Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Overriding Significance of Political Fortitude

Although most Americans don't call themselves liberal, they like most liberal policies.  When polled about policies without the label “liberal” attached, they support greater income equality, higher taxes for the rich, controlling the banks, and strong Social Security, Medicare, and education. They even support more foreign aid than we currently give (although they don’t know it), and they think it is time our wars should come to an end.  Despite these policy preferences, many people buy into conservative rhetoric and liberal-bashing because that's all they ever hear - and that's all they ever hear because the center-left establishment doesn't display the fortitude to vocally stand up for its purported beliefs.  In the end, all we really have to do is confidently argue for our principles, repeatedly and effectively, until they sink in.  Democracy has the strength of numbers, when it has the stamina to remain united against propaganda and internal division.
Political fortitude in the public debate is critically important because it is ultimately necessary to making and keeping the world fit for human habitation, socially, politically, and environmentally.  How our side conducts itself determines, in the long run, whether it wins or loses the ideological struggle.  It determines the shape of the political conditions in which workaday political battles are fought, and determines whether tactical wins accumulate into strategic victory or whether we keep winning battles but lose the war.  In the long run, the side with the most political fortitude wins.  And the winning side gets to determine what policies are enshrined into law and put into practice, and that in turn determines who gets rich and who gets poor, who has power and has none, and even who gets to live and who has to die.  I am not being hyperbolic: whether grandma continues to get her Social Security check, whether a sick father gets life-saving medical care, whether regular people prosper or struggle, whether bloody wars of choice are fought or not, even whether civilization survives climate change, all depend on how long and hard and courageously we are willing to fight, politically, for our principles.  Political calculation can achieve none of it.  Whether the Left develops strength and sterness or whether it continues to appease, capitulate, and cede ground is going to determine to a great degree the kind of world we and our children will live in.
The main barriers to achieving social justice are the Right's resistance and our own lack of political will.  Political fortitude - political strength and stamina - will help to overcome both barriers.  If the Left does not develop this virtue, then it will continue to lose, I guarantee it. 
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By courage I mean the moral courage to speak up for right principles even in the face of being criticized or mocked, and the physical courage to march, protest, and strike when called to do so.  By vigilance I mean always being on the lookout for the tactics and strategems of the Right in its efforts to strip common people of their rights and prosperity.  By relentlessness I mean pressing the cause of justice without letting up because of physical or psychic weariness, or the temptations of comfort or power, or even momentary sympathy for an opponent.  By audacity I mean swiftly and decisively exploiting opportunities to win left-wing victories on values, processes, and policies.  All of this flows from being focused on principles of democracy and justice and letting those principles motivate and guide you.  Let democracy give you bravery and determination.

Taking political action according to this manner of doing things requires developing certain habits of thinking, emoting, and acting, that is, habits of character, that promote the cause of justice.  These can come out of habits that we practice in our personal lives.  I had said, “Political fortitude means having the stamina, steadfastness, loyalty, optimism, and faith to stand and fight for - and vote for - proven principles.”  When I speak of stamina I mean the physical and mental habit of sticking with a task until it is fully completed, even when you are tired or want to quit.  Stamina also means keeping a long-term view in mind, even when engaged in a short-term task, so that you can properly orient immediate actions and bring them to effective completion.  Steadfastness is the habit of sticking to principled action even in the face of temptations for profit or gain by compromising them, and choosing strategic victory over random, unfocused, and fleeting tactical gains.  Loyalty is the habit of standing by people of good will on your side of the political divide, even when they've done something wrong, in order to prevent the Right from sewing division and in order to increase our own collective strength through unfailing mutual support and trust.  Optimism is remembering that good things can and do happen to our side too, and that we can in fact achieve the full slate of our goals in short order, meaning a handful of years.  Faith is knowing and believing that a good strategy combined with unity, stamina, and courage will win ultimate victory in the end, even when losses have been suffered, when defeat seems imminent, and when things seem darkest.
Those last two qualities, optimism and faith, are perhaps the most important: if we do not even try for fear of failing to succeed, then we are certain to lose.  There is no chance of winning without first trying, and so much has been lost because the center-left establishment keeps limiting itself to what it believes to be “politically possible,” not understanding that this, too, can change.  This is the logic of the self-fulfilling prophecy, and that is something that political courage and confidence, as civic virtues, can overcome. 

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