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C’mon Liberals! Direct Your Wrath at the Right Target

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I have a friend who says that the difference between grassroots Republicans and Democrats is that the Republicans care more about winning than about what’s right, whereas the Democrats care more about being right than winning.

He’s got a point, but I wish that it were that simple. My daily inflow of email shows that a great many liberals are blissfully unaware that there might be a conflict between those two values.

Did I say “blissfully”? I should have said “angrily.” Because these people are a lot more enraged at the Democrats for their compromises and capitulations than at the Bushites for their sheer evil.

Reading their angry diatribes makes me angry. I want to shout, “Get real!” It makes no sense to expect elected office-holders to be people who won’t do what it takes to get elected to office.

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The point’s absurdly obvious, but one easily forgotten when emotion runs high: those who do not do what it takes to get elected to office will not become elected office-holders.

But here come those emails, furious at the Democrats –for example—for “feeding from the same corporate trough” as the Republicans.

Admittedly, too many Democrats have grown comfortable with our system of legal bribery. The question is: in the political system we now have, what would a fully altruistic person do to attain office in order to do good? Answer: raise the money necessary for getting elected. And in our present system that requires some feeding out of the corporate trough.

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One does not get elected without money, and in our corrupt polity even good politicians are compelled to be like the famous bank robber, Willie Sutton, who when asked why he robbed banks replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”

It’s a lousy system, and we should not rest until it’s changed. But in the meanwhile we should not expect those who win at the game to ignore how the game is played.

Of course, our idealist could refuse to do what is necessary to get elected. And then, as a result of such standing on principle, he/she would share in that blessing you and I enjoy: the opportunity to speak our minds –saying all the wonderful things that are so stunningly right—and to be powerless while those who made the necessary compromises make the decisions that shape the world.

Another of the unforgivable sins of the Democrats is their craven stance –ever since the war resolution of 2002—with respect to the war in Iraq. They’re accused –probably rightly—of having known better already when they voted on that resolution than to trust what the administration was saying, even if they weren’t privy to all the intelligence that the Bushites kept from them. And for this –even though it’s highly doubtful they could have stopped this war-- they’re condemned, by many angry liberals, as morally bankrupt and beneath our contempt.

But in 2002, it seemed extremely probable that a Democrat who voted against that war would have destroyed whatever chance he or she had of becoming president—in 2004, or perhaps ever. That was the judgment of those most knowledgeable about the dynamics of the American political system. So John Kerry, John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton all voted yes.

Profiles in courage? No. But we did want to get those who lied the nation into war out of the White House, didn’t we? And nobody ever gets to be president who doesn’t do what’s necessary to become president. Opportunism doesn’t smell right, but it’s how you get the opportunity to win.

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Of course, it’s legitimate to question the “expert” judgment about what was “necessary” that led to such decisions. But how about a little humility in our second-guessing? If there’s one thing the people up there at the top of this heap are likely to know better than the rest of us, it’s how to get elected.

Sure, they make mistakes –just like NFL quarterbacks do, those few men who emerged, out of the tens of millions of boys who took up the game, as the very best. But just as one can find guys in a bar on any given Sunday talking as if they’d have known better than to throw into double coverage, there’s something unseemly about the certainty of some liberal critics about how easy it would be for liberal politicians both to be right and to win.

And there’s an additional, related problem that’s specific to this Bushite era in American politics: the special challenge of campaigning against Karl Rove.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
 
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