Saturday, April 7, 2012

Why are so many liberals uncomfortable with success?

How often have you heard a liberal say something along the lines of "never underestimate the ability of Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory." It feels like a pretty common refrain to me. And as Obama currently has the advantage in the presidential sweepstakes, I'm hearing it again.

But it doesn't just come up in regards to campaigns. For example, it was also the defacto response from poutragers following the debt ceiling deal. Even when President Obama and Democrats had managed to include some of the most dramatic cuts to defense spending we've ever seen as part of the sequester if the Super Committee failed (which it did), the line was/is that they will somehow succumb to Republican pressure to reinstate them without exacting a price.

I scratch my head so often at all of this. Its as if our team is more comfortable preparing for defeat than advocating for if we'd rather be on the outside complaining than on the inside getting what we want.

Its a way to keep your distance rather than put any "skin in the game." In other words, its protection against being disappointed. Its cynicism run amok.

What's the alternative? To borrow from poker - it means going "all in." Putting your heart and soul on the line for what you believe in and being prepared to deal the or lose. Teddy Roosevelt said it best.

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.


  1. Well, you beat me to the punch. I do have it in my head to write on this subject, but haven't yet. Partially I'm busy, but it would be good to.

    I think that it's not just a liberal thing, but a white thing. I'm sort of feeling my way around this. The whole discourse in white identity around purity, etc. Then, there's also the point that the white liberal critics to whom you allude are themselves very much creatures in their everyday life of the system. They critique it to sustain it, that the system becomes a system that sustains critique. Indeed, the whole point, in terms of systemic functionality of this critique is that nothing ever happens as a result. The functional lesson is that there is no point in criticising anything.

    I read a bit in Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon yesterday about what appeared to me to be the immediate success of the French Revolution of 1848:

    "Having secured it arms in hand, the proletariat impressed its stamp upon it and proclaimed it to be a social republic. There was thus indicated the general content of the modern revolution, a content which was in most singular contradiction to everything that, with the material available, with the degree of education attained by the masses, under the given circumstances and relations, could be immediately realized in practice."

    This applies to privileged white liberal euphoria in Nov. 2008. I don't think that people of color were or are under any illusions about what Marx refers to as "the material available." The Greenwalds of the world--I refer to the type and not so much the man--imagine that things went wrong in the US in 2000, or 2001, or 2003. Obviously, that's nonsense, and when high-flown rhetoric and aspirations--lots of magical thinking--didn't produce the anticipated millennium, lots of our fair-weather friends packed up their tents and went back to their neighborhoods. That, or they flipped to the other side of their rhetorical coin and where they had pinned their self-congratulatory hope on Obama they now directed their disappointed venom.


    1. I sure hope you'll continue to write about it. You just took it WAY deeper than I have.

      I decided that I could talk about liberal discomfort with success. But I think that a big part of it is discomfort with power. In other words, what does power mean? We've grown so accustomed to seeing its evil manifestations. But its also necessary for doing good.

    2. I am a white liberal. My policy desires are about as far to the left as you can imagine. It hasn't kept me from loathing every bit of the attitude to be found among the Greenwalds and firebaggers.

      I am also a pragmatist and a realist. I recognize that the president gets no votes on the passage of bills in congress. I am not angry at him for failing to kidnap and clone Ben Nelson with someone who actually votes like a democrat.

      I am proud of him for succeeding in the art of the possible. He has been willing to fold, and bend, and add to and take away from bills in order to build enough support to pass bills (like our system was designed to encourage). He has ALWAYS been successful in outwitting the opposition in these negotiations too. I have no interest in watching beautiful dream bills with no chance of getting enough votes die along with aspirations of making any progress. I will happily take 2nd and 6 instead of 2 and 10, followed by 3rd and 10, followed by 4th and 10, followed by turnover on downs.

      I guess my gripe is that "white liberals" casts a net that traps me in with a group that I don't much care for.

    3. I wondered whether I should have put in the "I don't mean all white liberals" line, but decided against it. Judgement call, and maybe an imperfect one. I am not sure that if you're a liberal that your policy goals are as far left as I can imagine. Are you in fact a socialist?

    4. SP--I wonder if part of the problem is that white liberals tend to personalize things that are systemic and relational that power, which is a relationship, becomes terrifying? Greenwald certainly seems to want to maintain his personal purity, among other things.

      Poor G

    5. cont....

      Poor Greenwald has become a type.

      I won't lose sleep over it.

