Roberto Unger, a professor at the Harvard Law School who taught Barack Obama in two courses, recently announced that he would have no future dealings with his former student. His message: “Obama has failed to pursue his mandate!” The professor feels that his ex-student has not been sufficiently liberal or progressive.

Other liberals support this position and, in a way, they are right. In a perfect world, their liberal principles may be better than those demonstrated by Obama. But he does, and they should, realize the whole stew never arrives from the kitchen after sampling by cooks, and that more folks are fed from half a loaf than from none.

Part of the design of the American government was a system in which compromise was inevitable. In order to get, one must give. Pure principle can be obtained only with dictators; Hitler could do exactly what he promised. Both the Republican Abe Lincoln and the Democrat Franklin Roosevelt had to compromise.

Unfortunately, this is rarely recognized – and never openly admitted – and when people chose a candidate, they all too frequently base their hopes on an ideal that is impossible to achieve. Sometimes goals have been explicitly promised, but more often, these goals exist only in the eyes of the voter. They are projections loaded onto the candidate. Once elected, what an incumbent can accomplish, no matter what he or she might wish or have promised, is dependent on larger, overreaching concerns and challenges.

George W. Bush promised to be a “compassionate conservative” – and that may have been what he intended – but circumstances surely dictated otherwise.

There is, for example, the effect of the party on a president. A political party is considered by many Americans to be an immoral cauldron of power seeking and spoils. But parties do have some continuity of commitment – continuity that often carries enough strength to determine national priorities. For example, there is hardly any function more vital than the selection of justices for the Supreme Court, as well as lower federal courts. The political party is the 800-pound gorilla in the Washington Zoo during that process.

To a great extent, a vote for a Democrat as president means to vote for the party’s influential segments – unions, minorities, women, the disadvantaged, the poor. None of these will get their way exactly, but they will get more attention than they would get in a Republican administration.

To vote Republican means to choose a plutocracy that depends on anti-government forces like Southern racists, religious fanatics, financial (corporate) capitalists, investors in the military-industrial complex and the rich. It does no good to say that Romney is “a good man, not a racist.” That may be true, but he needs to placate the racist South as part of his support. A useful benchmark for party interests and identification is the source of campaign money. Who supports whom?

Obama is no St George to slay the dragon with a single sword. He has been wise enough to recognize the art of the possible. Professor Unger should give thanks, else his man would now be politically dead and buried, rather than standing, bruised and imperfect, but still the odds-on favorite to prevent what liberals like Professor Unger would consider a tragedy – the election of Willard Romney.

If Unger should get his way, the country would elect a Republican president deeply in political debt to the interests courted through months of primary debates. Professor Unger would see a frog prince replaced by a Rottweiler who will scare the country still further into the sewer of disproportionate wealth and financial privilege it has become.

Thought for the week

Teddy Roosevelt argued for an income tax, child labor laws, health care, conservation, environment and labor laws, control of corporate abuse and antirust laws. He believed: “Conservation is a great moral issue;” “There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains;” and “The Constitution does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.” Getting a GOP leader to say such things today would be like asking Mother Teresa for a polka.

Rodney Quinn, who died Oct. 27, wrote several columns in advance for publication, which the American Journal will print through the coming weeks.


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