This subject came up today in two wildly different contexts, so it clearly deserves a blog post.
Barney Frank has fired both barrels at the members of the LGBT community who are attacking Congress, and him, for dropping transgendered people from a job discrimination bill. His point is that they can pass the bill with job protection "only" for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, but if they include transgender people, it will be one step too far for some of the votes they need, and they won't get any job protection at all.
Mark Morford's column today dealt with the fringe responses he's gotten from people to his recent column which was mainly (but not entirely) enthusiastic about Whole Foods, which he feels on balance has added more to the grocery business in the U.S. than it has subtracted, even though not everything it sells is organic, and the takeover of Wild Oats may be uncompetitive, and yes, it is anti-union.
Both of these articles are worth reading. I particularly enjoyed Morford's comparison of the complaints he got from the extreme left about Whole Foods (Whole Foods is terrible, they drive mom-and-pop stores out of business, their takeover of Wild Oats used questionable tactics, etc. etc.) to the responses of the extreme fundamentalist right, for whom no intermediate prohibition of things they object to (ban all abortions!) is ever enough. Barney Frank (who didn't write the article) is a rare case of a working politician giving the extremists in his own constituency (yeah, he officially represents Massachusetts, but on gay rights he's pretty much The Gay Congressman) some realistic feedback about the impossibility of their demands.
Both of these situations remind me of a mother telling her five year old, "You may have a single ice cream cone but no, you may not have a double, and stop yelling or you won't get anything."
There's a mind-set out there, and you find it in all sorts of groups, for whom the perfect is the enemy of the good. If we can't get every single negotiating point on the list, we have lost the battle; BUT, we stuck to our guns, and so we are Morally Superior. Even if we haven't accomplished one single thing we set out to do.
They can't prioritize, and they can't compromise. They can't see that (in Barney Frank's example) it's a good thing to get protection against job discrimination for gays, and lesbians, and bisexuals; and maybe even when that's been in place for a while and the world hasn't ended, we can go back and try to add transgender people to it. In the Morford example, they can't accept that an organization is Good (or at least, Not Evil) unless they agree with every single action it takes.
When I married my husband, 20-odd years ago, he was politically active in the Sierra Club. I remember him complaining at the time that there was a small group of people in the Club who would rather go down in flames ("the boy stood on the burning deck") than yield one single minor point on their agenda. I don't know how many of those people are still there; all he does with the Sierra Club now is go on hikes.
Politics is the art of compromise, folks; this is what Barney Frank is trying to say. You can't always get everything you want, the first time you try, or even the fourth or fifth. And you can't get anything without giving something. I own a detective story, in which a large business is negotiating a contract with a foreign government. This business includes, in every proposal, at least one item which is there for the purpose of being given up, so as to be able to stand firm on the stuff they really want. Now, that's negotiation.
I don't like negotiation; I don't do it especially well. But by God, I understand it. The problem with the Christian fundamentalists is that they believe God is on their side. I don't know who the lefties think is on their side - Gaia? The Goddess? The Flying Spaghetti Monster? But all of these absolutists take these stances because They Are Morally Right, and therefore they can't give up a single item because it Would Be Wrong.
We will never get anywhere that way, folks.