    6. I find myself agreeing with Senator Sanders quite a bit.

    7. Bill - I'm not sure I know what you mean about personalizing systemic and relational power. Can you say more about that?

      The way I've always thought about it is that too many people equate power with dominance and force. In other words, power over others. The one kind of power they miss is the only kind they really have - their own personal power. And when that is joined by others - you get power with rather than power over.

      But I don't know. I also think there's way more to it than that. There is a sense of inadequacy from folks like Greenwald that absolutely oozes out at me through all their bluster.

    8. Well, I think that the problem is that people think a matter is about them as an individual when it's really about a relationship between them and others and how all of us relate to each other, with all the inequalities that entails.

      I am aware that some might see this as "human nature," but referring to human nature seems to me to be the sort of deus ex machina of political analysis. When someone's really coming up short, it's "human nature." Really, I think that this self-focus, and worse a self-focus on personal qualities, is very typically white and white liberal above all.

      I don't mean to come off as judgemental, because, believe me, I've been through it all and it's precisely by naming this stuff that I make some headway trying to pass through it.

      You nailed it when you point out that people like Greenwald have a sense of inadequacy. The only thing white people hate more than each other is themselves. That's the truth. Why? Because they (we) don't allow themselves the language to call things as they are. "What, I'm white and I'm still this miserable? I must be no good." The line should be, "damn, this capitalism is really screwing me good." Greenwald won't deal with capitalism, so it's about any number of other things. The self-hatred is there but like you indicate it is not explicitly put, just oozed out.

    9. Lockewasright, you picked a good guy to agree with. Your name should be debswasright, I say.

  2. Smartypants, I think you captured it when you said:Its a way to keep your distance rather than put any "skin in the game." In other words, its protection against being disappointed. Its cynicism run amok.
    It's my opinion that many of these type of librals are in love with failure, all the more so to maintain their purity and protest hustle. That way, you don't have to actually work for your high minded beliefs, better to pretend to be a 'political junkie' and engage in 'not-good enough'-ism.

  3. Perhaps another wrinkle.

    And, I understand that you're posing a question to a lonnng standing issue with the Left. I, also, like what ebogan 63 is positing. So, alla that, and, currently, this....

    As you point out, Ms. Pants, it would mean goin' "all in". In the current state of affairs, then, that would mean goin' "all in" - with the black guy. And, if these folk were to do that, that would mean that they'd have to be alright with black leadership. Now, that miiiiight/do be a problem (they'd HOWL about this, but it's really quite clear).

    We, of course, know that the Right isn't gonna like him and they are makin' that more plain by the day. But, and it continues, the people on the Left who believe that they know better than he does and the frequency with which they think it is their appointed duty to tell him that, still, in essence, THEY run the show....

  4. ebogan63 here.

    Blackman, I was gonna 'go there' but you beat me to it

    1. Hey, ebogan63

      I've seen you at several of the spots I like to frequent and note that your tendency is to "bring it". Your perspectives are much appreciated.

  5. I just want to say to those who've commented above that I have the most intelligent commenters on the internet!

  6. Yeah, well, Ms. Pants, you know...

    Leadership and thang and do...

  7. and then there's all of the firebaggers, the we-know-better-than-that-idiot-Obama-what-to-do, etc.. Those folks have a vested interest in Obama losing, so they are trying to create an echo-chamber/self-fulfilling zomgobamaislosing narrative.

  8. I think a big part of the problem is how so many define defeat. It's an all or nothing type of mentality that loses the big picture.

    It's more important to fight the good fight than to actually help people. They hate the fact that they didn't get single payer (even though there was no chance of it ever happening with the last Congress) and the miss the part that not only are there going to be 30+ million more people with coverage but it also changes the conversation around healthcare in this country. Now government is responsible to ensure every one has access to health care. That's a big deal, all by it's self.

    So if you define success as getting everything you want and anything else as defeat, you're going to feel defeated every time with our system of government.

    We can't view it that way.

    The good news is that there is enough of us in the pragmatic group to offset them as long as we speak up and out.

    (forgiving him for his frequent transgressions)

    Joe Andrew of Indiana wrote this quite long letter carefully explaining why it was time to move in new directions and time to embrace Candidate Obama. I was very moved by his analysis and wanted to share it. Somewhere it seems some democrats lost the whole reason why it was important to the nation to elect PBO.

    We still struggle to get back to that clarity! I hold out hope that we will regain the clarity and move this nation forward.