Two weeks ago I posted a piece on Huffington Post that criticized some of the critics of the current administration (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/evan-handler/who-are-we_b_737515.html). As usual, it was sarcastic, bombastic, and more than a little self-righteous -- because each of those qualities lives, to some degree, within me.
As usual, the comments in response to the piece varied tremendously. Some praised me so highly I was tempted to believe I might possess some degree of genius. Others skewered my arguments so successfully I felt sorry I'd ever posted the damn thing.
The most troubling comments to me, though, came from individuals who've been understandably disappointed by aspects of the Obama administration; who are understandably angry over shortcomings, compromises, and what now seem to be outright insults (when I know there are 60,000 barrels of oil a day leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, and scads of scientific experts know it, but my government suppresses those findings in favor of its own, unqualified, much lower estimates, I feel like someone's dumped a lot of oil all over me); and who, therefor, have decided to withhold all future support from Barack Obama, from his administration, from the Democratic party, and maybe from anything having to do with United States government unto eternity.
I really feel it would be a terrible mistake.
The phrase that cropped up again and again in the Comments section of the last post was "Obama apologist." Let's deal with that right away. I apologize for no one but myself (and I've got relatively little to apologize for).
My most concise feelings about the current administration are a sense of wonder over the grand ambitions and tremendous accomplishments (yes, accomplishments; whether you like the contents or not, no one else has been able to get a health care bill through congress for a hundred years), countered by mounting horror over the compromises, capitulations, passive stances, feeble executions, disingenuous misleads, and creepy collusions behind each victory, and each defeat. Overall, in spite of tremendous movement back toward some degree of sanity in the nation's policies, I'd have to say I'm significantly disappointed.
Which is why I think it's more crucial than ever to give a massive push of support to the most sensible factions of the Democratic party, including Barack Obama. Because it's a stronger, smarter, better Democratic congress that can best push Obama to live up to his promises, and his promise. (And because all the current alternatives are far, far worse - and some are, or should be, unthinkable.)
I'm talking serious, strategic compromise, and I'm saying it's essential.
The most vivid analogy I can come up with are the good, strong-willed friends who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. "There's no difference between Gore and Bush," was one line that was pushed then. "I'm going to cast my vote for the candidate I believe in, not the lesser of two evils," was the other.
Is there anyone today who can still seriously claim that there would have been no differences between a Bush and a Gore presidency? From the conversations with friends I know who voted for Nader in 2000, each and every one now wishes they'd voted against the more evil of the other two.
To bring the analogy more up to date, among those who are now furiously disappointed by Obama, are there any who can seriously claim they'd prefer where we'd be had the country elected McCain? I know many will shout that there should be more than just those two options. But, is your anger over the limitations of our current system so great you'd be willing to help elect Sarah Palin in 2012? Because that anger, expressed carelessly (as in, staying home and not voting), in today's climate, could make it a reality. (And she knows this.)
Incrementalism sucks. It's not my cup of tea, either. But, the options are less than ideal. In fact, they are bloody stark. We are either going to have Barack Obama through 2016, or something far worse in 2012. Palin. Romney. Boehner? Can you imagine? I can't.
Break it down state by state: It's either more Harry Reid, or it'll be Sharon Angle. Either more of the effective (though inexplicably idiotic) Richard Blumenthal, or Linda McMahon. Andrew Cuomo, or Carl Paladino. Rodney Glassman, or John McCain. Chris Coons, or Christine O'Donnell. Those are the current choices. It's going to be one of the two, in each case.
I don't care how disgusted you are with the first option in each of those equations, the second would be disastrous. Put a whole bunch of those second options together, mix them up into a majority in congress, and you've got a catastrophe on your hands.
Those interested in saving our country from further carnage need to be banding together, immediately, to take action to make sure the better of the current choices take office (even if those choices offend you as you cast your vote). Then, people can apply pressure to those individuals to act in our interests. Or, try to help still better choices make their way onto the ballot next time. But "Throw the bastards out" leaves out all consideration of the fact that something is going to take "the bastards'" place, and that something could be much, much worse. Consider the alternatives. If the alternative is worse, then it's important to vote the bastards back in, even if it makes your skin crawl.
For those inclined to express their disgust through inaction, inaction now will accomplish the same thing as casting your vote for a Tea Party candidate. Your inaction will make John Boehner kick up his heels with delight. It will insure that a flood of disastrous candidates seat themselves in office, and it will give him the Speakership of the House. Things will be unthinkably worse.
If you want to throw some bastards out, aim your ire at the so-called "Blue Dogs." To me, they are the greatest villains of our most recent history. The best way to combat Barack Obama's worst tendencies would be to support the sanest Democratic choices on the ballot, even if they make you quake with rage. Then, work your tail off to surround them with a flood of more progressive office holders in the future, who won't undermine the agenda, and who might even push him back toward many of the visions he used to speak so eloquently about. But, if you're angry about the distance between his words and actions so far, sitting this one, or the next one, out is going to leave you a whole lot angrier at someone else.
When I was a child, if my mother upset me enough, I used to destroy my favorite toy right in front of her. To show her how much she had hurt me. But my mother never changed her mind about anything. The only thing my tantrum accomplished was to leave me with less toys. I'd expressed my anger. But I was less happy then I was before. My circumstances were not improved. They were worse.
There's nothing fun about voting for the lesser of two evils. It's something we all ache to move beyond. But it's a lot better than living under the greater one.
I've been there, and I don't want to go back.
Evan Handler is the author of two books, the most recent of which is It's Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive.