Wednesday, November 17, 2010

319 / The World As We Find It

Economist Paul Krugman, who writes for the New York Times, commented on the Obama Presidency on Tuesday.

Asked about the President's willingness to extend tax cuts for the extremely wealthy, Obama's political advisor David Axelrod is reported to have said: "We have to deal with the world as we find it."

Krugman objected to that characterization of what politics is all about. I join him in his objection. In politics, the "world" is not how we "find it," the world is how we "make it." That is the nature of that "second world" we create by our own efforts. Our own political efforts, over all!

In the world we create, the world we most immediately inhabit, we make the rules, and we decide what the realities will be.

Now, who is the "we" in this characterization? "We" are the entirety of the "body politic." In a democratic society (which we still think we might have) "we" are the people, acting through our mechanisms of democratic decision making, and "we" legislate the realities that become the "world."

Because there are different ideas about what "we" should do (and often good arguments on many sides), we need to have controversy and conflict, debate and division, before "we" resolve matters by a political decision. How the world "is" is the outcome, not the precondition of politics.

It does seem ironic, as Krugman says, that President Obama would need any instruction on this topic: the possibility that is politics. That politics was all about hope and possibility was the text he preached throughout the entirety of his successful Presidential campaign.

If there is discouragement about the Obama Presidency (a great "despond" Krugman calls it) it is not because Obama has been losing the fights to define the world we want to create. It is because he doesn't appear to be fighting at all, but to be accepting "the world as we find it." Doing that, accepting the "world as we find it," is to capitulate to the current realities of politics and power.

Appearances are different from realities, but our political leaders (including President Obama) are elected not to accept the world "as we find it," but to create the world "as we want it." Our politics is valuable only as we use it in a struggle to make the world the way it's "supposed to be."


  1. Great description.

    Unfortunately, most citizens have also giving up attempting to craft the world as it's "supposed to be," instead opting for the world as we find it, aka as the politicians and their corporate financiers create it. Even at the local level, most are content to let the "government" do the heavy lifting, limiting participation to periodic paroxysms of political participation.

    Democracy is an everyday activity, starting between the ears and working outward to family, neighborhood, community, bioregion and nation. If we opt out of the process, we are left floating in a morass not of our own making and probably not to our own liking.

    Democracy: use it or lose it.

  2. Thanks for this good comment. Democracy is definitely not a spectator sport!


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