To follow up on my earlier post, I should make it emphatically clear that I’m not saying people should sit on their hands or keep their mouths shut and settle for what the sixty senate solons can manage on Health Care Reform. Activism and volume on the outside are hugely important. But reading reader emails at a highly interactive news and opinion site like TPM does give you a front row seat on the political junkie and progressive activist id in real time.In recent weeks I’ve read quite a few emails which say something like this: Okay, that’s it. I’m done with Obama. He’s just like Bush. He’s governing from the right. He’s disappointed me on this and that and the other. So I’m not voting or I’m voting third party. And let’s go ahead and ditch the health care bill because it’s not going to have a public option.
It’s times like these when the difference between political activism and self-expression and primal scream therapy become really apparent. Politics isn’t easy. Political change isn’t easy. It includes tons of reverses and inevitably involves not getting a lot of what you wanted, at least not at first. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to agree on policy or priorities. People don’t agree on things. That’s life. But that’s different from cashing out of the process if you don’t get just what you want.
For most people it’s just talk at moments of maximal frustration. But there’s always this ‘take my marbles home’ tendency, or emotional escape hatch, that many people have. This isn’t what I was dreaming of so I’m just going to stop voting or find a third party or generally just devote myself to whining full time. The illusion here is that there’s an escape hatch. By pulling up stakes I absolve myself of all the messiness. And I’ll tend my purity over here in a protected zone of utter irrelevance.
In real politics, there are no opt-outs, only cop-outs. And tough reverses bring out a lot of cop outs.