolutely not. Even if the ‘Top Kill’ effort proves effective, this is an unforgivable injury dealt by the oil industry. Hopefully Obama can leverage this disaster to extend the moratorium on offshore drilling, and maybe invest a federal dime in a future that doesn’t choke the planet.

What I’m saying is that he’s doing pretty well given the opposition glaring at him from across the way. And a little solidarity among even the dreamiest liberals couldn’t hurt moving into the elections. Forgive the rant, but I had an argument with someone that spoke in defense of voting for Ralph Nader. I’m pretty sure I can’t abide that sort of principled waste of a vote. Much as it sucks, sometimes it’s about choosing the lesser evil.

Really, blame the GOP. Imagine what the Obama administration could achieve in an era where policy counted more than political allegiance.