Politics 300: Real Politics Are Messy

In previous posts here, I’ve talked a lot about pragmatism when it comes to politics, as well as understanding the “rules of the game.”   If you don’t have either, and lack the willingness to actually do the work involved in getting your agenda into law, you’re not going to get very far.   Even if you do understand the rules, and are willing to do the work, it still doesn’t mean you’re going to get your way, or at least, everything you wanted.   You see, it turns out that real politics are never quite as simple as they may seem when talking about abstract philosophical concepts.

One of the older quotes about politics is “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.”  This is sometimes rephrased as “those who love the law and sausages should never watch either one being made.”   The reason that statement resonates is that both processes are rather messy.  It’s unavoidable whenever you have to account for any group’s priorities and interests.   The larger the group, the more likely there are going to be conflicts.

I grew up in a large family, so in many ways I’ve had a lifetime experience with “politics.”   Arguments over the allocation of resources, arguments over who is “in favor” or not,  trading favors, bargaining, or forming alliances were part of daily life.  Yes, on a micro scale, but the lessons apply to the large scale as well.

I also live in New York State.  The area I live in has very little in common with New York City.  We’re different geographically,  and demographically we’re radically different.  This area has more in common with Maine than it does with the city.  The things that are very important here aren’t often  even on the radar in NYC, and the things that are “absolutely critical” to NYC may have no applicability to here.  Yet, we’re part of the same state, which means that decisions have to be made and resources allocated to both.   It means compromises, that word that purists of all stripes don’t want to hear, have to be made.

Which is why politics are often a messy business.   The “rules” – the Constitution, laws, and institutional procedures – place specific responsibilities and limits.    In order to accomplish anything, you need to know what they are, and how they work.   It’s one thing to want Guantanamo closed, it’s another to blame the President for not doing it, when the reason is Congress.   In other words, screaming at the President for “not doing” something he was blocked from doing just shows that you’re not paying attention.

But even when you get to the right spot, you have to realize that it’s a big country, with a lot of competing interests and needs.  Which is why we have the “bargaining” and “compromises” that so infuriate the purists.  The idea that just because a member of Congress belongs to a given party that the member will have identical concerns and beliefs to every other member of that party across the country is ridiculous.  My Representative is a Democrat, but the district he represents has different concerns and interests from San Francisco.   He doesn’t have to listen to what purists in California or New York City may or may not want him to do.  He doesn’t represent them, and they don’t vote here.  If what they want is at odds with what his district wants, he is either going to be at odds with them, or if he goes along with them, at odds with his district.

Which is where the “horse trading” begins.  You want something, I don’t want it.  How do you get me to go along with you?  You bargain.  You see what I will accept.  It might mean looking at a different wording.  You might decide to drop the parts I find particularly bad, even if you want them.  You see what I want, that you may not want.  We may after some discussion, decide that I’ll support yours if you support mine.  If I’m on a committee and you’re not, I might agree to help get something you want through the committee, or you may return the favor.   Multiply that by the number of members of Congress, and you have the “sausage factory.”

Is it “nice,” or particularly “pure?”  No.  It’s messy as hell.  It means that bills come out of Congress on a regular basis that have something that is not wanted by some group or another, that may offend various purists.  It means that the “ideal” that was promulgated at the start bears just a passing resemblance to the final product.  But what it is is a set of compromises and deals that are acceptable enough to be passed when the ideal couldn’t.

So how do you change that?  Frankly, you can’t change it totally.  It’s always going to be “messy.”  That’s simply the nature of competing constituencies and local/regional needs.  But you can get less messy.  How do you do that?  You have to get your hands dirty doing the work.  First, you have to vote.  Regularly, and in every election.  If there’s something in your area that is up for a vote, you should be in line at the voting booth.  Why?  Because politicians pay attention to people who vote.   They don’t pay much attention to people who don’t vote or aren’t reliable.

