Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This is what democracy really looks like

Guest post by Nicholas Wilbur 

Nicholas Wilbur is an award-winning reporter and opinion columnist turned political junkie and critic. He is the founder of the blog Muddy Politics and lives in New Mexico.

(Ed. note: This is Nicholas's fourth guest post for us. You can find his first two, both on the Obama-GOP tax deal, here and here. You can find his third, on the potential for revolution, here. -- MJWS)


Nothing is perfect. Life is unfair. And politics is a dirty business.

Between the filibusters, debates, and votes on Capitol Hill this week, American politics embodied all that is true and beautiful – and unfair and ugly – about the processes of Washington politics. This week was a microcosm of exactly what Democracy looks like. It was a week of negotiations and compromise, of political maneuvering and allegiance fortifying, of sharp-tongued criticisms and heartfelt praises. It was a week that could have turned a Bible-thumping teetotaler into whiskey-latte slurping lush by breakfast.

To the chagrin of bleeding-heart liberals across the country, President Obama on Friday signed what some have dubbed "The Great Tax Deal of 2010," a bill extending unemployment benefits and tax cuts for all Americans, including the rich, and to the detriment of the national deficit. To the chagrin of all but the GOP, the Senate this week failed to pass the DREAM Act, which would have given children of illegal immigrants a path toward citizenship. And to the chagrin of those who believe discrimination is protected by the United States Constitution, Congress this week repealed a 17-year-old policy that prohibited gays from openly serving in the military.

Americans no longer must lie about who they are in order to fight on the battlefield for the freedoms awarded to them in the Constitution but kept from them, until this weekend, by lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The American middle class must no longer worry about a tax increase come January 1 at a time when jobs are scarce, incomes are low, and economic security is all but certain.

But Americans also must face another several years, if not more, of political squabbling, maneuvering, and states-rights propagandizing of never-popular immigration reform proposals.

For the true patriots of life, liberty, equality, and justice, this week was as encouraging as it was discouraging, as disappointing and disheartening as it was productive and exciting. Democracy failed them, and the critics were quick to denounce all those who impeded the manifestation of their idealism. Liberals denounced the president, and Tea Partiers denounced the GOP. And then Democracy provided a path that reinforced the maxim, "to each his own" – granting conservatives the denial of immigration reform, and liberals the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

It was a roller-coaster ride of celebration and mourning, a simultaneous rekindling of hope, and a reminder that armchair strategists and social network site activists can achieve only so much when it comes to real progressive change. It was, above all, a call to action.

Again, this is what Democracy looks like.

It looks like President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell negotiating a tax deal that neither side can fully support, and which a small but vocal group of constituents on both sides claim, vehemently, is the straw that broke the camel's back come 2012. It looks like pissed off Hispanics being denied, yet again, a path toward citizenship. It looks like average Americans rejoicing because they needn’t hide their lifestyles in order to defend their flag. And when it plays out on Fox News, it looks like a Capitol Hill cockfight between ideology and idiocy – which it is.

But again, this is what Democracy looks like.

Celebrate the victories, mourn the defeats, and wake up tomorrow to fight another day, and another and another – until America is the country that can rise above the stalemated bureaucracy that we've seen it become in recent years; until America can reclaim its beacon of light status in the world by attracting industry instead of outsourcing careers, and by encouraging intelligence – in discourse and debate – instead of rewarding indigence, ignorance and incorrigibility.

We saw this week that when we work toward Democracy, when the stars and stripes align in spite of ideological differences, Democracy works for us. In the weeks, months and years ahead, perhaps it can work better.

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