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Member since: Wed Jul 24, 2013, 01:10 PM
Number of posts: 1,930

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The realist's lament.

A couple of years ago, I was chair of the faculty assembly for my college. We were facing some unusual challenges that year - possible efforts to break the college up, major turnover in the offices of the provost and dean, and some quasi-union-related conflicts.

At one point, someone who felt very strongly about a particular cause stood up, pointed at me, and shouted, "You.....you realist!"

I've always thought it best to work in the real world. Yes, I want the world to be better. And yes, I'm working to improve it. But that doesn't allow me to ignore the world as it is. Like I once said of a colleague, "his strength is an ability to think outside the box. His weakness is forgetting where the box is." So although the person who called me a realist presumably meant it as a perjorative, I was flattered.

A lot of us want change. Gerrymandering has to end. Citizens United has to be overturned. The Electoral College shouldn't be a thing anymore. And the two-party system, as it currently exists, is strangling the country.

Countries with parliamentary systems often have multiple parties. This means voters are better represented by their elected officials, but it can also lead to instability if one party can't form a majority. If the coalition built to form a government collapses, so does the government itself.

In the US, the parties are the coalitions. The Democratic Party, in my lifetime at least (but see below), has been a coalition of progressives, intellectuals, labor, and (for the most part) African-American and Latinx voters. These parties can destabilize (e.g. when Dixiecrats became Republicans), but by and large, they're more stable. This is good.

But this also means people at the distal ends of the ideological spectra tend to be marginalized. Which, if you're closer to the center, isn't necessarily a bad thing, until one of the parties falls into a death spiral created by talk radio loudmouths, gets pulled way to the far right, and refuses to cooperate with the other party. And the center begins to look more and more like the left. Stability becomes stasis.

All of this is central to the thinking of many people I know. They support certain primary (or, in my state, caucus) candidates because they promise to "shake things up." And more than a few are suggesting they might abstain from the general election or cast a protest vote if the primaries don't go their way.

Herein lies my dilemma. I am very sympathetic to what they say. We need to shake up the two-party system. But that won't work unless both parties are shaken up at the same time. Try to bring down the DNC, and the result isn't a more progressive Democratic Party - it's a much stronger and emboldened Republican Party, along with efforts to bring the Democratic Party closer to the center.

So I find myself begging these people - many are good friends - to be realistic. Some of these candidates are never going to be president. It doesn't matter whether I like these people or agree with some of their policies. They're never going to be president, and all of the highfalutin' speechmaking they make won't change any of that.

How do I reach out to these people? How do I get them to see we're all in this together? That a less progressive candidate may not accomplish as much as we want, but it's better than getting nothing we want? That incrementalism is bloody slow, but it's the only approach that works?

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