Friday, October 12, 2007

Down in Flames

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.


  1. Anonymous9:22 PM

    There are times to compromise, as Barney Frank makes abundantly clear, and there are times not to compromise, as when Bush wants to start another war.

    Ultimately, if you don't fight smart, don't bother to fight at all. I think the most tragic example of what happens when people go the purist route is the 2000 election. Not only did the voters for Nader not get what they wanted, they kept the rest of us from getting Al Gore instead of George Bush. And the same will apply in 2008, when smart people will vote for whoever the Democratic candidate is, and then when that person wins, hold her or his feet to the fire on the issues that actually matter, remembering that we have no influence whatsoever on the Republican machine and its leader except when we unelect them. Democrats, on the other hand, are not an impervious political machine, nor are they monolithic or inclined toward lockstep voting.

    Because of the realities of politics in America, I will not compromise on the issue of voting Democrat until we have instant runoffs, and then I can vote for the candidate who most closely mirrors my political views and for the Democrat I prefer, if those two are not the same. The last Republican I would consider voting for is probably Teddy Roosevelt, but mostly after he left that black hole of corporate control of government. Ditto Weicker and Jeffords, who both found they had to leave the Republican machine.

    In answer to your question, hedera, the Flying Spaghetti Monster rules! I mean what's not revere about Pastafarianism?

    Anonymous David

  2. Anonymous David, you're perfectly right, of course. I've never quite forgiven myself for voting for John Anderson in 1980. I felt he was the best man; and I helped throw the election to Ronald Reagan. Of course, given that Reagan won that election with a margin not seen since (at least in the electoral vote; but even in the popular vote, he had a plurality), it probably didn't really matter, but it taught me a lesson about Presidential politics.

    I learned a really sad thing researching that statement about the electoral vote. There's a site,, which will give you a quick overview of all the elections, including the electoral and popular vote breakdowns. For the last 2 elections they haven't bothered to list the electoral college vote; there isn't a link to a page with the graph. Sort of drives the point home, doesn't it?

    At the moment I'm watching the Democrats closely, hoping none of them decides to split off and challenge Hillary as a 3rd party candidate. My take is, in the Democratic primaries we can vote for the best man, which I still think is Barack Obama (because of his outsider status and lack of national experience) and then we all have to stand firm behind the candidate. Which looks like being Hillary.

    Don't hold your breath on instant runoff voting at the national level. Ain't gonna happen.

    Frankly I still prefer the Lobster to the Noodly One but wasn't sure the audience here would get the reference.

  3. Anonymous6:39 PM

    Yeah, ultimately The Lobster rules.

    I'm going with John Edwards as my first choice among the frontrunners, but I really liked what I read in both of Obama's books.

    Bob Graham had an appropriate precept: in the primary, we fall in love with a candidate; in the general election, we fall behind the nominee. Or as my sweetie said yesterday, "I don't care if it's a dead horse, I'm voting for the Democrat." I do think we are at the point that one either votes for the Democrat, shortcomings and all, or one just doesn't vote, which then concedes the decision to others. I don't buy the "above the muck of politics" stance - we are a civil body politic, and whatever elected officials do, it is in our names. Changing babies isn't particularly clean, either, but you gotta do it.

    Anonymous David

  4. I agree with your sweetie on the dead horse, but I thought it was yaller dogs that Southerners were supposed to vote for, instead of Republicans...

  5. I sometimes hate to admit it, but it was those officious and tireless minorities who did all the heavy lifting in the union who paved the way for my own fair treatment when I fell afoul of the party line back when I worked for the government. People should realize that the harbingers of reasonable change often aren't the great unwashed majority, but the weirdos and crazies and stubborn ones. They often do the dirty work in the trenches, so the rest of us can benefit by their courage.

    I'm not talking about compromise here, either. We really need the radicals with their unyielding agendas and fervant dedication. We NEED the David Browers and Noel Perrins of this world. Without them, we're just a pack of apathetic camp followers with no issues in the fire.

  6. Thanks, Anon Dave for reminding me about Hedera's site. We've been so pre-occupied with setting up our site, and finding content, well, I just damn well forgot. I'll get Tammy to side-link.

    And a good post, Hedera. I wasn't aware of the contremps with Barney Frank.

    And I will be voting for whatever Dem is running next year, even if it is Satan running under his own name.

  7. Anonymous8:41 PM

    I agree with a great deal of what has been posted. Now, who is the Supreme Court voting for?

  8. Curtis, I can't disagree with you about the officious and tireless minorities who gave us such useful things as the 5 day work week and the 8 hour day, not to mention paid sick leave and the Clean Air Act. But the weirdos and crazies are a two edged sword: the same enthusiasm is behind Operation Rescue, and the Phelps clan from Kansas that picketed a high school prom in the Central Valley because the school had a Gay-Straight Alliance. Nobody ever said there would be easy answers.

    SeattleDan, your remark about Satan running under his own name reminds me of a bumper sticker which a former colleague of mine had in his cube:

    Vote for Chthulu - Why Settle for the Lesser Evil?

    Welcome back, boggart, we missed you; and I wish I knew who the Supremes are voting for. Keep in mind that they only become a problem in a hung election; they can't do a thing about a landslide.

  9. Anonymous6:03 PM

    It is a yellow dog, hedera (I think we pronounce it somewhere between yella and yellow because it comes before dog), but my sweetie had a horse that lived to be 43, so I think she was probably thinking Apache, even from the grave, would be a better president than this clown who is afraid of horses, or for that matter any of the Republicans.

    And you are absolutely correct, landslides are theft-proof.

    Anonymous David

  10. Anonymous7:30 AM

    Ah, the court only votes in a hung election, do they? Well, I guess that works, since all our elections are honest, above board, and really reperesent the will of the electorate.

  11. Anonymous7:31 PM

    You know, even Christ knew how to negotiate. “Agree with thine enemy quickly, while thou art in the way.” And “Make for thy self friends with the manna of unrighteousness” or something like that. It seems that people believe that if you can see the others point, you somehow lose your place. I don’t think people realize that true strength LETS you negotiate. It doesn’t keep you from it.

    But then, what do I know?

  12. We as a society seem to have lost the knack of putting ourselves in the other guy's shoes for a minute. Or at all. If you don't understand where the other guy is coming from, it makes it really hard to figure out a position that he might agree with.