Democratic Illusions

04 Aug 2012

Rebecca Traister for The New York Times:

There simply was never going to be a liberal messiah whose powers could transcend the limits set by a democracy this packed with regressive obstructionists. That doesn’t mean we can’t hope for, seek and demand better from politicians and presidents. But we can’t spend our time focused on alternate realities in which our country, its systems and its climate are not what they are.

While I am constantly frustrated when conservatives claim that President Obama has not achieved anything meaningful with his presidency, I can at least understand it: they are lying with the purpose of getting their candidates elected.1 That same explanation falls apart for progressives as there is no such reason for such their dishonesty. Health care, clean energy, the Iraq war, Hate Crimes legislation, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, financial regulation. Those are just the areas that immediately come to mind when thinking about major Democratic Party policies that President Obama has implemented.

The problem goes back to the fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans: liberals are interested in changing existing social, political and economic structures for the express purpose of creating of a new country that is better than the one we live in; conservatives tend to believe that our historical roots and ideals should be strictly adhered to, that modern policies should be built within the framework of the existing foundations. It is a dichotomy of progress and tradition that is hardly unique to politics, but it is proving extremely difficult for Democrats to navigate. The liberal promise is of an idealistic future, but it fails to make clear that this paradise is a long-term goal and will take continued effort before the culture itself is transformed. It does not even define how that future would look instead leaving that to each individual, which cements an expectation that cannot possible be fulfilled: the reality is never as appealing as the illusion, particularly when we create those illusions ourselves.


  1. If you take umbrage with “lying”, feel free to replace it with a more kind word that still gets across the point that they are misrepresenting his accomplishments — some of which they actually agree with.