The Strong and Slow Boring of Hard Boards

Chris Hayes said something quite inspirational yesterday about the need to stop trying to route ourselves around mountains and instead just dynamite through them. It was a good line, but like Nick Beaudrot I have my doubts that this willpower-centric approach to politics accurately describes the situation:


If the 2010 midterms go extremely well, Democrats might end up with as many Senate seats as they had at the peak of the Great Society. And that will likely be the high water mark for Democrats for quite some time. Yes, some of those Dixiecrats were incredibly conservative, but that was also an age during which liberal Republicans existed. Therefore I’m fairly certain that LBJ actually had better conditions for passing his agenda than Obama does today.

Ultimately, as Weber said politics is about “the strong and slow boring of hard boards.” The conservative movement in its current state is virtually impossible to collaborate with constructively on public policy questions. And the American political system in its current state allows relatively small minorities to block progressive legislation. But continued involvement in electoral politics can lead to the continued defeat of conservative Republicans at the polls, or else to a situation in which the GOP finds itself nominating more candidates who less relentlessly hostile to progressive ideas. It can also lead to the defeat of not-so-progressive Democrats by more progressive ones. And there’s a lot of scope for reform of American political institutions.

The process of creating change just requires a sort of realism and gritty determination, that neither gets too discouraged when things don’t work out nor too complacent about the fact that things keep not working out. The movement that gave us Medicare and Medicaid was aiming at universal health care; they wound up falling far short of that goal and yet those of us fighting for that same goal today look back at the scale of their achievement with envy and wonder, hoping to emulate it.