Thursday, March 11, 2010
Back in the late 80s, Florida's governor was a Republican named Bob Martinez. He accomplished a couple of inarguably laudable goals while in office, but about half-way through his tenure he kind of seemed to go off the rails. In addition to implementing a controversial new tax -- which as we all know is strictly verboten under the GOP charter -- he fought to restrict abortion, tried to go on an execution spree to indiscriminately clear out Florida's death row, and, most memorably, pushed to have 2 Live Crew's idiotic album As Nasty As They Wanna Be declared obscene and therefore outlawed.
Needless to say, Martinez was swiftly run out of office the first chance voters got.
Here's the thing, though: While I strongly disagreed with just about everything Martinez did, and did just about everything I could to get him replaced, I had to sort of respect him. Once he began going really far-right, his approval numbers plummeted, and yet in spite of this he persevered -- he just kept right on pushing forward with his astonishingly unpopular and ideologic agenda. He did this, I have to assume, because he truly believed in it. (Either that or he ran out of medication two years into his term and couldn't find an open Walgreens.) For Bob Martinez, doing what he considered to be right was the most important thing -- even if it meant career suicide.
Now before anybody mouths off and starts lobbing questions as to why I can respect somebody like Martinez for sticking to his convictions while berating, say, George W. Bush for ostensibly doing the same, it's because there wasn't a moment that I can remember when Martinez didn't accept full responsibility for the unpopular stances he was taking; Bush on the other hand did everything he could to have it both ways -- to pull all kinds of repugnant demagoguery, then obfuscate, misdirect and generally pass the buck in an effort not to take responsibility for the shit-pile he'd created.
The point of all of this, though, is that standing by the courage of your beliefs is important; it's typically the simplest form of nobility.
But it's equally courageous to recognize when those beliefs are bearing no fruit whatsoever and are, in fact, doing more harm than good.
Which brings us to Dennis Kucinich.
I realize that right now many on the left are really ganging up on poor Kucinich (the right, meanwhile has always laughed him off, maybe with good reason) because of his stand against the current Democratic health care reform bill. Kucinich is pushing to scrap the bill because, in his mind, it simply doesn't go far enough in achieving the Great Progressive Utopia he and those like him believe this country can and should one day be. I've said quite a few times recently that this form of black-and-white, all-or-nothing politics from either side does little to actually benefit the country, since the political process itself has always been about a certain amount of compromise: One side pushes, the other side pushes back, the two sides meet at some reasonable proximity to the middle with the knowledge that some satisfaction is better than none at all.
This couldn't be more true than when it comes to the health care debate -- when millions of lives are at stake. Holding out for perfection, accepting nothing less, will get people killed this time around. Kucinich should realize that. Yes, you have to be a guy with ideals -- but you also have to be effective as a legislator.
As Salon points out today, Kucinich is really only one of these.
This is from his bio:
"In Congress, Kucinich has authored and co-sponsored legislation to create a national health care system, preserve Social Security, lower the costs of prescription drugs, provide economic development through infrastructure improvements, abolish the death penalty, provide universal prekindergarten to all 3, 4, and 5 year olds, create a Department of Peace, regulate genetically engineered foods, repeal the USA PATRIOT Act, and provide tax relief to working class families."
Notice how not one of the above pieces of legislation ever came to fruition. In fact, as Salon goes on to describe, of the 97 bills Kucinich has sponsored in the past 13 years, only three have become law. One of those was a bill "to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 14500 Lorain Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio as the 'John P. Gallagher Post Office Building.'" Important stuff, obviously.
I've talked about this lately to the point where I'm blue in the face: An extreme point of view is typically its own worst enemy. It doesn't matter how noble your cause may be -- it's absolutely meaningless if you can't actually do anything about it. Ideals without results of any kind are essentially worthless.
And when it comes to this particular issue -- reforming our broken health care system -- it's not just impractical and unthinkably stupid to stand in the way of major progress in favor of holding out for some legislative Shangri-la; it's flat-out immoral.
As with Bob Martinez all those years ago, I can respect Kucinich's stand, but there's no way in hell I can support it.