What does it mean to support a politician?
A friend of mine recently asked what it would take to decide to pull my support for President Obama in 2012. I don’t know what the answer is, but there is one. He was essentially asking: What does it mean to support a politician? This is a serious question. No person is right on all the issues, of course. And whether you know it or not, no politician gets all your views right. We have to make compromises in our lives all the time, and supporting politicians is an area where no one can walk without compromise.
Ta-Nehisi Coates took this up yesterday, continuing a conversation he’s been having about Ron Paul (among other things), in a post titled Saviorism. Coates speaks candidly about what it means to support Obama (citing Glenn Greenwald), what it means to support Paul, and what compromises he cannot make. Here’s Coates:
In this democracy we take the things we like about a candidate, weigh them against the things we don’t and then compare them to the field. Calculations, even among ostensible allies differ. This is understandable. In that vein, it is not the fact of supporting Ron Paul that gives me angst–it is the notion that his long record of statements on minorities (from the newsletters to the King holiday to the TSA workers) somehow have very little political import or meaning.
I obviously like a lot of what Ron Paul says on the drug war, on wars period, on national security policy. But I can’t really support a president who is dangerously ignorant of the basic facts of American history (watch the video.) I can’t ever support a president who is pro-life. (I have explained why here.) I can’t ever support a president who thinks America would have been better without the Civil Rights Act. To be blunt, I just don’t have that luxury.
I like this. This is the kind of honesty that is lacking in the theater we put on in American Politics (and often at TRC). At the end of the day, disaffected liberals, can you support Obama or not? Can evangelicals put off by Romney come to support him or not? We weigh these things constantly, and we come out somewhere on the scale. Some people rationalize such a compromise, and make an acceptable candidate the longed for savior of the Nation. Obviously this occurred with Candidate Obama, but it was not new to 2008. Why put such effort in? Anyone in politics is going to have baggage, is going to have a different view than you on some of your important issues. At least, if they are honest, they should. And we all stick to our guns when we have to. At least, if we are honest, we should.
For example: A lot of people could never, ever vote for a candidate that is pro-choice. Abortion, for a lot of Americans, is the end-all issue. But those voters will often support candidates who favor capital punishment. I don’t get that. I find that highly contradictory. But I don’t really have to get it. Why does that matter in their political worldview?
Likewise, I wouldn’t vote for a candidate that supports bringing religion into government in a way that blurs the already too blurry lines between church and state. Someone that further creates a theological argument for educational policy, or wants to see religious beliefs enshrined in constitutional amendments. That’s a line I wouldn’t cross. Well, probably. If I’m honest with myself in the voting booth, it still might come down to who the alternative is.
At a recent birthday party for Mrs. TRC, I had a loud argument about how dissatisfied I am with President Obama’s eagerness to engage in military conflict, especially in the use of unmanned drones to bomb nations where people live, but don’t get on television. I find that a terrible practice. But I can support Obama for president, and write about why I admire his presidency, and support his reelection. I am perfectly content holding those two positions at the same time. Because Obama was never going to be a savior, and he was not the prophet of a new America. If you thought he was, that is as much your own fault as it is his. You chose to ignore the political, and actual reality of life: the world is really fucking complicated, and we have to live in it anyways.
As Coates puts it: Those are my calculations. You have your own to make. I urge you to them with wide-eyes, without equivocation and minimization of your candidates flaws, and away from expectations of prophecy and the messianic. All the prophets are dead.