Another Middle Way

He is moving to the center, so they say.

The pragmatists, so-called, recognize a strategic need for this move to the middle, and trusting Obama, applaud it; the purists so-called, wonder what we’re going to win, if moving to the middle is needed to win.

For my part, I’m a pragmatic purist, an idealistic pragmatist, and always worried about falling into what the great writer Walter Benjamin called “left melancholy“–his take, I suppose, on the ways in which “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

What concerns me about the reaction at the great orange gathering place, and elsewhere in the blogosphere, is the degree to which people on both “sides” think there are actually sides, and that the other “side” is destroying what “my” “side” is trying to achieve. IMHO, the false representation from which we need to unembed ourselves is that there is a schism between the purity of principle and the pragmatism of politics at all. Really, it is the exquisite blend and mix and sometimes clash of these two styles, in some undetermined calculus, that propels political change.

Don’t calcify into positions, I say. Maintain open receptivity to the ones with whom you disagree on the putative “move to the middle.” Disagreeing with Obama doesn’t necessarily mean the withdrawal of support and electing McCain. Supporting Obama’s electoral strategy doesn’t mean blind fanaticism and the relinquishment of principle.

I have only one goal in this life: spreading peace wherever and however possible–peace internal and external. Peace does not mean the absence of all conflict, dissent, argument, divergence; for me it is a posture and practice before the other–even when that “other” be me–a bow before and after the heated conflict, a bow that frames and holds every encounter on a basis of compassion. Peace, for me, means not aiming to harm persons, even if you aim to critique, even abolish, their viewpoints and attendant practices. Peace is a practice, ongoing, which also means that it is never done or perfected, but a compassionate challenge in every moment.

We are all passionate about our principles and goals: we are all here because we agree that BushCo has been devastating for this nation and the world. I think we agree that a McCain presidency would be a continuation of this worldwide disaster. But let us not injure each other as we argue our viewpoints. Listen to the one with whom you most disagree, because that one has something to teach you too, perhaps. We can support our viewpoints without clinging and creating further separation and suffering.

So, here’s another way to move to the middle. What would our political life and landscape be like if we all met there, in times of both harmony and discord?

How we stay in the middle between indulging and repressing is by acknowledging whatever arises without judgment, letting the thoughts simply dissolve, and then going back to openness of this very moment. That’s what we’re actually doing in meditation. Up come all these thoughts, but rather than squelch them or obsess with them, we acknowledge them and let them go. Then we come back to just being here.

After a while, that’s how we relate with hope and fear in our daily lives. Out of nowhere, we stop struggling and relax. We see our story line, drop it and come back to the freshness of the present moment.

Pema Chödrön

Comfortable with Uncertainty

There are many ways to contemplate how this suggestion of being in the middle between indulging and repression might apply to our current moment,  in this blog, in politics, in this electoral cycle, in life.

One last thing I want to say before signing off:

What about the ones who are sincerely questioning what this style of electoral politics really has to offer in the way of progress? The ones, perhaps myself included at times, who are at the very edge of wondering just how long to support the Democrats, wondering if perhaps true political change can only come with a painful movement to disrupt this system altogether? Are these not serious questions and concerns?

For my part, in this cycle, and for the coming four years at least, I am maintaining my commitment to the Democratic party. This crisis moment in world history is not the time to turn away, imho. I want Obama in the WH and definitive Democratic congressional majorities. I want to give the Ds a chance. I will have benchmarks for what I consider to be the success and achievement of the Dems, maybe even based on Obama’s own benchmarks for a successful first term, which he discussed in a recent Rolling Stone interview:


WENNER: “Is there a marker you would lay down at the end of your first term where you say, ‘If this has happened or not happened, I would consider it a negative mark on my governance’?”

OBAMA: “If I haven’t gotten combat troops out of Iraq, passed universal health care and created a new energy policy that speaks to our dependence on foreign oil and deals seriously with global warming, then we’ve missed the boat. Those are three big jobs, so it’s going to require a lot of attention and imagination, and it’s going to require the American people feeling inspired enough that they’re prepared to take on these big challenges.”

And if the Dems break my heart again, even with control of the White House and both houses of Congress? Well, then, perhaps it’s not just “purity trolling” to wonder about the wisdom of pursuing the “improve-the-Democrats” route to progressive change. At that point, if it comes, perhaps we would recognize that we are stuck in a place referred to by the Tibetan word, lhenchak:

“Lhenchak” points at how free-flowing love can go astray and get stuck. It is taught that the strongest lhenchak occurs in the following three relationships: between parents and children, between lovers, and between spiritual teachers and their students. Lhenchak is characterized by clinging and self-involvement. It’s like weaving ourselves into a web of shared neurosis. By its nature, it inhibits human growth. Inevitably the llhenshak relationship turns into a source of irritation and blindness.

Pema Chödrön

The Places that Scare You

Note that lhenchak comes most often in relationships with those whom we trust the most, in whom we ought to have the most faith and security. We may not yet be there, at political lhenchak with regard to the Democratic Party. But when and if we are, we will need courage to face that fact–it may be painful and frightening.

I still assume that we all share the same basic goal of making the world a more just and peaceful place. In this moment and that one and that one, and now, and now, and now, and now, may we all choose to advance our goals without hardening, may we be strong without propagating aggression.

Have a wonderful day!


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    • srkp23 on July 4, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Also posted at orange cacaphonous place.


  1. You’ve hit on so many things I need to be thinking about in my life – not just the political. So thank you.

    But in the arena of the political – you remind me that I feel a bit like a ping-pong ball sometimes. I find myself arguing the pragmatist view with the idealists and vice versa. Sometimes, when I reflect, I question whether or not I lack principles. But most of the time I think its because there is more wisdom in both positions than there is in just one.

    • Robyn on July 4, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    Lot’s of good stuff today.

    • RiaD on July 4, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    but i expected nothing less from you


  2. Much-needed commentary in a difficult time. No one knows what will happen next, and everyone is making their best guess about what to do about it. It’s good to have some distance and perspective as we go forward.

    • robodd on July 4, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    The pure may be the enemy of the good, but the right is not.  

    It is all a matter of informing and persuading with reason.  And, of course, cutting thru the MSM morass.

  3. Especially loved this:

    That’s what we’re actually doing in meditation. Up come all these thoughts, but rather than squelch them or obsess with them, we acknowledge them and let them go. Then we come back to just being here.

    After a while, that’s how we relate with hope and fear in our daily lives. Out of nowhere, we stop struggling and relax. We see our story line, drop it and come back to the freshness of the present moment.

    from Comfortable with Uncertainty

  4. this is the Last Chance Saloon for the Democratic Party where you are concerned.

    I would be hard pressed, after the promises made that got them the Congress back (although just barely) last election, and the extent to which they have delivered on them, to disagree.

    We elect a President, Senators, and Congresscreatures in November no matter what. There is no escaping that.

    We either want to give up now and piss into the wind, or give it….one more chance.

    I favor the latter.

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