Some Thoughts on Being in Power

In a few weeks’ time, we’re going to be filing a complaint against the federal government for, well, a stereotypically liberal cause, arguing a stereotypically liberal claim. It goes without saying that we’re absolutely, 100% going to win — really! Or we should. But a reaction I’ve had while preparing is, didn’t we put our guy in the White House so we wouldn’t have to start these types of cases in the first place? Shouldn’t an ideal liberal — who, dammit, we deserve — do these things of his own accord?

Yes and no. Something I think we forgot in the long twilight of the Bush years is, there’s a difference between theory and practice, and when you ask someone to run a huge country, in the interest of both its diverse population and the world we often find ourselves leading, the ideas you asked him to implement, once in office, must yield to both the practical realities of governing, and the political realities of compromise. And, still more issues will get lost in the shuffle of day-to-day management. My generation will probably spend a good part of our professional lives unwinding the damage inflicted on this country by our last President; that bizarre, built-in ideological biases persist throughout the U.S. Code should be unsurprising, when they had 8 productive years to create them, and we’ve had 2-and-a-half years to solve full-blown crises, and unwind the various inequities Bush introduced into the country.

And, there’s a sense in which we don’t actually want total victory mandated by presidential/congressional fiat. One of the worst problems of the Bush years was how profoundly and thoroughly the party-in-charge ignored, or suppressed competing viewpoints. If we build (or simply allow) a more representative society, where ideological purity is no longer a moral imperative, we’ll have governed justly, and be more likely to be allowed to continue doing so. If you follow.

This isn’t to say that private actors, in the form of public interest groups and their pro bono corporate lawyers, shouldn’t force the government’s hand. Quite the opposite. There’s value in private advocacy, especially because nongovernment actors aren’t bound by the same representative duty. Think of it as the legal equivalent of privateering. But all of this is to say, we’re allowed to (and should expect to) disagree with the government, still. Each individual conflict just represents a need for new methods of advocacy, but needn’t mature into food for concern trolls.

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