Friday, September 30, 2005

The Fundamental Paradox

Barak Obama posted this morning on dKos. His post is a pushback on those in the dKososphere who were outraged at the rollover of the Dems on the Roberts nomination. I highly recommend reading his post and the responses to it.

I find myself agreeing with the sentiment of the Senator's plea for restraint, but I question the overall wisdom of his approach. Let me see if I can explain why.

The electorate wants reasonable, non-partisan leadership. But they won't elect someone who appears to consistently "role over" when faced with a tough fight. So, here is the fundamental paradox: how do you present a reasonable, non-partisan face when partisanship is sometimes required to demonstrate strength of leadership?

George Bush and company have adopted one solution to the paradox: they lie about it. They talk and talk about uniting and working together. But behind the scenes, when the cameras are turned off, they engage in the most vicious levels of partisanship imaginable.

The Democrats, for the most part, have used an alternate strategy: they avoid partisanship both in public AND behind the scenes. Furthermore, some of them openly criticize other Democrats for displaying partisanship. The result is a mish-mash that leaves the impression that the Democrats are divided into two camps: vicious radicals and wimpy appeasers.

Compromise for compromise's sake and opposition for opposition's sake are both losing strategies. The former can be called wimpishness. The latter belligerance. The people want neither quality in their leaders.

Is there a more honest approach to this problem that can demonstrate both strength of will and a cooperative spirit? I think so. But it requires taking the effort not just to oppose but to explain your oppposition in a manner that the electorate can appreciate, even if they don't agree with it. It requires presenting opposition as a reasonable response to Republican policies.

There is a concept that is missing today: the concept of the loyal opposition. The loyal opposition doesn't oppose simply because it feels good to oppose. It does so when it is necessary to stop the majority from doing something that the opposition honestly believes that majority will later come to regret (such as voting for the war in Iraq). The loyality here is the loyality of a friend who takes away his friend's car keys when his friend has had to much to drink.

The loyal opposition also doesn't compromise when doing otherwise might result in harsh public criticism. It has the strength to know that facing that criticism is worth it because what it believes in is worth it. The drunk friend may resent you for taking away their keys. But at least they will still be alive the next morning to do it.

The loyal opposition opposes because it is loyal to its beliefs and it is loyal to the democratic principals that made this country great.

That's all I'm asking for.

I haven't, like others, consigned Obama to the DLC hell. He at least is politically smart enough to realize that being associated with that organization is political poison in the Democratic party right now (wish Hillary had been that smart). But that does not mean he still doesn't agree with the overall tactical strategy as put forth by the DLC.

That strategy is this: present a reasonable face to the public as an alternative to the radical Republicans and the public will turn to you. This strategy is based on surveys where the American people say they want reasonable representatives. But here's the problem: what people say they want and what people actually react to are not always the same thing (marketing people should understand this well).

I want reasonable leadership. I want strong leadership. Sometimes being strong means risking accusations of being unreasonable (witness the establishment Dems reaction to the blogosphere). The solution is not to avoid the accusations. The solution is to learn better strategies for dealing with them.

I really like Obama. I think his rhetoric is some of the best out there today. I really really want to live in the kind of world he is describing.

But I think he is naive if he thinks we can achieve that world by playing nice.

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