Idealism, pragmatism and making a choice

Photo courtesy of AlterNet

Photo courtesy of AlterNet

When Bill Clinton was first elected President, I was 18 and a freshman in college. I was idealistic then. At 18, you should be. I remember feeling like we had created a new world. That anything was possible.

In the next presidential election, I will be 42. Solidly middle-aged. I’m not (too) idealistic anymore. Ironically enough, that means I’m voting for a Clinton again. And it has me torn.

Even though I’ve become much more pragmatic, I actually like Bernie Sanders. I like a lot of his policies. I agree with a lot of his economic arguments. I like he wears his opinion on his sleeve and is an honest-to-God liberal. And I don’t like the idea of having the Oval Office switching between a couple of families. He does connect with the idealism I still hold on to.

But as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that idealism doesn’t always work in the real world. We absolutely need it. It drives us. It helps us dream of what could be. It gives us a goal. But idealism does not do negotiation or compromise well. It can’t. It thrives by taking a stand and fighting for it.

Reality, sadly, tends to beat idealism up. We want perfection, but perfection doesn’t actually exist. To move forward at all, there has to be some give. We can’t always get everything we want. We have to focus on what we need.

With Hillary Clinton, there are a few… issues. You don’t get to the level she’s at (more than 20 years at the highest levels of government) without having them. You just don’t. And they have made me pause. However, she’s also shown an ability to fight for what she wants and aim for what she can get at that time. She tried to reform healthcare almost 20 years before the ACA. In fact, the ACA was built on the work she did in the 1990s. And she burned every bit of political capital she had in what was a failed attempt.

Then there’s gay rights. Yeah, she didn’t support marriage equality until 2010. Neither did Obama. Nor most politicians. It was only after court cases started rolling in, followed by individual states changing, that the Democratic Party even thought about fighting for it. And the Clintons were fighting for gay rights before it was popular. They tried to allow gays in the military until full revolt from Congress and the military itself forced them back. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a compromise even they, at the time, admitted was bad. But it was what they could get in 1993. Again, the repeal by the Obama administration built on what they had done before.

I like idealism, but I also like things to move forward and get done. We’ve seen what happens when ideological purity gets control. It’s turned the GOP into a shitshow. About 80% of the problems in government over the past eight years has been because the ideologues who now control the Republican Party consider compromise a dirty word. They equal “compromise” with “losing.” It’s lead to government shutdowns in national and state government. It’s meant cuts to veterans’ services, infrastructure, education. It’s lead to instability that has done more to slow our economy down than any taxes on the books.

And I do have to admit, gender does play a role. If a woman campaigned on the same policies as Bernie, how far would she get. Seriously. Think about it. Would she have a chance in hell? Hillary is no worse, and a hell of a lot better, than most politicians, her own husband included. She’s also campaigned on what is usually considered moderate. Yet she gets criticized for it when male candidates don’t. Why?

And if any says she’s just saying stuff to get elected, have you also criticized Bernie for running the nomination of a party he’s not a member of? He’s not actually a Democrat. He was elected from Vermont as an independent – not of any party. He caucuses with Democrats in Congress, but he’s not a member of the party. But of course he has to campaign as a Dem to have a chance at the nomination. So it’s okay for him to do something for political advantage and not Hillary? Why?

Lauren Besser at Medium had a great post that accurately described my feelings – even if I am a white, cisgender male. Read the whole post, but this passage is what really got to me.

“What does it mean to be a radical feminist woman who does not support Hillary because of her record, all the while knowing she would not be where she is with Bernie’s record as her own?
What does it mean that we are seduced by the stands Bernie has had the (white male) privilege to take?
What does it mean that the choice between Hillary and Bernie exists within our racist, sexist, capitalist system?
I want to see a massive change in our political frameworks and ideologies. A complete restructuring. Bernie embodies that in rhetoric and record. But Hillary. Hillary embodies it in package, doesn’t she?”

I honestly like both Bernie and Hillary. I love Bernie’s idealism and Hillary’s pragmatism. If were combined into a single person, they would be the perfect liberal to me. I will quite happily vote for either in November. Bernie wouldn’t send the left into a Siberia we’d never return from. Hillary will not turn us into a corpratist state. They are both good choices. And a HELL of a lot better than anyone the GOP is sending up.
But I don’t like having to choose. There is no easy answer. There never is when you really have to be an adult. You have to see the world as it is before you can work to change it to how you want it to be. That means compromise. That means negotiation. That means channeling idealism into pragmatism. I’ve made my choice. I’m at an age where idealism is nice, but I’ve also seen what can happen if you don’t adapt. It’s not pretty.
The only thing I can really hope for is that supporters of both come together in the end. Neither of them is the end of the world. The GOP, on the other hand… I’m not so sure. They frighten me more than the second Bush administration ever did. This is an important election. Every branch of the federal government is in flux now. If there was ever a time to come together and fight for a common goal, this is it. I just hope we all realize that soon enough to help.
Tom Wray
Publisher
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