“The way I learned it, the kid in the school yard who doesn’t want to fight always leaves with a black eye. If you indicate you’ll do anything to avoid trouble, that’s when you get trouble.” 50 Cent
As a rule, New Year’s resolutions are not directed at others but projected onto ourselves in an attempt to become better in the coming year. Thus, I will indulge myself in some inward-looking (in a collective sense) narrative.
Perhaps you are already familiar with the idea that the Left in general, while having the best argument, is weak to defend it. In an attempt to find a cure to this ailment, I first had to identify the source of the disease, and I can’t find a better explanation than the desire of liberals to “be nice”. This image of the Left, as going to great lengths to “be nice” and not to offend anybody, morphs into justifiable belief that liberals can’t fight for their values. “Being nice” manifests itself in many ways, including using reason when a show of force would be more effective, fighting for minor issues, like bike lane rights, when voting rights are being undermined in broad daylight, and taking offense at being called names while democracy is being undercut by unfair redistricting.
While Democrats are celebrating a recent victory over payroll tax cuts, I think that the fortunate outcome is not of their making: the Republicans have simply overreached and shot themselves in the foot. All Democrats did was stand aside and watch the Tea Party’s self-carnage. Just because we won this fight doesn’t mean we grew balls.
Nonetheless, Democrats are noticing that becoming “bad” pays off. Exposing the Republicans as the party of 1%, while attracting cries of “class warfare” and “populist rhetoric” from the other side, has been translating into rising approval numbers for Obama since September. Were Obama’s sagging poll numbers throughout the summer and the debt-ceiling fiasco the result, not of his supposedly unpopular policies, but of people’s disappointment with his inability to stand for his beliefs? Another, more illustrative, example that supports this hypothesis is Obama’s gutsy call to go forth with the raid into the sovereign state to eliminate Bin Laden. People appreciated this tour-de-force to such an extent that his approval numbers shot up 10 points. Where did this new support come from? Certainly not from the “defeat Obama by any means” camp – they would not change their minds even if Obama were to resurrect Reagan on national TV! So, speaking in rough numbers, there’s an extra 10 percent of electorate within Obama’s reach, in addition to his mid-40s approval ratings, if only he shows he can stand up to bullies. And that’s more than he needs to win a second term next year.
Not that they need my amateur speculation.
Getting back to us, mortals: “Being nice” is ceremonial and makes us focus on trivial matters and ties our hands. It makes us focus on procedure rather than the outcome. “Well” – we say after another loss to bullies – “at least we played by the rules, at least we didn’t debase ourselves by lowering the bar of political discourse.” I will sound Machiavellian going further, so stop reading if you want to maintain your innocence. Politics is a game and, as in any game, you do not question the motives of your opponents. The motives are clear – to defeat you, to win. This is the game we cannot excuse ourselves from. If we do not anticipate that the opponent will throw feces at us and fail to develop a defense against it, it’s our own fault when they throw feces at us. Publicly decrying such tactics as abominable is to make things even worse: it exposes our unpreparedness or, worse, naiveté. What matters here is the effect, the result. If crap-throwing works, then this is what we shall receive. If you win, people don’t care how you won. In a hunt for Bin Laden Obama violated the borders of a sovereign country, an ally, to avenge the death of thousands of innocent civilians! So what?! Look at the result!
Since I’m on subject let me outline the significance of this foray: Obama, in an unusual display of chutzpah, risked his entire presidency on this (think of the ramifications for him personally if something went wrong!), while the risk for the country was minimal (a diplomatic scandal). Now juxtapose this with supposedly ballsy Bush who risked hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars with no risk to his presidency. (Being a war time president practically assured Bush second term along with ability to paint dissent as unpatriotic, and other useful tools, like warrantless wiretaps and indefinite detentions. It’s almost like receiving huge bonus now for the deal that can deteriorate later, if at all, and if it does, there are ample escape clauses like moveable goalposts and revised reasons). Bush certainly understood risk-reward for himself, but Obama understands risk-reward for the country. To put it another way: Bush risked with someone else’s money, Obama risked with his own. Obama broke the rules, accepted the risk of being a one-term President, and won! He broke the rules and we cheered, because we liked the result. That’s why I was very disappointed when during the debt-ceiling debate Obama didn’t use the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to raise it. He can be astonishingly bold one moment and puzzlingly procedural the next. John Wayne one day and Woody Allen the next.
The political opponents that the Left faces have long took off the mask of civility and showed what they’re ready to do to defeat Obama – nothing short of pushing the country off a cliff. They are down and dirty, fighting tooth and nail – and here we’re thinking how not to appear rude, demanding adherence to archaic, gentlemanly, collegial rules! If we praise ourselves for being a reality-based community, then let’s be one for real in the coming year and beyond. Me? I’ll be cultivating my inner Joe Pesci.
Happy New Year!