When democracy doesn’t give you what you want

As President-elect Barack Obama has been naming his cabinet, there has been a common theme developing among more leftward liberal commentators. Once again, the help of progressive activists has brought a Democratic president to the White House, only to be denied any significant cabinet seats. In a two-party system, it seems banal to point out that the president is not going to be able to fulfill every desire of those who elected him. While the actual political universe is diverse, in American politics it rests on a two-dimensional spectrum often separated into conservative, moderate and liberal. Within those groupings are various constituencies. Obama did run on a platform of change. During the election season, one of the biggest reservations to be had about him was his unwillingness to talk details of policy. He appealed to the usual Democratic support groups and tailored his message as such. Still, there is anger. His economic appointees do not hold radically different views of trade than in the past. Scarcer still is strong sympathy for unions. Obama has also been less committal about withdrawing forces from Iraq. Worst of all, he has taken back some commitments to repeal BushâÄôs tax cuts or impose bigger taxes on big oil. One blogger has complained, âÄúIsnâÄôt there ever a point we can get an actual Democratic administration?âÄù It is odd to expect one to be rewarded for assisting the election of the president. Were the people who voted for Obama all equally concerned about health care, climate change or withdrawing from Iraq? No. Obama rode the wave of discontent with the Republicans this election season. It was not card-carrying Democrats that won the election; it was the numbers of moderates and independents who did. It is commonplace for the more ideological to associate their own beliefs with the beliefs of the whole. There are some conservatives who complain that the government has never been conservative enough, as well. True, Obama would never have been elected without the more ideologically pure elements of the Democratic Party. Oddly enough, however, he was elected to govern the whole country âÄî not just the Democratic bits. Incidentally, there are different opinions on all of the hot button issues that circulate around American politics. One of the appealing characteristics of Obama was his pledge and seeming willingness to be post-partisan. Democrats wholly concerned with issues such as climate change or universal health care seem to be obsessed with the idea that a cabinet position will finally be the catalyst to the reform they desire. The assumption seems to be that their calls are ignored because of ideological rejection, as opposed to common sense. The policy proposed for climate change and universal health coverage are not simple changes to be made. They represent massive structural shifts in society. It is not so simple to bypass the substantial numbers of the population who disagree with those changes. Progressive activists are usually very keen on âÄúthe people.âÄù Whenever the government rejects their agenda, it is typically blamed on âÄúspecial interestsâÄù or political incompetence. What if âÄúthe peopleâÄù actually do not support such radical government change? In the middle of a financial crisis and the wake of George W. BushâÄôs administration, a general desire for âÄúchangeâÄù is manifest. However, it should be no surprise that there have been no cabinet appointees who are looking to create lavishly expensive new programs that the government would be unable to pay. The current economic climate dictates a rather narrow range of options for policymakers. Taxing business and the rich, while morally pleasing to some, would only delay economic recovery. Creating more government taxing and spending, especially after years of government expansion and the debt of the rescue of the banking industry, will hardly be popular with the public. To presume that the election of a candidate should come with an ideologically pure agenda seems to ignore the polarization it would bring to politics. It also seems to ignore the fact that Bush created the same atmosphere. This is the first post-election letdown this correspondent has ever really lived through, so perhaps this is all routine. Both parties still have feuding factions. Because the Democrats happened to win this time, they have the luxury of complaining that Obama is not doing exactly as they wish. Conservatives have to go a different route. There is still a movement trying to prove Obama was not born in the United States. The commentators at the âÄúNational ReviewâÄù still seem to think the difference in the top-income tax bracket is the difference between whether America is a socialist country. Gun sales exploded before the election because gun owners were convinced Obama would send for their weapons upon taking office. It is natural to want more from the government, especially when you are politically active. Sure, most people mean well. But in a pluralist democracy, the point is that one groupâÄôs ideology is not given preference over others. Or have the last eight years destroyed that notion? St. JamesâÄô Street welcomes comments at [email protected]