Sunday, February 07, 2016

The Politics of Diminishing Expectations-- Guest Post By Erik Peterson


Erik, founder of Bending the Arc Strategies, wrote this after listening to the Hillary Clinton/Bernie Sanders Debate in New Hampshire last week.

When did politics become the art of diminishing our expectations?

When did it become naïve and impractical for leaders to speak of their dreams?

When did it become the role of politicians to convince us about what we can’t become, or dream about, or dare hope for because they couldn’t realistically deliver it?

I recently re-read FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights, perhaps the one memorable State of the Union address ever given. Delivered six months before D-Day, with a war raging on multiple continents, it spells out a revolutionary and legislatively impractical program.

As I read the address, excerpted below, I wondered how many people were telling FDR that he couldn’t say that. That he couldn’t possibly deliver it. That there was a war raging and his were idealistic, distracting, even harmful dreams. That he should not say anything he couldn’t deliver. And that he should talk about practical plans and programs rather than laying down a mark of the inalienable right to economic security.

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people-- whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth-- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights-- among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however-- as our industrial economy expanded-- these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men." People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all-- regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.

As I read FDR’s speech I was reminded again that Martin Luther King did not deliver the famous line "I have a plan." He had a dream. And although it took a plan to achieve it, even more important were the 10s of millions of people inspired and believing in a dream. Millions who could imagine and begin demanding a different and better world.

I don’t think the problem we are facing today is that we expect too much, or our programs are too ambitious, or our dreams too big.

I think for the most part they are too small. What we can politically achieve in this moment is more or less all that we dare hope for or realistically demand. That our politics must relinquish speaking to what is necessary, and that we resign ourselves to the realism that a bit more is all we can expect and is as good as it can be.

Change of course usually comes incrementally. Built on the hard slog of compromise and imperfection. Oftentimes it feels disappointing and insufficient.

But I don’t think we manage our way to a better world, however crucial competent management is. More than ever I feel we need to dream bigger, be more outraged, and speak ever more hopefully.

Our politics need to boldly go where it is unreasonable to go, to speak courageously to what is necessary, so we can imagine again, and in the impracticality of our dreams be more strategic and win more of a better world that is possible.
Goal Thermometer

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