It usually goes something like, "Don't look to the Democrats to save us-look at how clueless and cowardly they are, at how complicit they are in one evil or another. They are not moving boldly enough to get American soldiers out of Iraq, now! They are not militant enough in their preparations to expose the crimes of the Bushites. They're too slow to take up the arms of the war against the Bushites-like impeachment. Democrats voted for the Patriot Act and the use of force in Iraq, and they carry water for corporate interests rather than those of the working American families, whose interests they should be representing."
That's what I often hear these days from some on the left who think me a naÃ¯ve dupe, as if my seeing the Democrats as an essential tool for good means I don't recognize their failures and mistakes.
To that position, I say: Get real!
No good will be achieved unless our efforts are in alignment with reality. Look what happened to the Bushites in Iraq when they based an invasion on cherished ideas of how the world works that were out of touch with reality. Some on the left â€“also refusing to acknowledge how the world really worksâ€“ would commend to us a strategy as unlikely to succeed as the Bushites' approach, founded on illusions and distortions, in Iraq.
My point is not that their accusations against the Democrats are false. It's that there is a problem with how some on the left think and feel about the Democrats' defects.
IF YOU DON'T HAVE A HAMMER, USE YOUR SHOE
First, though it may be regrettable that the achievement of good â€“in this case, the defeat of the Bushite forcesâ€“ depends upon a flawed political party, it is nonetheless an inescapable reality. There isn't even a half-way realistic scenario by which the Bushite forces can be stripped of their powers that does not rely upon the Democrats.
The government is the ultimate power in our society-the power that's backed by force. The Bushites can not be defeated without vesting some of that power into the hands of someone else. Indeed, wasn't getting the electorate to turn against the Bushites the ultimate purpose of all our efforts? I can only wonder who Democrat-haters think might wield effective power against the Bushites.
If they think we're going to win this one in the streets, then I say again, "Get real!"
Or do they seriously entertain dreams of some third party â€“presumably morally far superior to the Democrats-- actually gaining power? Please recall that no new party strong enough to gain power has arisen in America for a century and a half. And even that process took the better part of a decade? Can anyone seriously believe that this is about to happen again, now, or â€“even if America were as ripe for a new party as in the early 1850sâ€“ that we can afford to wait a decade while Bushite forces continue to rule?
The answer to all those questions seems clearly to be no. And that leaves us with only the Democrats â€“whatever their defects-as a possible instrument to wield genuine legal power, backed law and its enforcement, to confront Bushites. We have to build with the tools we've got.
So what about the argument that the flaws of the Democrats are so profound as to disqualify them as a possible instrument of the good?
Of course, it would be wonderful if those politicians, and the party they comprise, were everything that the people's representatives should be! But where in this world do you see any other political party in which courage and wisdom and righteousness are to be found in significantly greater abundance? Look at the political parties of even the most decent countries, like the democracies of Europe. Is there one of them that does not have its own pronounced follies and corruptions, on something like the same scale?
Furthermore I myself have experienced or observed up close a handful of institutions in recent years, and there isn't a one of them that I've not found disturbingly flawed. Academic institutions, progressive radio stations, the world of publishingâ€“ all falling far short not only of the ideal, but of what they declare themselves to be. Are the Democrats in Congress any worse than what we can readily find in almost any institutionâ€“ hospitals, corporations, religious institutions? What about a Church that's protected the abusers of children? What about all the back-dating of options for corporate CEOs, already paid more than 400 times the wages of their average employee?
Is your experience of the world so different?
The world is screwed up. The people in it are screwed up. Why get all worked up into anger, and scornfully reject as a possible instrument of the good a political party that merely reflects the reality of this fallen world? Do you think that some third party, if it attained the status of a party with actual power, would long escape this flawed condition?
As for why our institutions, and we people, are as flawed as we are, many possible explanations can be given. (I've spent most of my adult life articulating such explanations in my books; see especially The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution.)
Some of the most important of these explanations have to do with the workings of power. And it is that perspective that I'd like to address one of those complaints about the Democrats that is most commonly, and most bitterly, expressed: that they are too corporatist, too much the servants of the big moneyed interests at the expense of the common people.
Again, the critique is valid. But why waste energy in outrage at the symptoms, rather than addressing the underlying forces that make those symptoms inevitable? Given the state of things in America, how could it be otherwise?
In America, over the past half century, labor has grown much weaker, politically. And the corporations have become increasingly mighty. That's bad news, and should be changed. But Politics is about power. And it is not realistic to expect those who strive for the power of public office not to reflect the realities of where power comes from. Unless certain things are changed â€“campaign financing for example-it is simply not realistic to expect either one of our two main parties not to be excessively beholden to the excessively powerful special interests.
It is misguided to blame water for flowing downhill rather than to address the contours of the land that determine the flow.
I'm sure the Democrats will disappoint us in many ways, large and small. But I'm also sure they will do something of value to check the Bushite power, something that couldn't happen while the Bushites controlled everything, and something that will be the larger the more wisely and effectively the anti-Bushite movement handles its side of the relationship.
In this fallen world, the difference between something and nothing is pretty much everything it's possible to achieve. How often in history has it been otherwise?
NOT ALL SHADES OF GREY ARE BLACK
Yes, the Democrats are flawed. Yet flawed is not the same as evil.
The political parties of the world's democracies â€“including the Democrats in the United Statesâ€“ are not Nazis. They are corrupt in the normal waysâ€“ far short of being in thrall to evil. This is just more or less how the world is.
But under the Bushites, the Republican party has crossed some significant lines. The party of Tom Delay and Karl Rove went beyond the normal kind of corruption. Everything they touched became broken and dark. Evil forces that had been present in America all along now became the ruling element in the society. This ruling clique broke new ground in dragging the moral level of the use of power in America toward the abyss.
It was this repeated sense of "never before" that led to my feeling it urgent to put aside all else and focus on trying to wrest power from the dark spirit that animates this Bushite regime and their enablers.
Many sneer at the idea of "the lesser of two evils." But when the difference is between normal corruption and outright evil, such sneering represents a dangerous failure to acknowledge an essential reality.
I believe I have discerned a basic difference of spirit between those interested in working with the Democrats, whatever their defects, and those who reject the whole idea of the Democrats as a possible instrument of the good. The first group is coming from a place of hope, while the second from a place of anger.
Anger may have a legitimate place in one's response to the Democrats' flaws. Outrage can be an important and useful political force. But to indulge that anger to the point that it gets in the way of rational thought and constructive action is itself a flaw.
We may wish that the world were a different kind of place. (I certainly do.) But there are some realities that we may hate but must ultimately also accept if we are to have any hope of being effective at addressing those important problems that are within our capacity to change.
Andrew Bard Schmookler's website www.nonesoblind.org is devoted to understanding the roots of America's present moral crisis and the means by which the urgent challenge of this dangerous moment can be met. Dr. Schmookler is also the author of such books as The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution (SUNY Press) and Debating the Good Society: A Quest to Bridge America's Moral Divide (M.I.T. Press). He also conducts regular talk-radio conversations in both red and blue states.