The czar works for the Kossacks (aka why we don't need leaders to save us)

By Martin Bosworth

In the middle of a post ruminating on the looming flameout of Barack Obama’s campaign, Kos makes a point I’ve been dying to hear from one of the bigwigs of Blogistan:

Obama isn’t the be-all savior for what ails our country. No one is. If there’s a message I thought we were successfully delivering in the netroots is that it was up to US to move this country in the right direction since we couldn’t depend on our so-called “leaders”. This sort of hero worship of several of our candidates (Edwards, Obama, and even Hillary) is somewhat creepy to begin with, but serves little more than to set up the inevitable disappointment. And when your hero turns out to be not so perfect after all, clinging to that fiction can’t possibly reflect well on you. Understand that these candidates are all human, thus imperfect. Understand that they have free will, thus will do things you will disagree with. And that’s okay. Politics is about weighing the good and the bad and going with the best we have. There is no such thing as “perfect” in this biz. Feel free to rationalize every stupid thing your candidate does, but don’t expect the rest of us to go along with it. All of the Democrats have done stupid things and smart things. I mean, Chris Dodd announced his candidacy on Don Imus, for chrissakes. And yes, when they do those stupid things, some of us will be right there talking about how stupid those things are.

Exactly. This may be difficult to parse, but I’ll try to make sense of it–while it’s unreasonable to expect perfection from a politician or candidate, it is not unreasonable to demand perfection, at least in as much as you can expect pols and candidates to do their jobs and stand up for the things they claim to believe in.

Kos uses Chris Dodd as an example, so I will too. The surge in “Doddmentum” for his campaign thanks to his challenge to Bush and Harry Reid over FISA didn’t happen solely due to his own efforts, impressive though they were–it happened due to thousands of people calling his office, e-mailing him, and demanding he stand up. That’s the true expression of democracy in action–an involved, committed, and interested public telling their leaders what they want to see happen, and the leaders responding to those concerns. Representative democracy has a tendency to make us lazy, and expect that the politicians we elect will ignore the massive institutional forces weighing on them (internal politics, campaign contributors, media reporting) and do what’s right, by golly. Uh-uh. These people need to hear it from us again, and again, and again, consistently. Otherwise our voices–and our issues–will be pushed to the back of the bus far behind lobbyists, consultants, and other paid flacks of the political world.

And what about Barack Obama, a candidate whose message of hope transfixed millions and got them involved in his race? That’s another example–because people were so keyed in to the myth of Obama as the conscientious, compassionate, and above all, leaderly savior, it makes it all the more jarring when he does dumb shit like letting a rampant homophobic bigot talk trash at a fundraiser. That’s the same kind of tone-deafness he demonstrated when I called him out for being so dismissive of Chinese manufacturing concerns at a time when millions of products made in China are being recalled for defects.

And yet, when the pressure gets put on Obama–when people ignore his aura of fatherly leadership and get right in his face about where he stands–he listens. He joined Dodd in supporting a filibuster of FISA when and the blogs put pressure on. He put out a stronger message opposing the confirmation of Mukasey as AG when his earlier “non-public” message didn’t get enough traction. And at a time when net neutrality issues are front and center thanks to rampant corporate stupidity, Obama came out strongly supporting the concept on the record at his MTV town hall.

Does a good decision outweigh or undo a bad decision? No. You have to judge any candidate or elected official by the whole of their accomplishments or principles. George W. Bush sucks, for instance, because the litany of bad decisions he’s made so utterly outweighs the good that a balanced view is nigh-impossible to achieve. Obama’s lost a lot of goodwill and support from people that would otherwise be backing him, but he can get it back if he listens. Dodd listened to the people and was rewarded as a result. It’s not a difficult concept to figure out–hear what your people are saying, listen to them, and don’t assume that you know what’s right.

In turn, it’s our job to get out there and remind people that they work for us. We can’t wait for leadership to be demonstrated. We have to forge the leaders we need in the crucible of conflict, discussion, negotiation, and idea exchange. We’ve had seven years of a president who cares nothing for what anyone thinks beyond his own inner circle of stooges, sycophants, and manipulators. Compared to that, I’ll take a president who makes crappy decisions, listens to people telling them that they’re crappy, and makes better decisions as a result.

8 replies »

  1. Well said, Martin. And who’d a thunk Kos could be so insightful? 😉

    Seriously, the message you bear here is one America needs shoved down its throat like a Geico ad campaign. Now if we only had Madison Ave at our disposal….

    Or you were a gecko or caveman…. 😉

  2. Y’know, I’ve started to reply about three different times. I had a good one about the Cheers show where Frazier bet that he could get Woody Boyd elected to office. But then I realized this as already happened in reality.

    Every 4 years, I think the political field for president couldn’t get worse. Every 4 years, I’m proven wrong. Yes, people have to demand better from the candidates. But even when they do and say, oh for instance, Democrats are voted in, then we find out they’re not really gonna change anything, and in fact, it’s more of the same. No wonder half the people don’t vote. Gimme a Woody Boyd-kinda candidate and I’ll get ’em elected.

    No, I’m convinced there needs to be a new system and an overall change in the structure of government. Today the United States isn’t united. And as long as corporations wield the influence they do today, nothing will likely change. In fact, things will get worse and worse and worse, until they can’t get worse. Then things will change.

  3. What kind of structural change? I’d be interested to hear your ideas. If you’ve already explained them at length elsewhere, a link would be fine.

  4. Ann, I’ll have another post later today, but this is what Dee Hock, founder of VISA International, said about 5-10 years ago.

    “We do not have a health care problem. We do not have an educational problem, a welfare problem, an environmental problem or an economic problem. They are symptom not disease. At bottom, we have an institutional problem, and until we properly diagnose and deal with it, societal problems will get progressively worse. There is simply no way to govern the diversity and complexity of twenty first century society with eighteenth century concepts of organization. Efforts to reinvent government are laudable, but they are not enough. We must reconceive the fundamental nature of governance itself.”

    “The Puritan Gift” by William and Kenneth Hopper is on my book list to read.

  5. I think I’d start by revising or rewriting the existing constitution and the bill of rights. We have 200+ years of experience and now would be a good time to put it to use.

    And these are a top few of the people living today I’d like to see help draft it.

    – Haynes Johnson
    – Jerry Brown
    – Bill Clinton
    – Alan Simpson
    – Barack Obama
    – Steve Jobs
    – Noam Chomsky
    – Jack Stack
    – Amitai Etzioni
    – Warren Beatty
    – Amy Goodman
    – Paul Krugman
    – Some people from Europe, Asia, the Mid-East, Africa, and a few other countries.

  6. warren beatty? really?

    how about…..

    dennis kucinich
    robert reich
    bill moyers
    russ feingold

    just my two cents.

  7. Warren Beaty did play Dick Tracy. I think that should count for something. 😉

    Your other choices are good. I’d prolly pass on Reich.

    I’d add George Soros to my list too in place of Obama. Maybe David McCullough, Garry Wills, and Howard Zinn too.