Second, you need to know the rules.  I’ve lost track of how many “action alerts” I’ve gotten from various groups over the years telling me to call various members of the House or Senate.  Do you want to know how effective that is?  Not very.  Seriously.  You call your Representative or Senators.  You can, if your Representative or Senator isn’t on the appropriate committee, also call the Chair or the ranking member, if your party is not in charge.  My member of the House will listen to me.  He doesn’t have to listen – and probably won’t – to someone from outside the district.  The same holds true of my Senators.  My calling Senator Feinstein is a waste of my time and her staff’s.   At the same time, you need to know not just that,but where and when to call.  Screaming at your Senators about a bill in a House committee is not effective.  It is if it’s in the Senate.

Finally, you have to be active locally.  Remember that bit about calling your representatives?  Multiply that by the 435 districts in the House, and the 50 states.  It doesn’t matter how big you are in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago or Boston.  Great, you have thousands of people there.  If there’s no one, or just a few, in the districts and states outside of there, you aren’t going to be very persuasive, beyond the people representing your areas.   It also means you have to be active in your local party.  If your representative is not representing you in a way you feel is adequate, then it is incumbent on you to find a candidate to replace them.  If you’re not active locally, and in your local party, you’re not going to do it.

Do all that, and you’ll get closer to what you want.  But you know what?  It’s still going to be messy.  Compromise is not a bad word, and if you’re willing to get your hands dirty doing the work, you’ll find that out.  You’ll also get a lot more of what you want.  But if all you’re going to do is sit on the Internet and gripe, and stay home when it comes time to vote, then you have no cause to complain that things aren’t the way you want them.  Because the rest of us are not your parents, and we’re not going to give you what you want just because you throw tantrums.   You’ll have to earn it.

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “Politics 300: Real Politics Are Messy

  1. Absolutely. As a wise lady named Molly Ivins used to say, “If you don’t vote, don’t bitch.”

    • I sometimes think that most of the complainers were only children who were spoiled by their parents. 🙄 When I got my drivers license, I wanted a car. My parents said I could have one. It was just up to me to get a job, save the money to buy one, and pay for the insurance, gas, and maintenance. It was a piece of crap, but damn, I loved that car! 😆

  2. The complainers don’t even have a clue whom to complain to or about. They think the president micromanages the “free world,” of which he is the “commander-in-chief.”
    Speaking of which, it always gets me when people from other countries say they wish they could vote for our president because he affects them more than their own politicians. BS. Most of the laws, rules, and ordinances that affect us directly on a daily basis are the ones put in places by our state legislatures or city councils.

    • Exactly. The president does not, in any way, shape, or form, have anything to do with whether the water and sewer systems work, the trash is picked up, the police and fire departments are around, and the roads are maintained. The federal government has no responsibility for making sure that the local restaurants are clean and prepare food properly, it is not inspecting buildings to insure they’re safe, it does not run the local parks, and it doesn’t run the local schools. All of those things are the responsibility of the local and state governments, and most of them are overseen by elected officials. If you can’t tell me who is on your local city/town board, or who is the supervisor/mayor/city manager, then you’re not “politically aware.”

      • Very few of my students understand how school funding works.
        They believe somebody in Washington allocates money to every school (K through university) in our country. I asked an African American (college student) student whether she knew why her high school had been chronically underfunded. She thought it had to do with the percentage of white students in a school. The more there are, the more money Congress sends to that school. Wow. I told her the reason institutional racism is so insidious is that it never works that openly and blatantly. A white student assumed that public universities in Texas are experiencing budget cuts because the president increased the income tax he charges them. Needless to say, her parents watch Fox News.

        • Considering that school taxes and school funding are major local and state issues, I’m surprised they don’t understand that. 😦

          On the other hand, it shows how much many of the young – and in particular the frustrati – need to learn. Seriously, while we can (and do) care about the big national and global issues, the reality is that for most people the place they should be looking at is their local and state elected officials.

  3. Stellar, Norbrook and Co-Sign everything you wrote!

    I got two chuckles from this.

    First, sausage making because I had an uncle who made great venison sausage. I really liked it until I saw how it was made. It took me a while before I put that behind me and started liking and eating it with relish again. I never really forgot the process but I did appreciate the end result.

    Second, large extended families of which I am just one member… I have always felt that families are a vibrant microcosm for the larger world. My family vibrates in passionate very strong and opinionated ways but we have all learned that “compromise” is not a four letter word and serves us all in the end.

