Now is not the time for idealism
And I never thought I would say that.
Back in 2000, when I campaigned for Ralph Nader and became a local Green Party official afterwards, it was the perfect time for idealism. Computers and the corporate Information Technology sector was new and growing rapidly, hoping to replace the manufacturing jobs leaving our economy and offer new people entering the workforce a quick way to become members of the middle class quickly. After eight years in office, Clinton balanced the budget. Nobody thought that our government would be stupid enough to launch two massive and useless wars in foreign countries.
The time just seemed ripe for the advancement of progressive causes -- to spread more equality throughout American society. To limit our military involvement around the globe. To address environmental issues. America seemed like it was finally at the point where we could advance these issues.
Then, of course, Bush stole the 2000 election... It's not like Al Gore was a spectacular candidate. And back then, everyone who supported Nader would have told you that Bush and Gore were the same because both candidates ran moderate, non-threatening campaigns. I remember Bush saying in a debate that he wasn't for military interventions followed by nation building. (It must have been one of those debates that I wasn't on the street, protesting.)
Bush ruined the balanced budget with an abhorrent tax cut, and he used 9/11 as an excuse to needlessly invade two countries. Lack of banking and corporate regulations during his administration led to an enormous real estate bubble that, when it popped, threatened to bring the entire global economy into a depression. In short, Bush really fucked America over and the effects will continue to reverberate decades from now.
For Obama's part, he's not the ideal president; nor is he an idealist. What needs to be asked, though, is if Obama is the president that we need right now. Is America at the point where idealism can help us?
I think the biggest difference between Obama and other candidates was shown with the auto industry bailout. Romney would have allowed the auto industry to shutdown. This is what should be called "brutal capitalism". Before the Great Depression and FDR's administrations, the American economy was dominated by cycles of growth periods going into recessions, then depressions, then back to a recession and into full-blown growth again -- but the depression periods were brutal. America almost didn't make it out of the Great Depression until FDR laid down a government supported social safety net that allowed the economy to bounce out of a recession before becoming a full blown depression again.
Roosevelt's social safety net, it should be noted, was idealism that worked. The time was right for it.
Without the social safety net, depressions start a domino effect: One factory closes and people lose their jobs, then the supplies of parts for those factories shut down; more jobs lost. Lower grade retail and service jobs are next, since laid off factory workers are no longer buying goods because they don't have money. The economy just cascades downwards from there... When a factory shuts down, it's hard to bring it back online.
Obama understood this dynamic with the auto bailout, and he understood the government's necessary role to step in and keep these factories open.
Romney and the Republicans don't understand this. They have no concept of a social safety net, and hardly anyone living right now has first hand experience with the brutal capitalism. The current make up of the Republican Party is so seeped in the throes of Ayn Randian objectivist dogma that they willingly lack the historical perspective of the Great Depression, and the state of capitalism before the social safety net was put into place, that they would follow their unfounded beliefs straight off the cliff and allow factories to shut down. They just don't believe in the domino effect caused by brutal capitalism since they choose to ignore all of the empirical evidence that proves such.
This is not the mindset of an adult.
During FDR's time, the adult decision was idealism and a guided shift to enlarge the role of government in the economy. Right now, the only idealistic shift in government being offered that has a chance of winning at the polls is a reversal of FDR's social safety net. That kind of idealism isn't the adult choice, and though I don't think the ideology of the two major parties differs all that much, I do see a big difference in the maturity of both major party candidates.
Neither candidate is perfect. Hell, neither candidate is ideal. But only one of these candidates is an adult, and it sure as hell ain't Romney.
A decade or two from now, I hope America can return the point where a jump to more progressive ideals is logical. We were there in 2000, but we've lost too much ground since then. I kinda have to vote with my wallet, full stomach and roof over my head at this point -- because I am not backtracking on any of that -- and hope for another chance to vote for idealism later in my life.