    Great diary and a good lesson ♥

    • I’ve known how sausage was made for a long time. 😉 I also have a large, extended family, and if you want a basic grounding in politics, that’s always a beginning. Just the battles over bathroom time (I have 4 sisters) would be an education. 😆 Then there were the … debates … over which television show to watch, who had to do which chore, and so on. Throw in a batch of cousins, uncles and aunts, and things got really interesting. Yet somehow, we all managed to get along.

  4. Bathroom time! ROTFLMAO!

    Mi casa: one bathroom, one Granny, two parents, nine children….guess where my brothers peed most of the time?

    I’m going to be laughing about this for days!

    No debates about chores. Papi kicked ass and everyone did their share of dishes, cleaning, laundry and childcare for the little ones, boys or girls. He was way before his time, that there was no such thing as “women’s work” or “man’s work” Everyone stepped up to do their share and Papi did his too. He could cook, wash and hang laundry with the best of them! I miss him so much sometimes.

    • My mother was the disciplinarian. She was the mistress of “the look” – which conveyed that you should instantly stop doing whatever you were doing, or start doing what you should, or else the fires of hell would be a vacation. Never had to raise her voice, either. My sisters often wish they could do it, but they never quite figured out how it works. 😆 I can do it, but not on purpose. 😥 I only know I’m doing it when people start apologizing before I say anything. 😆

  5. More LOLs! All Mama had to do was head for the kitchen nicho and her statue of Jesus and we knew we were all going to some kind of terrible hell. That statue, blessed by some holy person I don’t remember, was a family icon. I will swear that my Mama had some kind of “in” with the deities when she prayed because if we strayed too far, spiritual Karma bit our asses so hard we never forgot!

  6. Dancer

    And, I have to keep beating on my MEDIA DRUM in hopes that one day the conversation will turn to just how awful our corporate media is. Have taken to watching Morning Joe when I can’t sleep at 6:30 but purely for it’s “entertainment” value and the adrenalin it produces when I have to SHOUT at one of the “regular” idiots! Sadly, it all helps promote the atmosphere that pollitics and our future is a SHOW which works against all your good advice about being an active part of the solution!

    • The media promotes the idea that politics is “a war,’ that there are “winners” or “losers,” because pushing it as a conflict drives audience. The reality is that politics is more like diplomacy. The idea that both sides may “win” and “lose” at the same time is foreign to the pundits and media.

  7. I will never understand how people who have jobs, families, outside activities, etc. that ALL require compromise in order to function cannot comprehend that running government — especially at the federal level — requires the same thing.

    • To me, the “entitlement mentality” isn’t social services, it’s “I want it my way, and I want it now!” 🙄 I don’t know if they act this way in the rest of their lives, but if they do, they’re probably not very pleasant people to be around. All I have to do is consider the amount of time I’ve spent haggling over the details of various projects and budgets in my life, and draw a conclusion.

  8. New reader here, piping in to say I appreciate your thinking. I discovered you through ABLC as an aftereffect of the most recent Greenwald…so how civil do I have to be, exactly?

    IAC, saying hi, and please please please keep writing. The number of bloggers who have gone mad over the course of the Obama Administration so far just boggles my tiny little mind. (And leaves me short of informed political commentators to read.) I wish I could make myself not ascribe racism to their behavior, but I’m not that nice a person…

    • Welcome! In terms of “how civil?” I generally like it fairly civil. I don’t mind rude language, but I like the overall tone “polite.” There are some conservatives and moderates who pop in here now and then, and yes, they make some good points – or make you work for yours. I’m not quite as nice towards the “frustrati.” 😉

      I used to ascribe a lot of what I saw to stupidity (it’s easier and works), but you’re right, there is racism behind a lot of their actions. 😦

    • Hola and welcome! This is a great blog and our good Norbrook puts up with me and my sometimes slips into rude language so I’m sure you will be OK as long as you are respectful to him and other posters.

      Norbrook is very smart, well informed and has a wicked sense of humor that I really enjoy. His diaries are always worth the reading.